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July 19, 2006

Crunchy Film Criticism

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Rod Dreher suspects that film critics are not like other people. I wrote on a similar topic here.

In another posting about movies, Rod muses about how having kids has affected his thinking about popular culture. With all respect for Rod's experience, I ventured this in his comments-thread:

All true and good points. At the same time ... I guess I disagree that sex 'n' violence are per se bad things in art 'n' entertainment. "Macbeth," Delacroix, etc ... And I don't think it's "aestheticism" (or at least aestheticism per se) that's to blame for much of the aggressive crappiness of popular culture. Er, commercial imperatives (crossed with a general licentiousness), anyone? Most of the aesthetes I know -- and I guess I'm one of them -- are as appalled by the aggression and intrusiveness of much popular culture as Jerry Falwell is.

And I don't think it comes from a lack of respect or concern for kids. We're a culture that's obsessed with children, and with being kid-friendly. Seriously: I haven't traveled a real lot, but in my limited experience Americans put kids at the center of everything in a way most other cultures don't. In most cultures, the adult stretch of life is considered much more important than the kid stretch. And, good lord, look at the number of kiddie movies the filmbiz creates. I'd like to see Hollywood make more adult films. But genuinely adult, with a sense of weight and gravity (or a nicely-judged sense of levity). I'd be happy if they were serious about keeping under-16s from these films too.

I dunno. I find it useful to compare popular culture to industrial foods. They're everywhere, they're (generally) awful, it's a real wrestle (though a worthwhile one) to avoid 'em. But what's behind junky popular culture is the same thing that's behind junky food: commercial pressure, political connections, technology, big money, career dreams, the hope of making a ton of dough. All of it "enabled" by our willingness to put up with it. If we'd stop consuming the crap culture that's being peddled at us, they'd stop creating it.

I used the junk-culture/junk-food analogy to launch into a lot of musings here.



UPDATE: And then I added this to Rod's comments-thread:

Sigh: One reason I can't be a full-fledged Crunchy is that I kinda like titillation, exploitation (in the film sense), and the rousing of lower emotions for no particular reason than the sheer thrill of it ... Watched an erotic suspense movie last night whose sole entertainment purpose was to push a few boundaries, and to do so with some real commitment. Enjoyed it! A-OK adult entertainment. God, how I despise the kiddie-fication of American culture.

That said, I also agree that it's a problem when the whole culture seems eager to participate in Guilty Pleasures, and I can certainly understand it when parents especially feel concerned about tackiness, raucousness, vulgarity, etc.

My dream world: sensibly conservative yet with a small space allowing for boho carrying-on ... I honestly can't see why these two sides should be at war with each other. I think they're mutually dependent, honestly. The boho world is parasitical on the square world, and ought to recognize that. But the square world depends on the boho world for its entertainment and its lifestyle r&d -- for example, Crunchy-ism wouldn't exist if it weren't for the trailblazing of a lot of annoying ol' hippies, many of them socialists and anarchists.

Anyway, what's unnerving is when everyone demands instant gratification and fun-fun-fun 24/7, no?

posted by Michael at July 19, 2006


Good grief, what does Rod Dreher think kids saw growing up 500 years or a 1000 years ago? Are we trying to create a different kind of kid or person than say Abe Lincoln, who grew up in one room with his parents and like had primal scene issues or whatever?

I read a contemporaneous biography of Davy Crockett...well, never mind. Sometimes I don't understand conservatives. At least liberals admit they are trying to create some brand new type human persons.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on July 19, 2006 3:50 PM

"but in my limited experience Americans put kids at the center of everything in a way most other cultures don't." Apart from all the divorcing, I guess?

Posted by: dearieme on July 20, 2006 8:37 AM

"but in my limited experience Americans put kids at the center of everything in a way most other cultures don't."

Just musing here... but there is somethign to that comment. It sems that for middle-class Americans, having a kid involves a million ways of centering your life on them. Buying a home you can't afford. Fretting over a million things you should buy for them so they fit in with their peers, fretting over who they date, over how well-adjusted or not they turn out, over their grades, behavior, teenage foolishness, over them embarassing you in public, over college costs and 18 years of preparation for said college.... you get the idea. Collapsing birthrates throughout the entire developed world and all that...

All this seems.... a bit unnatural, doesn't it? I'm still musing here, but how much less anxiety would middle class families have if society had a "shotgun" attitude to family formation: have as many kids as you want, give them the minimum roof and food but lots of love and guidance, and know that it'll be all right. Have a small house in a marginal neighborhood. Let the girls all sleep in one bedroom, boys in the second. Believe that kids are tough little buggers, and they'll turn out all right, a bit tougher and more self-reliant than today's middle class kids. One will become a doctor. One a ne'er-do-well, etc. Let the chips fall where they may, while we project ourselves into the future. A little fearlessness and pioneer spirit. Whatddayathink?

Are middle class norms suffocating us?

Posted by: SJ on July 20, 2006 10:05 AM

"give them the minimum roof and food "

To be clear, I mean "give them the minimum *necessary* roof and food"

Posted by: SJ on July 20, 2006 10:27 AM

Maybe it's in our culture and the way we develop personalities through the schools and so on, or maybe it's really wired in from birth -- one of those autism afflictions where the amygdala fails to develop properly -- but it seems to me that the problem with erotic stuff is that there are two kinds of response to it. One is protective, pleased and rather cherishing if not nurturing: "What a dear little fluffy nude creature!" -- sort of parental. But the other is an impulse to oppress and even torture: "I'll make that stupid shameful being suffer!'

And it seems to be in the object, too. Either the warm and renewing safe partner, or the dangerous "hot" demon lover.

It's there in other facets of life, too, esp. those that involve governing, which can be genuinely civilizing and supportive, or which can be slow strangulation of anyone who can't defend himself.

Maybe it's this doubleness that so entangles sex and violence. Bonobo sex as an emollient versus preying mantis sex as a form of consumption. Force as an effective means of change and building versus force as destruction. We don't seem to have good ways to sort these except tradition, patriotism, xenophobia which seem to fall short of what's needed.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on July 21, 2006 6:35 AM

I grew up in N.Y.C., Brooklyn to be precise. I didn't really get to see middle America until I was in my teens. The point? I'll never forget the culture shock I experienced driving into small towns which announced themselves by proclaiming (for example): Springfield, Proud Home of the Springfield Tigers (almost always a highschool baseball or football or basketball team). That the central fact of the town's existence, in its citizens' own eyes, was its highschool team stunned me then and still does. But that's most of America, where life climaxes at age 17!

Posted by: ricpic on July 21, 2006 12:05 PM

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