When archeologists dig up an old culture, they are able to better understand that culture by the kind of art it produced. The most notable art America has produced, arguably, is its movies. Movies began to be mass produced primarily in America, beginning with the silent era of the early 1900s. Hollywood became not only the center of American film, but the center of world movie production. What will our movies tell future archeologists about our culture?
If archeologists were to take a sampling of the movies that are being produced at the moment, what they would mostly find are escape themes. Of 25 mainstream American movies to be released in December, nine are comedies and six are adventures. There are also two musicals, two cartoon fantasies, a western, a disaster movie, and a documentary. The other three are dramas.
In other words, 22 out of 26 December American-made movies contain escape themes. Typical of these movies are The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, a fantasy about dwarves, dragons, wolves and other creatures; This is 40, a comedy about a married couple’s trials and tribulations with middle age; and The Impossible, a disaster thriller about a family on vacation in Thailand when the tsunami hits; and Les Miserables, a movie version of the long-running Broadway musical.
Nor did the four dramas that were scheduled for release in December appear to delve very deeply into the human condition from a psychological standpoint. On the Road, based on the novel by Jack Kerouac, though billed as a drama, is more a quirky adventure of a group of hippies on a road trip in the 1960s Any Day Now is based on a true story of gay couple and their troubles trying to adopt a child with Down syndrome. While the theme is laudable, it appears to be more soap opera than drama. Only one drama, Flying Lessons, about a young woman coming home to confront friends and family she had left behind, seems to attempt to look objectively and realistically at life in America right now.
If you took a sampling of the entire year of movies for 2012, I suspect the breakdown would be somewhat the same. You would find a predominant number of thrillers, comedies, adventures, fantasies and other escape themes. Among them are stories about men who can fly, who can slink from wall to wall like a spider, who have the resources of a bat are who wear a steel suit that makes them super powerful. And the people who watch such movies are not children, they are primarily adults.
Shakespeare, who is regarded by many if not most experts to be the greatest writer who ever lived, noted that a writer should “hold the mirror to nature.” But it appears that those responsible for making our movies-Hollywood’s screenwriters, directors and producers-are not interested in holding a mirror to nature, unless it is a distorted mirror.
What they are interested in is producing movies that make the most money. And apparently escape movies make the most money and are the ones that people most want to see. The five highest grossing movies of 2012 are all thrillers and adventures: Marvel’s The Adventurers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games, The Amazing-Spider Man and Brave.
So what does all this say about us? We are apparently a culture that is no longer interested in producing or watching movies that portray realistic themes. We do not value movies that probe the human psyche. Realism seems to be out. Fantasy is in. The more fantastic the story, the bigger the screen, the louder the sound, the better audiences seem to like it.
“So what’s so good about realism?” we might ask Shakespeare if he were sitting in front of us. “Why hold the mirror to nature?” And I imagine he would reply, “Only by looking objectively at ourselves can we be true others and live a healthy life.”
An individual that avoids reality and lives in fantasy is not a healthy individual. And a culture that lives in fantasy and avoids reality is likewise not a healthy culture.
Perhaps that is what future archeologists will say about us.