If “we are what we eat,” then what about what we consume with our minds? If the food we eat becomes the substance of our muscles and bones, doesn’t the information we absorb become the substance of our thoughts and emotions? We understand that it’s not healthy to live on junk food alone; do we have a similar sense regarding our mental health?
I think a lot about the media content we absorb so casually day in and day out. In the last three or four decades, we seem to have come to an ugly, unfortunate place for entertainment dining. Our diet now is rich in violence and sexuality, and it’s served in a visceral emotional stew of force and conflict.
I think it’s disturbing, especially considering how few seem disturbed by it!
Brown plays a special effects wizard forced to use his movie skills to get out of a real-life jam. Dennehy plays a cop-type (imagine that).
The sequel ends up being a bit “by the numbers” in that it repeats the motifs from the first. An original idea is better merely in virtue of being original.
But this isn’t a movie review. The plot and quality of the films aren’t important. (For the record, the first gets an “Eh,” and the second gets a “Meh.”) What struck me while watching them is how far we’ve come in the depiction of movie violence. The F/X movies were downright quaint — even rather old-fashioned — by today’s standards. Yet the first one is just 28 years old; the sequel is only 23.
I’ve always thought that Total Recall was the peak of gratuitous violence in the Schwarzenegger movies (The Terminator came out in 1984; the kinder, gentler Terminator 2 came along in 1991, just after Total Recall).
I judge movie violence depending on who is the victim. The story’s “combatants” (the actively participating Good Guys and Bad Guys) are all fair game in a violent story.
When involved parties (the friend, the shop owner, etc.) become targets of violence, that ups the “this is violent stuff!” load (although it can depend on the nature of their involvement).
When innocent bystanders become targets, that’s getting very hard-core, and if it gets up to women, children (especially babies) or dogs, it’s off the chain.
In Total Recall (the 1990 original), Ah-nold uses random bystanders as bullet shields, something he had never done previously (or since). Even worse, the ending of Se7en was a horrific shocker that I never want to experience again. Ideas are far worse than actual gore. At least Total Recall had a science fiction comic book feel that made it less real. Se7en was contemporary realism!
But to some extent, these were cult films with a select audience. At least until the 1990s or so. George Lucas brought science fiction into the mainstream with Star Wars. Filmmakers such as Tarantino and the Coen brothers brought violent films into that same mainstream.
At the same time, there was restraint in some quarters. Schwarzenegger movies did tone down their violence… at least until The Expendables came along. Lately it seems the appetite for violence has won out, and mainstream entertainment is permeated with it. I don’t hear much talk anymore about the “problem” of violent media.
TV shows today are grittier and nastier. They are more life-like, and that is part of the problem when it comes to violence. And they’re not just life-like, but life-like in High Definition wide-screen surround sound.
In F/X there’s a scene in a morgue, and they use the old-fashioned trick of lifting the sheet (which covers the entire body) such that they can see the body, but the camera (and hence the viewers) cannot. The body in question had some bullet holes, but nothing worse (well, admittedly, a number of bullet holes is pretty bad, at least for the body in question).
Contrast that with morgue scenes in CSI or any other cop show.
Remember how people used to get shot back in the bygone ancient era of 40 or 50 years ago? They’d clutch their stomach, groan and fall down. That was it!
At some point we added “blood” oozing out between their clutching fingers — a simple effect involving a blood capsule — a small plastic container of stage blood. (In the black and white days, they used chocolate syrup!)
Next came squibs and blood bags so we could see the bullets hit. Then it was the blood spray from the bullet exit. Oh, joy, brains and guts splattered on the wall.
Where we are now… well, have you seen any of the Final Destination movies? (I have to confess there is something about those I like. I’m usually “meh” when it comes to monster and splatter movies, but I like that it’s fate in those movies, not some cheesy monster or slasher character. And especially in the earlier ones, the deaths were really clever and imaginative. Plus Ali Larter.)
There is an argument that realism isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our stories of 50 years ago were sanitized, and good always prevailed. They were hopeful stories about a world we wanted to be true. Today’s stories more reflect our grim view of a nasty, ugly world.
There is also an argument involving the idea of better in our stores than in real life. There is the idea that perhaps, at least for some, our nasty urges are sublimated by our entertainment. Better to steal cars in a video game than in real life.
But there is a problem when this is the only entertainment consumed. Without a varied diet, one gets only one view of the world — a view where force and conflict are the norm.
The real problem is that, like fast food, this sort of entertainment is everywhere. It’s hard to avoid. How many scripted prime time TV shows do not involve hitting and/or weapons? How many movies do you see that don’t involve death and destruction?
The recent Sherlock Holmes movies were action movies filled with violent thrills.
And while true fans know that Sherlock and Watson were fit and physically capable, Holmes is the epitome of intellectual detective (contrast with, say, Mike Hammer).
I think there is increasingly a direct line from all this to much of what’s going on in our real world. The casual violence done every day does not exist in a vacuum. Whether it be gun violence or woman-beating professional football players, we live in an era with a constant message — despite our protests to the contrary — that violence is the norm.
We can’t talk about gun violence without talking about entertainment violence. We can’t talk about violence against women without talking about entertainment violence.
We can’t pretend those things aren’t connected. We can’t pretend what our minds consume constantly doesn’t affect these things.
I’ll have more to say about this anon…