Star Wars: Rogue One came out over the weekend. No, I haven’t seen it yet, but I have read a few forum comments from geeks who have recently seen it. One thing I’ve noticed is that people tend to have the most positive perceptions of a movie immediately after leaving the theater, but then inevitably they fade. If these perceptions change over time then what does that say about the work in the first place? Is it about the work or it about us?
Just as there can be no moral good without evil to compare it to, there can be no good films unless there are also some films that are universally hated. This is why one of my pet peeves are film geeks who are so enamored with the medium, or anything ‘genre’ (sci-fi, fantasy, horror) that they instantly heap superlatives on the work and run defense for its shortcomings. Kevin Smith is one such person.
It’s kind of sad that Kevin Smith, who is a filmmaker (or at least used to be) and should know the art-form, seems to lose his higher-brain functions when talking about other films. Someone like the late Roger Ebert was able to speak much more substantively to the artistic merits of the films he watched than Kevin Smith with his endless juvenile expletive-laden geek-speak. “Then the lightsaber went woooo! And I was like, bitchen!” (that’s not a direct quote but it may as well be.)
Here is someone who is in love with the sound of his voice, considering he spends over 90 minutes waxing philosophical about Rogue One here.
The fact is that Kevin Smith is tailor made for Youtube in the sense that he presents a schtick that is all style and no substance. He is an imaginary geek friend to hordes of geeks who have nobody to hang out with. Intelligent film commentary may be buried somewhere deep under the venir of 21st century Youtube performance-art, but you’d be hard-pressed to find it, nor do any of his viewers care, as they watch it simply to see Smith embody his own self-parody.
Now, before I even knew who Kevin Smith was, I used to read Ain’t It Cool News. It became, for me, the new Starlog, but it was (and is) a lobotomized and totally biased Starlog. Its signature is to stick !!! at the end of every headline. This, in text, is what evolved into shouting bug-eyed celebrities like Pew Die Pie who understand that the only way to grab the attention of today’s ADD set is to abandon all subtlety and literally grab them by the throat. Everything, no matter what it is, is cranked to 11. Nothing has any dynamic-range anymore.
Of course, the problem is that not everything that comes out of Hollywood justifies this level of unbridled excitement.
Similarly, another one of my pet-peeves are articles along the lines of “everything about _____ you need to know”. Here’s the one for Rogue One from geek site io9.
Look, I love entertainment, but there’s nothing about it I or anyone else NEEDS to know. To presume, via the headline, that everyone NEEDS to know is offensive on multiple levels. I NEED to know whether Trump won the election due to Russian hacking. I NEED to know if another huge chunk of the antarctic ice-shelf collapses, dooming us to x number more feet of sealevel rise. I NEED to know if there is yet another mass-shooting in a school, a black church, or a gay nightclub. I do not NEED to know anything about Rogue One or any other movie or TV show. I may (or may not) WANT to know things about it, but I don’t NEED to. This is why, despite writing this blog and doing insanely deep-dives on all manner of old, obscure, or cheesy entertainment, I feel like I still have both my feet planted on terra firma, whereas some people really have completely decoupled from reality that their value-system is skewed to such an extent. Given the things I rattled off above, I don’t blame them, but I’m gonna rant about it anyway.
But here’s the kicker. I’m sure there are some out there whose initial enthusiasm for a work never wanes, most rank and file geeks never maintain that same level of enthusiasm. Beyond that, the average Joe who buys a ticket to Rogue One (or becomes hooked on a cable series like Breaking Bad) has a limited window of engagement. A successful promotional campaign will generate a hype-cycle. This is where something becomes a cultural “event”. For Star Wars, it was when people were crying over Han saying “Chewie, we’re home” in the Force Awakens trailer. I find the phenomenon of reaction videos to be obscene in the shameless display of emotional exhibitionism, but here’s one of them:
Modern Hollywood is extremely good at selling emotional experience, and it tries to craft that experience as collective. You get a lot of people wrapped up in a thing and there is a feeling of community in being collectively enraptured.
The problem is that this used to happen on its own accord. You know, the watercooler effect. But now the promotional engine is too self-aware and it applies body-english. And supposedly “objective” media outlets are more interested in capitalizing on the hype-cycle than offering honest reportage. If they help build a cult-like monolith out of these franchises then they stand to reap a reward in clicks and ad revenue.
And lastly, the everyday joe himself, who used to offer honest watercooler assessment of films, if he has a youtube channel, is basically pushing towards the poles. On the one hand you have videos offering gushing praise and on the other you have perma-cynics who bash anything and everything just to kick up a sh*tstorm of controversy.
The punch-line is that AFTER the dust settles, if most people are truly honest with themselves, the shiny object of their oozing enthusiasm isn’t going to seem so shiny down the road.
The commerce of entertainment today is very much like the seduction of a pickup-artist. You are manipulated into a frenzy and then afterwards you wonder why you got so worked up in the first place. People either aren’t self-aware enough or just don’t give a crap. They just keep blindly throwing themselves onto the roller-coaster of what amounts to very high budget but ultimately disposable entertainment experiences.
Given that I have not seen Rogue One, I’m not taking a direct swipe at it, although I have read some less than glowing reviews. This was just a jumping-off-point to my awareness of the ultimate perfection of the hype-cycle in Hollywood and our almost gleeful submission to it.
There are reasoned voices in media criticism out there still, but they are drowned out by the fanbois on the one end and the perma-thumbs-downers on the other. The only universal constant is this unquenchable narcissistic need for attention. As such, a media event is merely the coat-tails upon which everyone jumps in order to get their share of attention.
I guess by mentioning Rogue One I’d be part of that too, but at least I want to make a meta-point about it. Ultimately I’m more interested in getting people to think than to just generate attention for its own sake. Media is an extremely powerful force in the world (no pun intended). The average person is ignorant of its power, and are literally swept along by its wake. It wouldn’t hurt to step back now and then and pinch yourself.