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August 10, 2009

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don r. lewis

I have a few things to add...

I read Ebert's take more as as if teens and young adults WERE to see "The Hurt Locker," they would really love it, more so than the crap they're already seeing in droves. And I realize, that's also a marketing issue because the marketing for a very fine little film has been reallly bad. Maybe they're saving the ad money for an Oscar push, who knows. I have a friend who's into seeing "good" movies and he hadn't even heard of it. But I think there's something to the point Ebert raises about kids not wanting to seem uncool to other kids. But it's always been that way. You are looked at as strange if you swim against the current.

Look at the representation of "cool kids" in movies....like "Juno" or on that "United States of Tara" show. The cool kids are always depicted as nerds or dweebs. The kid on "Tara" is fricking cool as hell but of course is a nebbish gay because he like, digs Dr. Caligari. It reinforces the stereotype and makes being different out to be akin to being weird.

However I will totally and completely echo Yvette's statements and give the bird to Tony D for thinking she has somehow let down her students. Kids these days (hah! Said without irony!!) are by and by completely unmotivated, lazy, parrots of commercials and TV shows.

I work with school aged kids daily in an afterschool program and have for over 18 years and this crop is laaaazy as hell. Want to know my theory on why? 24 hour TV. You can get cartoons or kids shows 24 hours a day on cable and there's really no need to walk away from the TV ever. When I was younger and even my sisters who are younger than me, you would go play or ride bikes or do something UNTIL the show you wanted to see came on, then you watched it. Then you went and did something else.

This 24 hour kids TV is fairly new and I think the effects are obvious. Tie that in with video games that are endless in terms of play time (you don't die, games are open ended with no real "levels" to conquer, just on and on and on)and you get lazy, easily entertained kids who are the fattest in the world. At least when I was a kid 24 hour TV was MTV so we were like, listening to music too.

I also attend some local junior colleges (note to fellow college grads: if you take part-time units, you don't have to pay back your loans! Golf! Film! Ceramics! All of them count!)and these kids have no idea what they're going to school for and damn near every one of them has said to me in one form or another, "C equals degree, dawg!" Barely sneaking by is the new American way. And in fact after Yvonne's statements, I'm thinking these kids are functioning illiterates and not merely lazy. Although likely both.

Just last night as the wife and I were watching TV before bed I flipped my lid as those John and Kate idiots were on seemingly every channel. Crap is force fed to us at every turn and we gobble it up by and large. Any free thinking human being with an ounce of sense would not give a shit about John and Kate and their 8 kids or what that family is up to but when it's on seemingly every channel at any time, someones watching it. We never dare look away...

Christian

"And when the twelfth largest company in the world controls the most awesome goddamned propaganda force in the whole godless world, who knows what shit will be peddled for truth on this tube?"

PaulJBis

Zach: so, to summarize, what I take from your comment is a (presumably white) american congratulating himself about how little racism there is in his country, compared to other countries.

Okay then.

What this reminds me of, is of a strip of the great argentinan comic "Mafalda", where the protagonist says: "if the teacher didn't get mad at us, I'd write an essay only with questions."

"Do the swedish love their country the most just because there were born there?"

"Do the french love their country the most just because they were born there?"

"Do we love our country the most just because we were born there?"

"I'd call it, 'Patriotism and laziness'".

I'll leave it here. In the meantime, enjoy the spectacle of a black president covering up for CIA tortures, asserting the american right to detain foreigners without trial and publicly opposing gay marriage (which is already legal, BTW, in several european countries).

Tony Dayoub

@don r. lewis

You are entitled to your opinion. Hell, sometimes I'm a pessimist and see things the way that you do. Like everytime I've heard "birther" or "death panel" in the last few days.

My point is that a teacher should try harder than the average layman to not give in to this way of thinking.

I'm sure all of us here looked up to a role model at some point in our life-whether it was parent, teacher or mentor-and were fortunate that this person hadn't given in to the cynicism.

This "teacher" doesn't sound much different than my eighth grade Algebra teacher 24 years ago, an old biddy who simply lost touch with the changing world and spent more time trying to correct our behavior than actually inspiring us to learn.

She should challenge herself and her students to reach beyond the negative thinking and societal crap that we all face every day. And if she can't, she should stop griping and hang it up.

Zach

@ PaulJBis: Sure, feel free to summarize away. That's a perfectly available option, rather than addressing the issue at hand.

Kinda reminds me of the Schulz comic where Lucy says to Charlie Brown: "Ad Hominem attacks are fun AND easy!"

As long as we're firing off parting shots - enjoy, on a re-reading of your last sentence, the obtuseness of the way you use the term "black." What on earth does that have to do with what follows? I'm assuming you didn't realize the suggestion of racism, just as I'm assuming you're not actually a racist. Just overly defensive and hasty with your words.

I wholeheartedly agree: All of the things you mentioned about Obama's policies & positions are indeed reprehensible. None of them have anything to do whatsoever with the issue of racism in American vs. European culture.

don r. lewis

Well, sure Tony. But I think you miss her point in that that ARE "cool kids" who are inspired to learn and think and enjoy life by searching out things outside the norm. I have probably 5-10 kids out of my normal 80 who fight against the rising tide of "normalcy," and I encourage it. And defend them against kids who try to bully them or get them to conform.

But my point is (and I can't speak for Yvonne but I'll guess) that by and large, this new generation frankly sucks. The last 2 did too, but in a devolving kind of way. This one (9-20 year olds) wins. Bah humbug!

RudyV

@Tony:

"...this says more about your inability or frustration with having to constantly adapt to the ever-changing demands being made on teachers to engage their students and/or parents in an exciting way."

It seems you have bought into the notion that teachers are put in front of the classroom to entertain students. Sorry to have to point this out to you, but a teacher's job is to teach, and a student's role is to learn. The student needs to sit still, shut up, stop texting, turn off the iPod, keep their eyes on the teacher and pay attention.

Unfortunately, this ADD-driven culture of ours has given students the impression that if class time isn't party time then they have the right to stand up in the middle of a screening of "Schindler's List" being presented by a college professor and proclaim, as reported in the comments following Ebert's article, "This movie is boring."

How much you wanna bet this chucklehead thought Transformers was Teh Awesome?

PaulJBis

Zach: there is a really amusing irony in watching all the american liberals, back in November, falling over themselves with joy and singing kumbayahs, repeating again and again that the election of the first black president proved that the USA was (just like "Transformers") Teh Awesome... and seeing then said black president enact pretty much the same policies than all the white males that preceded him. As it was said in one of those boring european movies that Kids Today Don't Watch Anymore, "the more things change, etc., etc."

That's the irony that I was hinting at in my last paragraph, and the fact that you decided to interpret it as racism just proves your bad faith. But then, that's what I should have expected when somebody from the country that invented Jim Crow started lecturing other countries about racism.

Tony Dayoub

@RudyV

"The student needs to sit still, shut up, stop texting, turn off the iPod, keep their eyes on the teacher and pay attention."

Respectfully, RudyV, you are being even more Pollyanna-ish than I am. It is not a teacher's job to entertain, true. But this ADD-driven culture cannot be simply wished away. It must be engaged on its own terms since this is a permanent reality.

Yes, a teacher's job is to teach, but a good teacher will also ENGAGE their students.

Back to the subject that Glenn introduced here, I would say it is also the job of filmmakers (directors, screenwriters, studios, etc.) to make movies, but a good filmmaker will also ENGAGE their audience. As for Ebert and Wells, they should worry less about the sad state of our youth and continue to do their part in engaging their readers by making them informed consumers when they go to the box office, because the Hollywood marketers sure aren't going to do it.

Tess

@Yann, thanks for the quote. I was thinking along those lines too, but was too lazy to think of it or look it up. And, Dan, I like your follow-up to it.

@our host, I'm an Ivy grad, but don't consider myself an asshole. Then again, I don't write for the NYT about the Jonas Brothers. Did you hear Lady Gaga wants to have a foursome with them? Did you hear Lady Gaga might be a guy?

Glenn Kenny

@ Tess: Some of my best friends are/were Ivy Leaguers. I'm just saying Ivy League + asshole makes a potent combination.

I wouldn't be all that surprised about Lady Gaga. Actually, I kind of like the idea. Although I'm so old I have to admit: when I saw her Rolling Stone cover, my first thought was, "Man, Bernadette Peters has still got it!"

Zach

@PaulBS: Round and round we go, it's just too much fun to stop, no?

Delighted to hear that you're not a racist. You'll notice I suggested as much, pointing out instead only that you chose your words poorly. If you have a problem with that, be more precise when you write.

I made my original point only to chime in with those adding complexity to the issue at hand, which seems to be the possible decline of US movie culture, which in turn can be taken as part of the possible decline of US culture at large.

Such sweeping proclamations are always hasty and simplistic; I was only indicating that there are some areas in which culture here can be said to be doing well, even improving. Racial equality is one of them. Apparently, in making this point relative to Europe, I stepped on some sensitive European toes.

Well, my friend across the sea: grow up and deal with it. What I said was accurate, and still is. You want a special invitation to one of my "things that suck about America" parties - just give me your address, I have them biweekly. THEN we can talk about how bad Obama is screwing up.

(This is what I get for drawing explicit politics into a discussion about movie viewing...lesson learned.)

TL

"Isn't the difference between teenagers of today and those of yesteryear not their level of innate intellectual curiosity, but the position of importance their tastes and interests are given in the mass media marketplace?"

I think this is the heart of the matter, along with the way our culture's elevation of youth has morphed into a approval for arrested adolescence.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately as a result of rewatching the first two seasons of Mad Men. In the 60s, people in their late 20s and up were expected to act like adults. Today, in the professional services firm where I work, the likes of Pete Campbell would never even think he could be head of accounts, and if he did, he'd be laughed out of the room. Similarly, after watching the Ted Kennedy doc that HBO has been running, I was floored to think that the fact that he was only 30 years old did disqualify him from being a Senator. (Maybe not the best example, him being a Kennedy and all, but still.)

Instead, today nobody questions the fact that there are adults with rooms full of $200 collectible Batman action figures.

Christian

Or glass shelfs of baseball memorbillia. But that's different!

And PaulJBis, this is one liberal still okay with Obama, seeing how America made the smart strategic decision to keep Sarah Palin far from a nuclear trigger. And the president is one dude and he's made enough substantitive changes to warrant his election. I don't have any faith that the government is going to end its wars or collusion of corporate greed, but I believe Obama would like that. He's trying. Look at the folks that form his opposition here: McVeigh nutters taking guns to his healthcare meetings. American Idiocracy.

MovieMan0283

Here's the thing: most people, in most areas of their life, participate in - and to a certain extent, like - whatever they're told to. What's the big movie this weekend? Let's go see that. That the big movie 35 years ago was The Godfather and today in Transformers says a lot about the studios but I'm not sure how much it says about the public. Mind you, I'm not saying viewers come out of the theater as satisfied - or perhaps provoked is a better word - by Transformers as they were by The Godfather (though honestly, many probably are) but their reasons for going to see either one are probably fundamentally the same.

This is not a finger-pointing accusation. I do much the same thing with clothes, food, etc. - there's too many choices, too little time to take loving care over every "consumerist" decision, so I end up going with the flow.

Hell, I usually end up doing that with movies in the theater, too, and cinema's what I actually care about! Until a few years ago I would go see all the big releases (the one-two punch of Fantastic Four and King Kong finally did me in in that regard). Even when I became more selective, I still trudged off to see all the Oscar nominees, even knowing there were probably better ones to see. The marketplace orients your choices; that's just how it is. Movies are a social activity (even when partaken alone) for most people rather than an art form - though the importance of said social activity is not as high as it used to be - more on that in a moment. (Anyway, at this point I don't go to theater at all unless I feel the movie's something I should be writing about online; which doesn't have all that much to do with quality and is in some ways another version of the earlier decision-making process. I have not seen The Hurt Locker but this discussion has encouraged me to make it the 1 film I actually go to see around this time...)

The real issue is what the marketplace provides. "Difficult" movies like No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood found relatively wide audiences (I recall sitting behind a college student on a bus, a frat type, who was raving about how "mad weird" Blood was, and hence how good). If the studios were pumping good entertainment into theaters, less expensive than Transformers and the like, they could definitely find audiences for them. It just takes smart advertising is all. That they don't is partially because of what was discussed a few weeks ago on this very blog, that studio heads no longer have even the slightest pretense of caring about prestige; to them, the product is no different than soap or any other commodity.

Frankly, I'm more concerned than anything else with the slippage movies overall are taking in the public consciousness. They are being eclipsed in cultural importance by television, video games, comic books (but especially television). There was a time when film was a mass experience as well as an art - it had the rare privilege of having its cake and eating it too. Now I fear they're slipping into becoming something a small niche cares about, while the majority has no more interest in movies than in bowling night. That this is in part a result of coming out from the theaters less satisfied or provoked than in the past probably plays a big part in that.

I'll return to this post and ruminate a bit more when I've read Ebert's and Well's pieces. I wrote this last bit first, thinking I'd offer up a few lines of thought and leave it at that. Oops.

Ryan Kelly

Jim, first of all, let me thank you for not ranting like a raving lunatic.

Second of all, if you want to be taken in by a corporate mindset that makes BUSINESS decisions to pander to shallow partisan thinkers who don't analyze an issue at all beyond only the shallow, deceptive surface, be my guest. Myself, I don't care what direction that ideological pandering goes in -- these labels of 'liberal' and 'conservative' media distort the real issue -- I resent it either way, because ALL the corporate news is painfully trivializing and reductive, and never approaches anything resembling 'truth'. If you wanna still bicker about Sarah Palin when her political career is virtually over, then far be it from me to deprive you of the joy you must get throwing out complete strawman arguments.

George

Some of Ebert's points are valid, but did he actually expect The Hurt Locker to be a blockbuster? With audiences of any age? Has any Iraq war movie been a major financial success?

Like it or not, most people are sick of this subject and don't want to hear about it. Nor do they want to see movies about it. And I know how they feel. Twice in recent weeks, I've gone to a local theater to see Hurt Locker, only to end up buying tickets for silly thrillers (Orphan and Perfect Getaway) that I thought might provide 90 minutes of entertainment, instead of a depressing experience.

Eight years ago, I was publicly lamenting that Ghost World and The Royal Tenenbaums were not the big hits of 2001 (instead of Ocean's Eleven, or whatever). Now I realize that the mass audience does not care for the quirky and the offbeat, and probably never has. It's not like Godard films were playing small-town theaters in the heartland in the '60s. Those theaters were showing Elvis movies.

So when G.I. Joe opens at No. 1, I shrug it off. Since I don't work in the movie industry, it has no affect on me.

Steven Boone

Dumb is not the problem, never was. Dumb is forever. The real problem is that dumb has finally, perhaps irrevocably, infiltrated the one aspect of filmmaking craft that could not afford to lose its good sense: the editing. Professional film editors have abandoned their craft in favor of utterly random newsmagazine pastiche. Some say, "fuck it, no looking back." I say that any critic who goes chasing the "anti-intellectualism" thread is dropping the ball. Movies today are smarter and more complex than ever, textually, but who cares if, in terms of picture editing (what Tarkovsky called a director's "handwriting") they are senseless and weightless?

Mainstream movies have deranged their relationship with screen time, and that's why they are so unsatisfying, confounding and forgettable. Many critics seem to think this phenomenon is inevitable at the multiplex; that sensible and sensitive construction is only the province of your festival faves. When an Anderson or Tarantino or Soderbergh bust out with popular entertainment that moves sensually and not spastically, the work is treated as a curious anomaly that has more to do with the individual filmmakers' special talents than the fact that they simply followed rules any studio hack circa 1960 would have known well enough to heed. Today, critics and filmmakers are conceding editorial innovations that are about as revolutionary as a keytar. Put down your goddamn books and start looking at what's going on before and after the cut. That's where we're losing everything.

Zach

@MovieMan - it's an interesting point you bring up. Maybe it's not such a bad thing that "serious" filmmaking (by which I mean intellectually & emotionally substantive) becomes more of a niche audience medium. This has happened, essentially, to literary fiction, and it's still doing okay - it hasn't died the grisly death people were predicting.

Don't get me wrong, I would prefer it if things didn't go that way. You're right - NCFOM and TWBB did remarkably well financially, and that was only a year ago. I have faith that the cinema experience will never disappear entirely, even if right now the upswing in ticket sales is connected more to Transformorons than, say, Two Lovers.

MovieMan0283

I don't think cinema is on the verge of becoming what literature is today (which, coming from someone who admittedly does not read much contemporary fiction, looks a bit grim from the outside: the most acclaimed books seem to loudly pronounce their unworthiness of sitting next to Melville or Dickens on the shelf, even wearing this as a badge of postmodern pride. Too much is made of rehashing or "riffing" on past works and pop culture, and the tone struck seems altogether too light and self-effacing, as if seriousness equalled pretension every time. This seems the heritage of Vonnegut - whom I quite like - by way of John Irving, down the line, the seriousness further diluted by the airiness with each generation. But again this is the view from very much outside, of a non-literateur who can't even spell that damn word apparently.)

But maybe a closer analogy would be to theater after movies came along. Masterpieces were still produced, including some that seized national attention (think Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams). But those were the exceptions to the rule and the energy and attention was flowing more and more to movies - the great novelists and playwrights were soon writing for Hollywood or having their works adapted, and becoming therefore more famous. And even that phase WAS a forerunner to the decline where - if there are still great plays being produced (and there must be, right?) - they are hardly household words. It seems like Angels in America was the last play even to come close to that status - and really only among the cultural elite even then. I don't know if the movies will get to that point, but it's a bit sad to see them even slip as a, well, not folk art exactly, but at least something the masses were engaged with intensely the way those kids in Pather Panchali look with awe and wonder upon the village paegent.

On the flip side, and on that very note, perhaps increased participation with the Internet and cheaper technology will open up a new epoch in filmmaking, and bring about engagement a new way. We'll see. Again, best to remain optimistic. But then, I'm much younger than Ebert or Wells...

Luther Blissett

What, you're not going to give us a link to see Sharon Stone's tits? I don't want to do all the work myself. Lazy bastard.

Nick

I'm a bit puzzled by the flood of critical superlatives for "In The Loop." Sure, it had some hilarious moments. I'll be quoting "Difficult, difficult, lemon difficult" until the day I die. And sure, it was intelligent, and I have no doubt that much of it is thinly veiled truth. But mostly I found it exhausting and boring; my patience for ten-minute-long wittily profane excoriations ran out after the first, oh, 972 such scenes. Was there something I was missing?

John  Keefer

Thank you sir for yet another insightful posting.
I usually get nervous once people, critic or otherwise,
decides that the death of cinema is finally upon us.
It's like they can forget that when they were teenagers they
most likely were interested or intrigued by something that
they would now look down their noses at, or at least no longer
have an interest in. I don't think the 13 year old me would have had the maturity to sit through, much less appreciate, The Decalogue, but the 20 year old me was thankful to finally get the chance to see it and fell in love with it. This has happened on more than one occasion. When I was younger I sat down to watch Shortcuts, I had heard about this Altman guy, I think Anderson mentioned something about him in an interview. Needless to say it was lost on me. I thought it looked like a tv show and was just plain boring. So I just wrote off Altman as a boring director that critics praised probably just to seem smart. Thankfully I discovered the works of both Raymond Carver and Altman around freshman year of college. I rented Nashville from the school library and said, "Ehh, how bad could it be?" I was blown away, got my hands on as much Altman as I could and have been grateful to the mental process that led me to pick up that wonderful film. So notwishstanding the end of all that is I would say wait for the generation to grow up a bit and discover these films. If they don't then they would be in the majority who see film as entertainment only. Luckily these are not the people who make great films. So if you love something truly than there's probably like minded people out there, they just won't be in the majority.

milo

Lately I've been combing the internet archives for old concert reviews for a fan site in honor of the late, great guitarist, Rory Gallagher. What I've noticed is that New York Times critics will generally pan anything that isn't the latest fad. If the crowd gave standing ovations, they will begrudgingly state that the crowd had a good time but will lament the "same old same old" aspect of the show, or any other show that seeks to entertain the crowd. Their theory I'm sure is that with so many people enjoying the show the music must be seriously lacking in good taste. Reviews from Chicago, Philly, LA, or, gasp, the smaller newspapers will generally take the crowd into account when writing a review, not so with the holier than thou New York critics.

Roberto Quezada-Dardon

uhm, isn’t "The Foot Locker" an independent film? And wasn’t that Katherine Bigelow on the cover of Filmmaker Magazine last month? Or was that the cover of Nickoledeon or Star Magazine I saw her on? I’m pretty sure it was Filmmaker.

Interestingly enough, in all the blogs no one has mentioned, as far as I know, the fact that non-horror, thoughtful independent films Never make more than summer blockbusters, even if they’re thoughtful action films.

Even independent horror films don't make that much. Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween, two films that appealed to the audiences that Ebert and Scott wish would flock to Hurt Locker, combined, made less than 75 million. To Date!

And Il Postino, Miramax’s film that ran, unbelievably, for over a year, has made, to date, domestically, under 22 million dollars. The most theaters it ever ran in was 430. It’s opening weekend it made $95,000. Are film critics not also film historians? Maybe not all of them.

Glenn Kenny

@ Roberto: The reason it didn't occur to me to mention such facts is because I took it as a billboard-sign-obvious given that to cite "Hurt Locker" in such a "O tempora! O mores!' context constituted AT LEAST two varieties of categorical errors....

Steve Pick

Now see, I totally thought The Naked Shakespeare paled next to the later King Strut and Other Stories, but I guess the kids ignored them both, didn't they?

Rock critics, film critics, any kind of critic gets lost when emphasis is switched to trying to convince people to like something instead of trying to get people to understand something new about what they may or may not already like. Every individual brings different baggage to the experience of a work of art - the critic's job is to drop another tie into the luggage (or something like that - this metaphor just came to me, and it could probably use some work).

Are people getting stupider? I doubt it? Is there rampant anti-intellectualism out there. Probably, and maybe it's worse than it's been, but I don't know how to measure it. Can we all benefit from thinking more about the art we see and hear? Well, go ahead, make me.

Glenn Kenny

@ Steve Pick: Well, yeah, "Strut" is a flat-out masterpiece, really the best-realized solo LP with the highest number of killer songs. I think that PB himself feels the same way. But "Shakespeare" was the first...

A lot of people on this thread have brought up anti-intellectualism, and it makes me think of this old "Father Knows Best" episode I saw in reruns in the early '70s but haven't been able to track down, although I think it might be "The Country Cousin" from '57 or so. Wherein the titular cousin visits the Anderson household and is a real nerdy bookworm drag, name-dropping Sartre's "Nausea," which makes Jim look at her as if she's from outer space or something. It's later determined that she's really not into all that "weird" stuff and just needed a makeover so that boys would like her. All very very Eisenhower-era stuff, and a reminder of nothing new being under the sun...

Edi Poinescu

This has been quite an entertaining read! Even got some movie titles out of it (and a TMBG album!), but I will treasure the drama and ideas the most :-) So this is what web 2.0 is all about :-D

Chuck

I probably don't need to add to the echo chamber here, but I also find these generational diatribes utterly frustrating. Yann's citation of Socrates shows that the complaint about Kids Today is an ancient lament.

There are certainly generational differences, some of them connected to new media and new distribution models, but one could easily point to some elements of contemporary youth culture and say that today's teens show just as much intellectual curiosity as ever (look, for example, at contemporary graphic novels compared to those of the 1970s). The box office of The Hurt Locker has nothing to do with anti-intellectual kids and more to do with an R-rating and a difficult film to market, especially to teens.

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