Hollywood’s uniculture

Reniqua Allen, in lamenting the passing of The Bill Cosby Show,  complains about the way television today depicts black families.  In doing so, she makes some observations that have wide applications:

Instead of a real look at black culture, Hispanic culture or any specific culture, we get “uniculture.” That’s how Felicia Henderson, creator of the Showtime series “Soul Food” and a newly minted executive producer of a BET family sitcom “Reed Between the Lines,” describes much of our current television universe. Henderson, who has served as a writer and producer for shows such as “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Gossip Girl” and “Fringe,” says the major networks often show diverse casts, but not true cultural differences. “I celebrate multicultural casting, but my concern is that these shows and these characters are only physically multicultural, physically multiethnic,” she says. . . .

The worlds they pretend to inhabit are not ones in which anyone really lives. It’s one TV cultural universe, with no room for ethnic difference, even among ethnic characters.

British journalist David Frost once said, “Television enables you to be entertained in your home by people you wouldn’t have in your home.”

via Why isn’t the Cosby Show for a new generation on network TV? – The Washington Post.

Exactly!  This applies also to the ways television (and most movies) portray all families and all cultures.  In the Hollywood universe, everyone of every culture embraces extramarital sex, with no qualms, stigmas, or consequences.  No one goes to church, and religion has no influence on anyone’s life.   There are no conservatives, except for villains.  And children are smarter than adults, especially their parents.

Romney as Batman villain

What happens when pop culture addicts run your campaign:

According to Paul Bedard at The Washington Examiner, the Obama campaign takes Batman’s new enemy Bane, a pumped up venom gas breathing maniac, in the movie “The Dark Knight Rises” and compares him to presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, because of the Massachusetts GOP’ers previous work with the investment firm Bain Capital, which Obama and Democrats say was a job killer. Get it–Bane and Bain?

Bedard writes:

“Bane” is the terrorist in the new movie who drives the caped crusader out of semi-retirement in the final Batman movie. Democrats, who believe they have Romney on the ropes over the president’s assault on his leadership at Bain Capital, said the comparisons are too rich to ignore. “It has been observed that movies can reflect the national mood,” said Democratic advisor and former Clinton aide Christopher Lehane. “Whether it is spelled Bain and being put out by the Obama campaign or Bane and being out by Hollywood, the narratives are similar: a highly intelligent villain with offshore interests and a past both are seeking to cover up who had a powerful father and is set on pillaging society,” he added.

Comic book writer Chuck Dixon created the character of Bane with Graham Nolan in the early 90′s and Dixon’s reaction to the news above, according to his message board on his website Dixonverse.net, was “I saw it on FB like two hours ago. Ridiculous. Tho’ I got a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach that Rush may pick up on this. And that would be the second time he pegged me and Graham as liberals on his show.”He later added, “Overgrasping Dems? Hey, if it gets Obama supporters into theaters. Maybe they’ll buy thousands of Bane toys to throw at Romney. It all adds to MY Bane capital. I wonder if the Romney campaign will contact me?”

The DC Comics character Bane is best known for releasing all of Gotham City’s criminals from Arkham Asuylum. Batman is pushed to the point of exhaustion as he rounds them all back up, but Bane is waiting for him and breaks Batman’s back. Bane brings forth chaos, anarchy, and lawlessness. Mitt Romney is not the first person to come to mind as far as the character of Bane is concerned. In fact, the chaos that Bane brings is reminiscent of Occupy Wall Street protests.

Other than the silly name play by the Obama campaign, the comparison is ridiculous, especially because Selina Kyle Catwoman, a thief who steals from rich individuals and is played by actress Ann Hathaway in the film, whispers to ultra wealthy Bruce Wayne, Batman’s alter ego, in one trailer: “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne,” she says. “You and your friends better batten down the hatches. Because when it hits you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

via PICKET: Batman villain creator reacts to character’s comparison to Romney – ‘Ridiculous’..’Overgrasping Dems’ – Washington Times.

Besides, isn’t Batman the rich guy in the story, “millionaire industrialist” Bruce Wayne?  Who comes out of the private sector to right the wrongs that the government establishment types, like Police Commissioner Gordon can’t or won’t?  True, Bruce Wayne has some kind of strange religion that makes him wear unusual garb beneath his regular clothing, but. . . .[Two can play the game of explanatory paradigms!]

Actually, Bane, who is a tough blue-collar kind of guy, might help Romney’s image:

Aristotle and me on “The Avengers”

We saw The Avengers, the movie that’s setting box office records.  We went whole hog, springing for the version in 3-D AND Imax.

Like other comic book movies, it was mostly what Aristotle in his Poetics called “spectacle.”   Movies today go all out with high-tech special effects.  They can be fun to watch.  (Though frankly I have not yet seen a new generation 3-D flick that made satisfying use of that technology, including this one.  A trailer for the new Spider Man movie was more promising, showing a deeper field of vision than the usual flatness with a few things jumping out at you.  I didn’t think the Imax version of “The Avengers” added that much either.)  Anyway, the overall spectacle of “The Avengers” was fun.  But as Aristotle goes on to say, spectacle is the lowest level of dramatic art.

In addition to spectacle, though, unlike many comic book movies, “The Avengers” also had interesting characters, well-rendered and, in what is often considered optional for the genre, well-acted.  “The Avengers” put serious actors like Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johannsen in silly superhero costumes.  But it paid off!  The computer-enhanced Ruffalo–who was sensitive and angst-ridden as Bruce Banner– made a great Incredible Hulk.  One of my favorite parts of the movie was when Scarlett Johannsen, as the Black Widow, took a call on her cell while she was on the verge of being tortured and complained to the caller, “I’m working!”, going on to thrash the Russian interrogator while she was still tied up in her chair.

There were other good moments.  Captain America, being of the Greatest Generation (waking up in our day after being frozen), dismissing Loki’s claim to be a god by saying that “There’s only one God.  And I don’t think he dresses like you do” [something like that].  And did anyone catch what the Hulk said, in one of his few actual lines, when he was flailing Loki about?  Some comment about his alleged divinity.  (In the Marvel universe, the residents of Asgard like Thor and Loki are not so much deities as they were to the Norse and Germanic pagans; rather, they are denizens of another planet.)

Still, though, there was not enough of what Aristotle considered the most important part of a drama.  Namely, the story.  I prefer plots with twists and turns, a narrative that goes somewhere, with maybe surprises along the way.  There wasn’t a lot of that in this movie, basically just good guys and bad guys fighting each other.  Internal conflict is far more interesting, as in, to cite another comic book movie, The Dark Knight, which is also being reprised this summer.  Aristotle’s heroes are not just “good guys”; rather, they are noble figures who have a tragic flaw–a hamartia, which is the New Testament word for “sin”–that gives them complexity and doom.

 

Edgar Rice Burroughs & his failed movie

I mentioned to our daughter that we were going to the movies this weekend.  “What are you going to see,” she asked, “Hunger Games?”  No, I told her, we are going to see a movie of an equivalent wildly popular young adult book from back when your mother and I were young adults:  John Carter [of Mars]!

We needed to see it quick because I had heard that it is slated to lose $200 million, making it the biggest bomb of all time.  So it probably isn’t going to be in the theaters for much longer.  But we had been looking forward to this movie for a long time, so we weren’t going to let its failure stop us!

When I was a kid–not a young adult at all, just young–it was Edgar Rice Burroughs who transitioned me from comic books to reading actual novels.  Comic books seized my imagination, in stark contrast to the “See Spot Run” books we had to read in school, but when I somewhat randomly picked up a Tarzan book, I found that reading a novel is a lot better than comic books, movies, and TV shows.  While I was reading about Tarzan and that lost city with the dinosaurs and La performing human sacrifices and the whole thing, I found myself completely immersed in the story.   The other media kept me at arms-length from the action.  But the book worked on my mind and on my imagination, giving me a vicarious experience like nothing else I had found.  My love of reading came to life, and it led me to where I am today, as a literature professor.

Now when I read Edgar Rice Burroughs, I see his faults, and I eventually grew in my taste.  But I feel I owe him something, at least going to the movie someone finally made of his John Carter tales.  I never got into that particular series myself, but my wife did, liking them better than Tarzan, and I respect her judgment as a science fiction fan.

The movie got distinctly mixed reviews–Rotten Tomatoes scores it as receiving 51% “rotten,” which means that 49% of the critics scored it as “ripe”–with audiences generally liking it more than the critics did.  I’m not sure what could have helped its reception.  Just calling it “John Carter” and leaving out the “of Mars” part couldn’t have helped.  Young adults today probably think, wasn’t he a president?  And, yes, a lot of this sort of thing has been seen before, even though Burroughs did it before anyone else did.

We thought the movie was pretty good, actually.  The story by today’s standards was convoluted–a number of critics complained they couldn’t understand it–and over-the-top and without a shred of irony.  But it reminded me of the fun I used to have at the B-movies growing up.  Yes, it was too expensive to make, with special effects required in nearly every frame, but we got a kick out of it.

What’s with today’s Christians and movies?

The Washington Post had a big story about a new venture in “doing church” in which a network of cutting edged congregations is meeting in movie theaters:  From a movie theater church, pastor Mark Batterson blends orthodoxy and innovation – The Washington Post.

I’ve noticed that evangelicals today are often fixated on movies.  They seem to think that movies drive the culture and that making movies is a way to change the culture.

I’m not against that, by any means.  I teach a course in film.  But I don’t know that I like movies more than, say, novels or epic poems.  Yes, films have vast artistic potential–though few are interested in even trying to reach that potential, the commercial motives dominating so much of the film world. And, yes, films can explore spiritual truths, though that poses particular challenges for a visual medium. Why are Christians today more interested in movies, than, say, in literature or even the other visual arts?

I think it’s good that Christians are getting so interested in film.  But I’m curious about why.  When I was growing up, I had a friend from a really strict church that wouldn’t let him go to movies.  This at a time when most movies were pretty much innocent.  Now that stance seems quite rare, if it exists at all, and we seem to be at the other extreme, even though movies have become much less innocent.

I’m curious about your thoughts.  And go ahead and discuss the Oscars if you want to.  I’ve seen more of the nominated films than I have for some time, though I was not all that impressed with them (though I have Tree of Life on DVD but haven’t watched it yet) and made no effort to watch the Academy Awards.   That two of the leading pictures up for awards are about silent movies–The Artist and Hugo–is good in a way.  Hollywood is discovering its traditions, which is healthy, and silent movies are very much worth seeing, being pure examples of visual story telling and some of the classic silent films do that in a stunning way.  On the other hand, all of this looking back–when you add in all of the rummaging through old comic book collections, sequels, prequels, and remakes of  movies made not all that long ago–may be a sign of creative paralysis.  Which indeed would mean an opening for Christians, if we could only recover the Christian imagination.

He is Jewish, Christian, AND Muslim

Sean Stone, son of the conspiracy-theorist filmmaker Oliver Stone, has converted to Islam in a ceremony held in Iran.  But, he says, that doesn’t mean he isn’t still a Christian.  And a Jew.

A U.S. filmmaker who has a Jewish father and Christian mother today decided to convert to Islam in Iran, where he is making a documentary.

But Sean Stone, 27, son of Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone, insisted the switch did not signal him abandoning the faiths of his parents.

He became a Shiite Muslim on Tuesday and has reportedly chosen to be known by the first name of ‘Ali’, but will not reveal why he converted.

‘The conversion to Islam is not abandoning Christianity or Judaism, which I was born with,’ Mr Stone told news agency Agence France-Presse.

‘It means I have accepted Mohammad and other prophets,’ Mr Stone added from Isfahan, Iran, where the conversion ceremony was carried out.

He is working on a film about Rumi, a mystic poet, and has defended Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the past, reported Foreign Policy.

via Oliver Stone’s son becomes a Muslim… but insists he’s holding onto Judaism and Christianity | Mail Online.

Rumi!  So that’s it.  He has become a favorite in “spiritual but not religious” circles.

Notice that “Ali” assumes that Christianity and Judaism are religions one is born with.  That can, perhaps, work with Judaism, but Christianity has to involve some kind of personal faith.  And yet this is a common perception, I have noticed, that religion is not so much a set of beliefs–which might be in conflict with other religions’ beliefs–but rather something equivalent to ethnic identity or genetic heritage.

Watch for more conversions to Islam from New Age fans of Rumi.  Of course, the Americanized New Age version–which allows for holding many other and contradictory beliefs at the same time, as well as, I suspect, a rather more permissive moral code–will be different from orthodox Islam, just as the New Age versions of Eastern religion are far tamer than actual Hinduism and Buddhism.


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