Cultural Calorie Consumption

Okay. Duly noted: a lot of folks dig Star Wars, the 38 year-old spaced-out franchise whose latest installment has now become the all-time box office ( $852 million, domestic) champ. Have you seen it? If not, does that make you a pop culture snob? I mean, if you haven’t seen it and don’t intend to see it. I’ve read some reviews, most of which are favorable. But those critics who dislike it really trash not just the movie itself, but its decades-long ethos as some type of cutting-edge example of sci-fi mojo. But, the box-office numbers speak for themselves (though I’m a bit discouraged as to what is being said, the movie’s intrinsically science fiction, technical and narrative elements aside; see below).

For my money, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, a Space Odyssey is much more of an engaging visual and narrative wonder. To give Harrison Ford a clear case of sci-fi genre gravitas, so is Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.  Ford’s character in Scott’s film occupied a more complex character in a much more provocative, edgy offering for filling up a couple hours of a viewer’s time. This entry might read as a “it’s just your opinion, so what?,” but I am weaving a thematic thread here, okay? How’s this?: I suppose Star Wars vs Blade Runner is analogous to a James Patterson or Janet Evanovich mass consumption approach to writing/storytelling and say, the likes of Jim Harrison, Chuck Palahniuk or William Gibson. Those last three writers are likely not household names as far as readership goes, but each has had Hollywood turn at least one of their books into films that visually articulate a respectable amount of their exceptional (and I’m not just spouting personal opinion here, believe me) literary talents. So, what they don’t accrue financially in total book sales, they get a boost from selling the rights to a studio. In this respect they thereby, seemingly, are not much different than George Lucas or Janet E. or James P., though not  quite occupying the rarified commercial air as that at the highest rungs of the profit-generating ladder that occasionally, in print or movie-making (see above, per the current cinematic rage) can reach astronomical heights. But I sense Harrison and other writers such as he, want to make money, if not by a public cultivating a larger appreciation for their writings, then cashing in via Hollywood in order to be financially stable enough to keep writing without their publishers expecting their work to become blatantly, formulaically commercial. You know, like Tom Clancy, Stephen King, E.L. James and Janet and  James, some of the authors whose products are, in my humble opinion, trafficking in the fast-food franchise lane of the commercial, cultural highway.

But, of course, to each their own. Back to that latest cinematic money monster, Star Wars, for the record, while visiting a friend in Dallas in 1977, when the first installment in the franchise hit the big screens, we decided to check out the big buzz hailing it as some kind of movie marvel. After less than an hour, we walked out, not giving a damn about Han Solo and the gimmicky robot tandem, or any of what met our eyes and ears that crowded the cheesy story. I guess we reviewed the movie with our feet, after putting money in the Lucas coffer that entitled us to stay until its end. We figured our time was better spent doing something else, not knowing what that was as we headed to her car in the mall lot. I can’t recall what we did. But no regrets!

So, I contend that there are movies, then there are films. There are books, then there is literature. Right, right, it’s all subjective. Opinions are like assholes; everybody has one! Yeah, yeah. And some people believe climate change is a hoax. And that the Kardashians matter. And Elvis faked his death. It’s right here, in the National Enquirer!

Different strokes and all that.  It’s a free country, and we’re free as to what we consume as cultural calories.  With actual food-based caloric intake, we are encouraged to eat healthy. Read the nutrition labels. Avoid the artery clogging junk. Get some exercise. Walk. Bike. Mind and body. They’re connected, right?

Cultural calories work the same way, methinks. You want to see Star Wars a few times? Do it. A couple of viewings in 3D (while dressed as one of the movie’s characters) and maybe one last fix in 2D. And ummm, that hot, buttered popcorn by the free refill buckets! Then you buy the dvd. The box set! George Lucas loves you. The costume shops love you. I’m a snob, no doubt, because this Star Wars, the Force Awakens, event suggests to me that too many people get all worked up about things that really don’t matter but for the brief fix it provides that takes them away from external and important realities. While we’re rarely able to get more than 40% of the eligible voters to actually vote (sometimes in mid-term elections maybe 30%, tops) there’s apparently intense involvement with media content that keeps folks entertained, but not very well informed about the local or global world in which they live.

For many reality is visited on a tourist-level of involvement. Elections? Debates? Gun control? Ugh! Too real. Where’s the remote? The media provides so many empty calorie dishes that plenty of people eat up at a rate that apparently precludes not trying for something that could give their brains a better workout, you know, just once in awhile. And that includes programs–if one looks for them–about our brains and the body that contains it. But who has time? We’re busy with our lives! Jobs. Kids. Bills. Wait did someone say Jobs? Oh, yes, Apple products are so fascinating. Look! My watch! I can watch movies and tv programs on it! I’m so connected with my Google glasses.

Or, alas, if not Star Wars, part 7, it’s the umpteenth iteration of a cop drama, a canned-laughter sit-com, the zombie and vampire narratives that have everyone from Sherlock Holmes to Abe Lincoln somehow now being part of the modern take on those horror genres. Are you ready for the zombie apocalypse. No?! What the hell is the matter with you. Are you wasting time watching PBS? Reading who? What? Never heard of it…

The horror. The horror! says the reclusive, paranoid Colonel Kurtz near the end of the film, Apocalypse Now! Yeah, well I’m increasingly inclined to share his feelings about the shape of things, but in a different context. The horror I see and hear is present in our  short attention span, instant gratification, mindless consumerism and preference for easily digested information and cynical persuasive pitches that are at the surface of a mile-wide, half-inch deep cultural landscape.

Margaret Atwood. Cormac McCarthy. Jerzy Kosinski. Aldous Huxley. George Orwell, if only you knew! Richard Wright. Ralph Ellison. Rachel Carson…

Bonfire of the Vanities.

Absurdistan…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About jharrin4

mass communication/speech instructor at College of DuPage and Triton College in suburban Chicago. Army veteran of the Viet Nam era.
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