Sunday, January 16, 2011

Are Values Missing From American Films?

Politically, I am a left-leaning person. I don't consider myself an ideologue; I occasionally agree with non-left views. I limit my exposure, however, to opposing views because I find them poorly argued, hyperbolic or unnecessarily insulting. Ultimately, I don't think most people's minds change unless they, or someone close to them, has a personal experience that forces them to see things differently.

In my humble opinion, Andrew Breitbart's BigHollywood blog too often resorts to the negatives I listed above. I believe reducing films to "liberal" or "conservative" is inaccurate and pointless. I did, however, come across this piece—by Lawrence Meyers—whose content I wholly agreed with despite being initially turned off by the last sentence.

But the more I thought about that last sentence, the more I began to realize that the author may have a valid point. Here's the last paragraph in question:

"In a way, however, it almost doesn’t matter what the reason is [for decreased box office admissions]. The numbers speak for themselves. In the face of declining admissions, Hollywood should be improving its product, not relying on higher ticket prices for 3D and IMAX (which I believe are fads, anyway). I’ve written extensively on why this doesn’t happen, and BH [BigHollywood] readers know that Hollywood repeatedly refuses to create content that reflects the values of much of America."


So I was nodding in agreement during the entire article until I hit that last sentence and was like, "Values?!" I have a knee jerk reaction to that word since it's often used by the Right to flaunt their phony superiority to the Left.


Then I calmed down (LOL) and thought back to Robert McKee's book Story, pg 17:

"The final cause for the decline of story runs very deep. Values, the positive/negative charges of life, are at the soul of our art. The writer shapes story around a perception of what's worth living for, what's worth dying for, what's foolish to pursue, the meaning of justice, truth—the essential values. In decades past, writer and society more or less agreed on these questions, but more and more ours has become an age of moral and ethical cynicism, relativism and subjectivism—a great confusion of values. As the family disintegrates and sexual antagonisms rise, who, for example, feels he understands the nature of love? And how, if you do have a conviction, do you express it to an ever-more skeptical audience?


This erosion of values has brought with it a corresponding erosion of story. Unlike writers in the past, we can assume nothing. First we must dig deeply into life to uncover new insights, new refinements of value and meaning, then create a story vehicle that expresses our interpretation to an increasingly agnostic world. No small task."


Now, Meyers and McKee may be defining values differently; they apparently occupy opposite ends of the political spectrum. But I do think they're both saying the same thing. Hollywood doesn't create content that reflects the values of much of America because American values have become so dispersed and disparate that filmmakers don't even know what those values are.

In addition to the values problem, I believe that the handful of white, middle-aged men who greenlight ALL of the movies we see live such a limited, privileged lifestyle that they honestly just don't know nor understand how other people live. Why are there so many movies about drug abusers, prostitutes, bank robbers, other criminals and the dregs of society? Do people really curse as much as characters in movies?

If we take the time to dig deeply—as McKee suggests—we can provide value-based entertainment that appeals more than the current batch of crap.

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