Hollywood has, historically, tried to project a family-friendly squeaky clean image of how their industry is run. And the general public were all-too-eager to buy into it. Sure, there were gossip columns, but unless you specifically sought out dirt, you didn’t see it. Stars would were asked to behave like royalty, bowing and curtseying for the paparazzi, always smiling and polite and gracious, and so they did, no matter what was actually happening behind the scenes or in their often tumultuous personal lives.
The end of the studio system and the ushring in of the swinging 60s brought in an era of candidness and a desire to knock down unrealistic romantic notions of all kinds. Kenneth Anger released a book called Hollywood Babylon. Suddenly the veil was pierced. Nevertheless, old traditions die hard. As far as the usual ritual of stars’ rituals went, it remained business as usual.
I feel in the last 20 or so years, simultaneous with the rise of the internet, that things have taken a turn for the worst…
The idea of professional decorum, or really decorum of ANY kind, is an endangered species. Due to the lack of any sort of FCC or standards and practices on the internet, milennials have been exposed to adult material since birth. Also, the internet has slowly eroded people’s desire or ability to demonstrate even a shred of grace. In its place is a sort of depressing world-weary cynicism that is laced with more expletives than the most brazen sailors. No matter what your station, life sucks, then you die, and around every corner is a petty feud.
Nowhere does this manifest itself more than in the entertainment industry. The media that covers itself also sees no greater desire to keep its coverage family-friendly than the people being interviewed. After all, the edgier you are, the more sex you cover, let’s say, the more hits you’re likely to get. So since it’s a free-for-all, why even think about who might be exposed to it? It’s nobody’s problem and yet it’s everybody’s problem.
Just to give you an example, here is a (relatively dated) piece covering the controversy surrounding Josh Trank’s ill-fated Fantastic Four.
If Josh Trank’s casual crude language discussion making a comic book movie (presumably for kids) doesn’t bother you, how about JJ Abrams talking about Star Wars? Not only is Star Wars for kids, but it’s owned by Disney, the hallmark of family-friendly entertainment. And yet it exerts no influence to try to keep JJ and others from spouting off their garbage mouths:
C-3PO might be the most desperate character in the movie. Han Solo is desperate to make money. Luke’s desperate to get the fuck off that farm.
“Holy shit, we shot a chase sequence in the Millennium Falcon today.” But I was holding my breath all day because I couldn’t let myself bathe in the impossibility of what we were doing. The young cast was so helpful, because as brilliant as they are — and they fucking are…
Imagine how Walt Disney may have handled an interview during the release of Bambi if he spoke the way people in Hollywood today do:
Listen folks, Bambi’s mom gets fucking shot! I’m sorry to break it to you, but buck up. This is serious shit, man. We’re blowing kids away with this truth!
When Howard Stern left terrestrial radio and started up on satellite, his language immediately shifted from one of innuendo and euphamisms to straight out swears and graphic language. Nowadays, though, nobody bats an eyelash over it.
I miss the days when kid’s entertainment was an actual kiddie pool. But today, the biggest grossing films are basically kid’s movies that have been co-opted to appeal to foul-mouthed young adults. Kevin Smith is sort of the poster-child of the core filmgoer demographic. Nerdy and totally lacking in grace or class.
It’s funny that at a time when there seems to be more fear about sexual predators than ever that this sort of thing is considered totally normal and acceptable. Yes, Smith said this to a 12 year old girl in front of a big audience.
The sad thing is that filmmaking can be an artform. It can inform us about the vagaries of human nature, but now it seems to be interested in a self-reflexive death spiral, constantly referencing itself, rebooting, remixing, and then interacting with fans in a crude way. There’s no real barrier between what constitutes a celebrity and your everyday schmuck on the street. They’re not royalty and when they walk down the runway for some sort of event they’re just going through the motions of an old tradition that nobody really cares about anymore, hence Cee Lo Green making a proper mockery of it. But then wouldn’t you expect as much from a guy who had a hit song titled Fuck You?
I’m not sure where to draw the line on this rant because there are endless examples of Hollywood leading the charge into a last-days-of-Rome style orgy of decadence where the only thing that matters is attention, popularity, and money.
We’ve reached a point where the shock-value of the South Park movie seems almost inaccurate now, since we’ve normalized swearing pretty much everywhere:
A lot of my blog has emphasized older films that reflect an older pre-R-rated sensibility. It’s not that people didn’t swear or talk about sex, but they didn’t do it so casually, so out in the open ad they do now.
When I was watching La La Land, for instance, it is in most respects a 1950s sort of movie, and yet they had to drop a couple F and S bombs in there. If you simply removed those, then the film would be a mild PG teetering on a G. But there’s no desire on the part of filmmakers to preserve the sort of sandbox for kids that used to exist, and why bother since no matter what, kids are going to be bombarded by foul language and sex on the internet.
Now don’t get me wrong, when I was a kid I sought out forbidden fruit. But I think it was really healthy to go through a period where I could just be a kid, when even words like damn and hell seemed to have power, such that I had to hold my tongue. I’ve fought a losing battle as a parent to try to shield my daughter to the point where she’s both stunted in some ways and more worldly than I want her to be in others due to the combination of helicoptering on the one hand and the overall culture she’s living in on the other.
So a lot of the material I’m presenting here is not so much nostalgia preaching to the converted but also an attempt to show the next generation how things used to be. If all you’ve ever been exposed to is how things are then you’ll think it’s normal. But there’s a whole world out there that predates it. It just seems to recede farther and farther into the distance and I worry where this is all going to eventually lead.