Monday, May 9, 2011

Overexposure and the Failure of Escapism

It seems that since the '80's, perhaps maybe at some other point, Hollywood started to move further and further towards the idea of movies as escapist entertainment.  A number of factors could have led to this.  Special effects have improved greatly in that time.  Another factor is that film had become such a well established art form that mining old material became viable and this meant moving away from realism in form and content.  Looking towards current reality would mean moving in the unnecessary and unwanted direction of something new and the concerns of past generations now lacked relevancy.  Only formless archetypes and genre cliches would travel through time if the movies were to draw from their past.  Lastly, the past ten years have been prime time for escapism due to the wish to ignore two wars an economic recession and a slew of other problems on the American national scene.  Hollywood has increasingly moved towards the science fiction and fantasy genres and big budget blockbusters.  These are all an attempt to let us rest our brains and forget about life for awhile.  Do these movies live up to their goal of being an escape from our lives?  For numerous reasons, they in fact fail and just become part of the fabric of our mundane existence.

Movies, in the escapist sense, are meant to give us experiences we can never have in real life.  It could be a romantic high, some sort of action or adventure, or anything else outside of the norm of human existence.  These images and stories engage us because they are so extreme and our lives are not.  The problem becomes, when we are constantly exposed to these images, do they still have any power
over us?  When do we reach the point where something is no longer an escape from our lives but it is our lives?  If I turn on my television, the news gives me a sampling of the most extreme events of the day, mostly tragic one because tragedy stands out in the normal flow of our lives.  I turn on shows and they show me characters in "dramatic" situations or I flip over to reality television and you have the most extreme, often mentally ill, personalities that a network could find.  The television is there 24/7, waiting to be turned on.  These extreme events have become tamed by overexposure and are now as natural and mundane as the drive to work.  Big explosions?  I can set my computer to wake me up with
a montage of big explosions every morning.  Most American movies have taken this cue of going with the extreme.  Look at the case of the recent film Skyline.  The plot summary from states:
Strange lights descend on the city of Los Angeles, drawing people outside like moths to a flame where an extraterrestrial force threatens to swallow the entire human population off the face of the Earth.
In case you didn't read that, an extraterrestrial force threatens to swallow the entire human population off the face of the Earth.!!!  This movie came and went like it was nothing.  How have we reached the point that something as epic as an alien force attempting to destroy the entire human race is no longer epic to us?  It is not a big deal.  The destruction of all humanity has become a yawn.  Hollywood movies are like a day off work: they can be fun and relaxing, but after too many, you realize you are unemployed.  None of the extremities has any gravity any more and they engage us less and less with each viewing. problem with overexposure is the pervasiveness of mainstream popular culture and celebrity culture.  I see celebrities when I watch television.  I see celebrities at the check-out aisle when I go to buy milk at the grocery store or on the front page of the newspaper.  I see celebrities on internet homepages.  I hear people talk about celebrities when I'm out with my friends.  Even at the movies themselves, they show trivia about these people on-screen before the movie starts.  There is no place to avoid these people, even if you try to.  I have spent more time seeing Jennifer Aniston outside of the context of acting than inside the context of acting.  I think her primary job must be to give interviews.  Have we not reached a point of celebrity fatigue?  When I go to a movie to see the same people I see all the time anyhow, the feeling of escapism is deeply lessened.  It connects me, but not in a meaningful way, to the mundane events of my day.  We need to return to the old days of studio-regulated publicity when stars still had a shred of mystique.

YouTube has also contributed to the failure of escapism.  Its entertainment is perhaps the most ready-made of all.  It can take a movie and boil it down to its best scenes.  When you've watched all the best songs or fight scenes from a movie over and over on YouTube, what is special about seeing the whole movie itself.  Movies are just pieces to be endlessly "sampled" by anyone with a computer.  This can be problematic for every movie of any type.

Does true escapism exist in movies anymore? I think a cinema which better allows us to escape exists. Going to see foreign films is a truer form of escape for me, personally, even if they are realist, because their reality is not my reality.  I don't see these stars or situations all the time.  No one I know talks about these films.  They really are something different.  I need a vacation from my Hollywood "vacation."  Seeing gunfights and car chases is more apart of my daily existence than spending time on retreat with the Carthusian monks, for example.  I think novelty is what Hollywood should be seeking.  Genuine creativity and meaningful content is what will break through the monotony. The bubble of "bigger" is about to burst.  3-D has opened up some new room for the "bigger" movies but that will eventually run out.  Hollywood has to go deeper because although that well is harder to tap, the spring is more endless.

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