July 14, 2009

Whatever Happened to Civility?

I'm a longtime fan of Roger Ebert's writing, and not only do I enjoy reading his movie reviews, both before and after seeing a film, I also find his blog to be both enjoyable and thought provoking. A recent post, entitled "I Am a Brainiac," deplored the anti-intellectual climate in this country, and the harsh reaction to his panning the new "Transformers" movie. I was moved to comment on his post, and was pleased that he in turn commented on my comment.

I think there are a huge number of people who never bother to consider anything on an individual basis, but merely apply the same sort of knee-jerk approval or dismissal that their parents did--whether it's movies or art, politics or religion. Everything and everyone--respected critics and quote whores alike--gets painted with the same broad brush, and nothing is worthy of a moment's analysis or consideration. Marketing campaigns are swallowed whole. There is no debate, just ad hominem attacks or the loud yelling of some trite comment or slogan--Critic! Liberal! Tree-hugger! Elitist! Socialist!--and trying to drown out the other person. This is a bullies' all-or-nothing, kill-or-be-killed mentality.

To address Chris' comment above, I think most boys are hard wired to like conflict and explosions and fighting more than most girls--but some people, both male and female, appreciate subtlety and nuance, and see the journey as more important than the destination. I don't think that movies that pander merely to our basest instincts can ever be worthwhile art, whether those instincts are bellicose or sexual. Most pornographic movies are laughable as narratives, because they dispense with all attempts at realism or suspense in their headlong (ahem) rush to "get to the good stuff." Movies that don't have any believable characters or plot, but just hurtle headlong into explosions and car chases are equivalent--they're action porn. Unfortunately, I have met men who prefer porno highlight reels to "A Room With a View," and for them, perhaps a movie like Transformers, that makes no sense but is the equivalent of an explosion highlight reel, is just the ticket. Give me "Michael Clayton" any day--it earns its explosion.

Ebert: Porno makes the fatal error of rushing toward and dwelling upon the least visually interesting elements of sex: The rumpy-pumpy and the "money shot." These are the exterior manifestations of events that have their importance in what takes place in the mind. If there were were seduction and foreplay...but the actors don't even kiss. I find it inutterably depressing that people who are flailing at each other's genitals don't even like each other enough to kiss.

I agree with Mr. Ebert. Kissing is the best part. Gotham Chopra said in a recent interview that Michael Jackson called him before marrying Lisa-Marie Presley, and asked for advice on how to please her. The answer? "Foreplay."

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