Monday, September 6, 2010

Realness...

“Own a flat screen television? If not you’re missing out. In high definition everything is so clear and real looking …”

A trendy comment today on movies or TV shows is “realistic”. Over and over I hear this adjective applied to various bits of entertainment as an endorsement of it. The special effects are “realistic” or the fight scenes are “realistic” and so on.

I have to wonder, what exactly does it mean to say a movie is realistic? If there are writers, actors, directors, editors, pre-production, post production, sound and visual effects companies involved over the course of generally a year and half, what exactly does “real” mean in regards to packaged entertainment?

One example I’ve heard pointed out is the ubiquitous ‘blue screen’ or back-projections employed in films since the 1920’s, if not before. These were most commonly used in scenes where an actor or actress appears to be driving. Now they are quite obviously in a mock-up of a car in front of a projection of scenery going by. But does this matter?

I’ve read that the reason special effects have improved is that audiences today are more sophisticated than those in past times. However, is the need to be convinced that a space-ship is realistically rendered in CGI as it dog fights with aliens from Beta reticuli on the planet Zorbom really demonstrative of a sophisticated mindset?

It may seem an insignificant question but it gets to the heart of the current mentality of many a citizen of The West and their relationship with media.

And it isn’t just in the realm of goofy sci-fi films. A few years back I was encouraged to see a new James Bond film because, and I quote, “it’s not like the old ones. This one is more grounded and realistic.” I’ve never been much of a James Bond fan but I gave it a shot. And within the first twenty minutes I witnessed a superhuman comic book character running mile after mile without breaking a sweat, men free-climbing buildings like Spiderman, people jumping to the ground from two stories up (from atop cranes) –tuck-roll- then hop up and start running some more. This was capped off by the hero single-handedly defeating an army of heavily armed soldiers and slipping away during a massive explosion that, though wreaking tremendous damage and knocking everyone to the ground (save the hero), did not appear to harm a hair on anyone’s head. Apparently this was “realistic”.

Of course, by “real”, what the promoters of such “realness” mean are that the fake explosions and fake car crashes and fake fight scenes are carefully filmed, edited and detailed in their fakeness. Thus ‘details’ becomes the accepted substitute for authenticity.

When you consider this new drive for, detailed, realistic looking staged-reality you can begin to see how the manufactured existence of an Obama or Palin or Bush jr can happen. They’re 100% fake in their presented personalities and qualities but they’re more “realistically” rendered in their presentation via media. More than that, they are caricatures of types we’ve seen in media for the past thirty years. But they’re “more real”. Most people know details about them, but nothing of substance. And if they learn the substance they quickly over look it when a new detail is presented.

Bush, the upper class cheerleader from New England, is presented as the country-bumpkin from Texas, complete with a bible, large belt buckle, plaid shirts, scenes of him cutting up trees with a chainsaw, and an inexplicable southwestern twang in some of his speech.

Palin, the former beauty pageant contestant turned politician, is presented as the embodiment of the “soccer mom” despite the obvious fact that her career would naturally diminish her role as a mother. But we’ve all seen the “moose picture” and know about her down’s syndrome child.

And Obama. We’ve all seen him many times before in movies and tv shows. He’s the bad black actor who thinks, clearly enunciating his words while speaking in a monotone voice equates to sounding intelligent. The one critical detail about him is, of course, that he’s black.

The tragic part is, for many Americans (and Westerners in general), these glaringly obvious straight-out-of-central-casting archetypes work.

How?

Most Americans, sadly, do not set down to a movie or any other media and ponder its message. In fact they see no message, only plot. Good guys. Bad Guys. Cool Guys. Hot Chicks. Cool Special Effects. Good Soundtrack, etc. That is what American audiences are conscience of when it comes to media. Unless it is something overt, such as a Michael Moore documentary, most Americans simply don’t believe propaganda plays much of a part in the sounds and images that are constantly fed to them through music, news, TV, movies and so on. The notion that writers, producers and directors have an agenda or even specific message that they’re trying to get across seems downright conspiratorial to most Americans.

In truth, Americans completely lack healthy cynicism.

When Homo americanus looks at art or media he simply sees it as something that is. Why does Homo americanus believe a particular piece of art or media was created? Money, boredom or that somebody just had a talent and expressed it are the three reasons Homo americanus concludes motivates the existence of any given drawing, painting, musical piece, movie, TV show, news program, etc ...

And here is the critical point, without ever pausing and pondering the why; these Americans will never think to ask about the who that is behind it.

They make no conscience effort to absorb anything other than the surface sheen, or the details. So if that is sufficiently rendered gloriously “real” in CGI, all else is superfluous. Thus you might hear praise for the accurate (“real”) rendering of a villain’s costume in a period film set in 1345 yet the fact that he is speaking modern English, complete with 21st century attitude and vernacular, is irrelevant. “Real” today is a surface quality reflecting whichever face is staring into it. Which means “real” is always present tense. As such, the past is never authentic unless filtered through the present conception (sheen) of “real”.

Along with this comes the adjoining recent trend in media of questioning identity as it relates to memory. From ‘Blade Runner’ to ‘Total Recall’, from ‘Fight Club’ to ‘Memento’ identity and memory (and how they are interconnected) are recurring themes in modern cinema. And in all of such examples the hero must finally, in the story’s climax, make a choice in what he accepts as real. Inevitably he chooses what he thinks will make him happy in the present. “Real” for this modern hero is always and only the now, as the past is uncertain, unknowable and ultimately insignificant. Needless to say (for the modern hero), so is the future.

With that in mind, topics such as national/ethnic identity, racial reality, the holocaust, third world immigration, non-White crime rates, quality of life, education and so on have no relation to facts. If the holocaust is “real” now, that’s all that matters. If the details (even if they are 100% engineered and fake) have a sharp, clear resolution in the imagery they present, they are approvingly accepted as “real”.

In fact the holocaust fits the example of ‘details’ over facts quite nicely. Most people who unquestionably believe in it know very little of the facts. But the artificial, media generated, details; piles of cloths, cattle cars, ominous smoke rising from chimneys and so on are embedded in their thoughts without context or the potential to examine their genuineness.

Or, how many people look past the unprecedented damage done by Third World migration because they are immersed in media created ‘details’. “Good ol’ Pedro walks around his quaint little abode where he collects elephant statues, listens to instrumental guitar records on an old player he rescued from a junk yard and keeps the letter his wife sent him three days before the car accident tucked in his tattered shirt pocket next to his heart.”

You ask, “How did Pedro get here? What effect has his presence had on the community? And what will be the long term consequences?”

Mr. Detail’s answers, “Who knows, who cares? The guy collects elephant statues for crying out loud! He’s a ‘real’ person!”

These “it looks real” people are in a house that is on fire. Yet they set undisturbed in front of their televisions, enraptured at images of fake fire-fighters fighting fake fires. For them, the authentic world has ceased to exist. In their minds, when they reach the pearly gates, St. Peter will greet them with the question, “Was it real for you?”

Perhaps, in the end, media is more like a hallucinogenic drug then some believe. The desire to escape into an ever more “realistic” looking fantasy world can be very addictive. And, like all unhealthy addictions, ultimately destructive. Both to the addicts and to those around them.



...