Monday, April 13, 2009
A thought on our culture and redemptive writing, from bestselling suspense author James Scott Bell.
One of America's best film critics, Manohla Dargis of the NY Times, reviewed the new Seth Rogen comedy, Observe and Report, last Friday. In this film, Rogen plays a mall cop who is power mad. In one scene, he is shown having raucous sex with a woman who has passed out from drinking (you know, the kind of scene George Bernard Shaw used to write so well). Dargis says:
"Comedy is often cruel, of course, but before 1968, the year the movie rating system was instituted, directors couldn’t squeeze laughs from the suggestion of date rape, as Mr. Hill [the director] tries to do here. Like action and horror filmmakers, comedy directors now push hard against social norms with characters who deploy expletives, bodily fluids and increasing brutality."
This is what saddens me about pop culture now. Wit is not valued, because wit requires a certain amount of intelligence. Cruelty requires nothing but cruelty, and when we start laughing at it, the jig is up, culturally speaking.
There's a movie called Idiocracy (too many R elements to recommend it) which posits that the educated have fewer children, so the stupid outbreed them. A guy from the present gets sent 500 years into the future, and sees the results. People sit slack jawed in front of huge TVs, watching America's favorite show, which is simply a record of a guy getting hit in his most vulnerable spot, over and over again, in various ways (not a stretch, if you recall the popularity of MTV's Jackass).
We used to value and inculcate something called "good manners" which came from courtesy, which comes from the word "court" as in rules of conduct before the royal court, which itself came from notions of authority and order. One of these rules was not laughing at cruelty, not finding humor in the maltreatment of those who are weak and vulnerable. These rules have been built up over centuries, and now we see them flushed down manifold toilets every day.
The only thing we can do about this, as writers, is to continue to take our stand with redemptive fiction. No compromise. Don't give up.
Maybe it's a lost cause culturally, but as James Stewart puts it in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, "Sometimes lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for."
Watch the trailer for James Scott Bell's latest book, Try Darkness.