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Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Troubled Stories for Troubled Times
Remember, Mother Nature bats last...
As anyone who reads a newspaper, surfs the internet, spins through the A.M. radio dial, or tunes in the TV news these days can attest, this is one spooked country. At every level of society disappointment, fear, and anger abound. Whatever sweaty flank of the great Red/Blue sociopolitical-cultural divide you cling to, there’s plenty to be angry about: a political system steeped in corruption, mendacity, hypocrisy, and incompetence, an economy hogtied by endless war and a loss of our once-strong manufacturing base, the dark specter of terrorism here and abroad, and a looming avalanche of environmental catastrophe that -- given the political realities of our times -- we seem powerless to avoid.
It's hard to take a serious look into the future and not conclude that we're riding a slippery chute to Hell in the proverbial hand-basket. And when Beelzebub finally greets us with his big toothy grin, it will be to a very real hell on earth rather than some fire-and-brimstone Narnia conjured up by the Grand Poobahs of organized religion.
Most people have a general awareness of what's going on -- that although things keep getting worse, our current state of politico/cultural polarization is preventing any meaningful action from being taken -- and this pisses them off. When so many people are that angry, anything can happen, and under such volatile circumstances, no politician is safe. I almost feel sorry for our political Brahmins, flicking their long forked-tongues into the ever-shifting breeze, desperate to find a position that will put them ahead of the pitchfork-and-torch carrying mob without getting trampled in the process.
So if you’re feeling some of that anger, join the club.
"But what," you might ask, "does any of this have to do with Hollywood or the Industry?"
I'm getting there -- and although it may be a three-bank pool shot off the seven ball into the corner pocket, there is a connection. Remember, this being a mid-week post, the rules are much looser here than my usual Sunday bleat.
Today's question: where does all our fear and anger go?
(Other than teabag parties and Fox News, that is...)
One place is Hollywood. Movies have a long tradition of offering an endoscopic view of the troubled American psyche. Scholars and other mere mortals have covered this subject pretty thoroughly – some in a lighthearted vein, others taking a more serious approach – but the gist is that many of our deep cultural fears bubble up to the surface through the shared dreamscapes of the silver screen. The Film Noir movies of the late 40's and early 50's are thought to have reflected the insecurity of life in the post-war era, among other things. The unfathomable violence of World War Two shook everyone involved right down to their core, unleashing emotional traumas that still resonate today. Film Noir expressed a dark vision of humanity, along with the fear that although the demons of human nature can be stuffed back in the bottle, we're never really safe -- sooner or later, they'll break out again to wreak havoc. The dawn of the atomic age that ended WW II created even more societal angst, particularly after the Soviet Union got The Bomb in 1949, spawning a series of giant monster and science fiction movies that tapped our suddenly very tangible fears of nuclear weapons and radiation.*
A similar degree of sublimation is evident in the current wave of movies with apocalyptic themes, from “The Day After Tomorrow” right up through “2012,” and I suppose one could make a case (admittedly thin) that the alien invasion movie “Independence Day” -- silly though it was -- presaged Al Qaeda’s assault on the American mainland on 9/11. In that film, the studly-but-beleaguered President of the United States asks a captured squid-creature from space “What do you want from us?.” The beast from beyond replies “We want you to die...”
Osama Bin Laden couldn’t have put it better.
What I hadn’t really considered is how these troubled times are (and have been) reflected by our ever-present cultural mirror, the television. A recent LA Times piece pointed out a number of television shows in the past few years dealing with the anger and fear gripping our society in these increasingly grim times. Someone could probably write a great doctoral thesis on the subject, and although this isn’t quite up to such levels of scholarly analysis, it’s a good place to start.
It's a good read, too, and food for thought as we stumbled into the cold gray mist ahead.
* Some fine examples of the genre:
The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Thing from Another World
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman