Looking back at the topics I’ve chosen to write about here on Personality Growth, I’m struck by one distinct fact: I seem to be preoccupied with the darker side of life. Whether it be dealing with childhood bullying, or disappointment, or existential hopelessness, or even facing down one’s own mortality, I’ve written a lot about grim things. Well, I’ve decided to change it up and start a series of articles focused on something fun: popular culture! So, without further ado, let’s start with a look at the movie industry.
Though I am by no means a film scholar, I have had some experience in this particular arena. In May 2014, I was the editor for a website that covered movies, video games, and other popular topics. I also wrote a few pieces focusing on TV shows and movies I largely enjoyed. My contributions to the site ended in 2015 (except for a brief guest stint in 2016), and pretty much all of those articles are now lost to the internet graveyard, but it was fun while it lasted. Coincidentally, it’s also the place where a certain Ms. Kirsten Moodie and I first became colleagues.
At any rate, though my days of being a so-called “professional critic” (har-dee-har-har) are now over, that doesn’t mean I’ve lost interest in film–or games, for that matter–as a medium, or that I’ve stopped waxing poetic about them and their cultural impact. I mean, I still blog about them (though I haven’t done so in a while), and I’m fascinated by the current state of affairs in Hollywood and in the country as a whole, especially when it comes to works of art.
For instance, before we take a look at the relevance of film as it stands in the current political and social context, let’s step back and consider the cultural climate in the U.S. as a whole. It’s clear that there’s a vast ideological divide in this country with regard to the important issues of the day, such as stimulating the economy, national defense, immigration, sexism, racial and gender inequality, and climate change and global warming, just to name a few. There doesn’t seem to be much unity in these United States anymore, and a lot of the hostility and conflict we see playing out among our two rather inept political parties and their even more troubling leadership seems to be trickling down to pop culture fandoms, as well, particularly with regard to films and even TV shows.
Take, for instance, the well-worn DC Comics versus Marvel rivalry. Back when I was growing up, this “animosity” used to be rooted in good-natured playfulness between the two companies, who both had their headquarters in New York City, basically across town from each other. They would often play softball games against each other, the results of which would then provide larger-than-life personalities like former Marvel Editor-in-Chief Stan “The Man” Lee with the metaphorical fuel he would use to harangue the opposition in editorials addressing DC as the “Distinguished Competition” and championing Marvel’s readership for sticking with the “winning team.” It was a more sporting time, perhaps, and there was an element of jocular humor to the proceedings.
This doesn’t seem to be the case in the present landscape. Marvel and DC have both become corporate licensing behemoths, beholden to their parent companies (Disney and Warner Bros., respectively) and responsible for some of the biggest box office smash hits of the 21st century. Their incredible characters and riveting films and TV shows have inspired some of the most loyal fanbases in entertainment history, and all of us have reaped the benefits of seeing our childhood favorites come to life on the silver screen.
However, the massive success of comic book-based movies has also resulted in some of the most brand-loyal fandoms in the history of film, and the DC vs. Marvel rivalry has evolved into a horrible beast, with throngs of film and comic book fans cutting each other down to size and throwing crass insults at each other like they’re candidates in a presidential election.
This insane level of vitriol has even hit the Star Wars fandom, resulting in a still great, but perhaps lower than expected, box office take for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. That’s a film I happened to thoroughly enjoy, even though it may not have been perfect, and I certainly don’t begrudge those who disliked it. However, it’s another example of a good (or, at least, well made) movie which nevertheless has raised the ire of many longtime fans. I don’t want to belabor the point here or turn this article into a defense of TLJ, but I’m just saying that even when films do hit a certain quality threshold (as in, they’re not *complete* duds), there’s still an inordinate amount of hostility among audiences and fans.
And we haven’t even begun to acknowledge the problems faced by the actual movie industry itself, which has recently come under fire for numerous instances of sexism and abuse by well-known producers, actors, and directors. There’s even a political undercurrent to this issue, since Hollywood is known to be a haven for those with left-of-center views. Many people also seem to consider movies to be a waste of time, and some even go so far as to describe producers, directors, writers, and actors as being out of touch with the majority of the public. To them, most of the “creative types” seem stuck in their own political bubble at best, while others are seen as agenda-driven bleeding hearts at worst.
“Stick to reading someone else’s script!” is the common refrain from those who stand opposed to the political leanings of Hollywood. They often say this without a hint of irony, even though this is a free country and people can have different opinions and thoughts, as long as they don’t harm others in service of those ideas. But the fact that an actor or a director has a differing perspective than those who oppose them seems to cause severe anger and rage from a certain segment of the general public, and believe me, I understand that. I’d just like to point out that rather than close themselves off from each other, perhaps both sides should listen to what the other has to say.
Instead, what we have is a failure to communicate, as my old high school band teacher used to say. There is a distinct lack of putting aside one’s own biases to view the work as an end unto itself. After all, movies can be a great tool to provide context for complicated issues, while also providing a way for us to experience events from a different perspective. Perhaps that liberal actor is playing a conservative small-town sheriff who fights a group of racists who are rampaging through town killing innocent people. Maybe that right-wing producer helped finance a documentary about the discrimination faced by a transgender teenager. These may seem to be far-fetched examples, but hey, Hollywood is a strange place, and the world is larger than any of us realize. Politics is not the end-all, be-all of art. Indeed, artistic work should transcend all of that, and it should show us that our duty as a nation, and as a species, is to look beyond our petty differences and treat each other the way we wish to be treated. To rise above the mud and mire and become better, more open-minded people.
It is the artist’s job, and more specifically, the filmmaker’s, to visualize something we may have seen before, but from a perspective with which we may not be familiar. None of us will know what it feels like to have spider-induced super-strength or be able to walk on walls, but we know what it’s like to have failed our family, or to see a loved one pass on, or to have dealt with responsibilities which are seemingly beyond our capacity to face, as Peter Parker did in the Spider-Man films. Few of us may know how it feels to give up our life plans and move out to Los Angeles where we struggle to get through countless auditions before finally landing that plum role, as Mia did in the excellent 2016 musical romance, La La Land. Only some of us will experience firsthand what Chiron went through during his formative years as a young African-American man who also happened to be gay, but the Academy Award-winning film Moonlight depicted it in an emotionally resonant and powerful way. And I’m pretty sure none of us will know what it’s like to traverse Middle Earth with a fellowship of men, dwarves, elves, and even a kindly old wizard as Frodo and Sam did in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Movies are important because they show us what we’re capable of as individuals, and they allow us to see events unfold from a unique perspective. They enable us to see our dreams unfold on a gigantic screen, and they transport us to far away lands, some of which can only exist in our imaginations. They may educate us in topics we’ve never studied before, or brighten our minds with moments of pure spectacle. They may take us back to the moment when we first experienced true love, or they may show us the trials and tribulations of a spacefaring, laser-sword-wielding, mystical knight and his companions.
At their best, movies can show us who we are meant to be, and why we should do better and be more open and accepting toward each other. They make us laugh and cry; they uplift and scare us; and maybe, just maybe, they even teach us to love each other.
To me, movies are truly magical. Politics, shmolitics, I say. If a movie challenges your preconceived notions or makes you consider a topic which you may not have given a thought to in the past, that is something to be celebrated! There may not be such a thing as a “perfect” film, but I don’t think that’s the point. I think that movies exist to get us to open ourselves up to the possibility of something better. It’s up to us to actually get there.
Keona Tang wishes that every fandom could just agree to disagree about the divisive stuff and just enjoy the ride while we’re still on it. But hey, it’s the world we live in. Anyway, he hopes all of you enjoy whatever films you love, and he also hopes to see all of the Best Picture nominees for the 90th Academy Awards, which were just announced! Drop him a line on Twitter or Instagram! See ya next time!