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Boredom and Consequence

Boredom and Consequence

by Brandon Edmonds / 24.11.2010

Two songs ambled to mind after watching a d/loaded trio of recent Hollywood fare (Megamind / Despicable Me and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World). Naturally, given that I’m probably not the intended audience, The Buzzcock’s “Boredom” – (‘so I’m living in this movie / but it doesn’t move me’) – a song almost always playing in my head – and The Notwist’s “Consequence” (‘I’m not in this movie / I’m not in this song’).

A song I sometimes convulsively need in the same way prayer works for acolytes, a song strong enough to, as Dinosaur Jnr. once put it, ‘feel the pain of everyone’.

Both minor masterpieces are ultimately about wanting more from entertainment, about feeling shut out by mainstream culture. And the personal fallout of that disqualification. In a nutshell, the stakes of being different. (Being different and finding acceptance, even redemption, beyond the confines of the self in conventional belonging, a deeply conservative impulse that movies never stop insisting on, sums up our three teen-targeted films quite nicely too).

And the songs are almost a timeline, if you like, tracing the deepening of a certain disaffection with popular entertainment and the related emergence of widespread disengagement with the products of the corporate culture industry. The yearning for an alternative. I’m assuming this. Either go with that or snort and dismiss me. For the rest of us, you’ll notice the earlier Buzzcocks’ lyric poses someone ‘in this movie’ – there’s still space for identification, for involvement (still passion in performance) – but by the early 2000s we’ve reached a kind of ground zero whiteout, (the be-numbed sensual switch-off of the Notwist, their music even feels like emotion being processed by machines), without any possibility of identifying with popular mainstream culture: ‘I’m not in this movie / I’m not in this song.’

You may well counter that the ‘entertainment industrial complex’ still rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Which suggests great swathes of satisfied customers. Remember prices have spiked. Stuff costs more. The actual number of moviegoers, for example, has generally fallen from the highs of the 1920s through the Great Depression and the War years until the onset of the stay-at-home habit of television. I’d also point to the chronic systemic crises in education globally – the deficit of critical minds – and sigh over how easily led we go on being.

Let’s try to fathom this falling away of popular culture from us. I feel that falling away. That loss of real identification with characters that matter to me, plots that work through real social issues and stories done in a way that isn’t entirely driven by an apathetic, corrosively cynical irony. I suspect you do too. Is culture or rather mass entertainment falling away from us? Should we expect more from it? Are we doomed to appear less and less familiar to ourselves in popular fictions? This at a time of culture glut, proliferating overload, when entertainment was never more available, gettable, torrent-able.

The glorious high romantic novelist Stendhal likened effective imaginative practice to walking outdoors with a mirror on your back – reflecting the world. Has popular culture turned its back on the crucial mimetic impulse to show reality? Has it abandoned us to jokey violence, actions without consequences and dizzying bouts of visual excess? By “us” I suppose I mean anyone who remembers the delicious anticipatory thrill of those parting clouds and that rollicking horn-heavy theme song from The Simpsons – back when it was as vividly unflinching as Dostoevsky, and about 11 million times more cogent than the news. Savvy consumers – who get it. You know who you are.

To the films then, shall we?

Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Scott Pilgrim vs the World is astonishingly empty. Violence has no material impact. Feelings are glossed over. Relationships are entirely interchangeable and disposable. Reality is completely given over to manipulative sensation. This film doesn’t relax, contemplate actuality or unwind for a second. The drift of mainstream movies towards the affectless, inconsequential smoothness of videogames is now complete. I hate, hate, hate this movie. Despicable Me and Megamind are both 3-D animated Obama-era features obsessed with retrofitting evil in the garb of goodness. Of course the unlikely ascension of a young, black senator to the Presidency was meant to do the same for US legitimacy, at home and abroad, after the disastrous Bush era. “Yes We Can” was the affirmative Obama pledge – since depressingly conflated to business as usual as he extends the ‘War on Terror’ and safeguards corporate interests. Anyway that (bogus) spirit of renewal sees Despicable Me’s Gru – an underachieving Shrek-shaped villain held back by an overbearing mother – softened into fatherhood and emotional maturity by a trio of cutesy orphans; ostensibly foregoing evildoing for guardianship. It has some good voiceover work by Steve Carell, whose accent falls ‘somewhere between Bela Lugosi and Ricardo Montalban’. But there’s really not much more to it. Megamind can be read as a working through of the trauma of the ‘capitalist breakdown’ of 2008. It posits the breakdown of the Manichean ‘superhero system’ of good versus evil when the guardian of Metrocity, MetroMan, bored by the rigmarole of heroism, stages his own death to become a bearded hipster musician. This leaves resident villain Megamind in control. “I want you to carry on with the dreary normal things normal people do,” he tells the masses. While chaos reigns. “No you can’t!” reads Obama-spoofing posters on city walls. It takes the love of a good woman and consequent self-belief to set things aright as the villain discovers the hero inside himself. The couple drinks to ‘being normal’ and a reporter tells us excitedly, “the banks are open again!” So the chaos that engendered the chaos is restored in what passes for late-capitalist normality. None of these films have a single moment of truth. There’s nothing to identify with. They are calibrated cash registers ringing up sales. Consequence: boredom.

Megamind

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RESPONSES (24)
  1. Lizzy says:

    interesting piece of writing, pity it had to be crammed into a short article – almost seems like an abstract for a much longer, meatier paper. once you write that, i’d like to read it…

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  2. the cinephile says:

    Brandon, a small suggestion. Consider postmodernism as an equal contributor to these cultural dilemmas as even-handedly as you have chosen to lambaste capitalism.

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  3. brandon edmonds says:

    I kinda think PoMo is taken as a given and goes without saying after 30 years. Check out Alex Callinicos’ ‘Against Postmodernism’ for a consummate lefty smackdown of the idea.

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  4. Lisa says:

    “Scott Pilgrim vs the World is astonishingly empty. Violence has no material impact. Feelings are glossed over. Relationships are entirely interchangeable and disposable. Reality is completely given over to manipulative sensation. This film doesn’t relax, contemplate actuality or unwind for a second.” — I really enjoyed it for that exact reason. If we are to believe he views life like a video game then how else would it be portrayed? It’s really more about visuals than story line. And obviously it will resonatewith its intended audience.

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  5. brandon edmonds says:

    Why does he view life like a video game? That’s where the story ought to go for me. Instead it just accepts that idea unreflectingly. Fail.

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  6. damndemons says:

    i would have to agree with Lisa, Scott Pilgrim is a film more about cinematic aesthetic than deep story and should be taken as that, not run through a post-modern/slightly-jaded prism. But if one does feel so inclined, the film, in my limited opinion, is highly identifiable with by a younger audience, an audience who is naturally wired for its pastiche of post-modern intertextuality. I think the issue goes deeper than your, slightly one-sided analysis. The new generation thinks, operates and sees the world in a very different way to even Generation X of the 80s. It is ultra-fast paced, cyborg-like in its appropriation of the Internet as a vital part of its social interaction, used to brief but loaded connections with utterly random people. The old theoretical frame of reference does NOT apply anymore.

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  7. damndemons says:

    “Why does he view life like a video game?” because that is how the modern generation views life. The answer to such a question, within the film, would be pointless – akin to philosophizing ‘why is the sky blue?’

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  8. joburg tom says:

    Scott pilgrim vs. the world. the most amazing moder movie i have ever seen. my genertation as the ‘gamers starting really when we were old enough with the ps2. is what the movie is all about. htough we started late we are on equal ground for loving the games of yonder times. the movie is not meant for emotional depth. it is made for just watchig. I’ve described it to my friends as ‘watching an 80’s game based on a comic book, while on acid’. the movie is amazing in the way it has you feel like you are watching a comic book coming to life. there is no point in harpooning it for it opitmising the generation of indie-gamers. infact the way it basically rejects mainstreem indie, and makes it quircky in a way is another point of it’s brillinace.

    it is incredibibly funny, i’ve watched 3 times now and still think it’s hilarious. the script is amazing. the music is amazing. it combines all the things i love in the modern world i live in. and so too for others.

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  9. brandon edmonds says:

    Why does ‘the modern generation’ view life like that? It’s this unwillingness to question I’m getting at. The second you ask, interesting factors come into play: power, history, cultural change. ‘pointless’ / ‘there is no point’ – listen to yourselves. That’s exactly how they want you to view the world. Shallow defeatism.

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  10. damndemons says:

    why does the modern generation view life like this? you want to get the answer to that question from three movies??? is THAT not a tad naive?

    You see the seeing the world as a video game as a bad thing, we see it as the opportunity to hit that power-up/extra-life and actually do something with it.

    To you, it is ‘shallow defeatism’, to us it is the riddance of old cultural tropes and the possibility of creating new ones. The new generation is NOT as stupid as you paint it, brandon. We question not through philosophical rants, but through appropriation and remixing of the existing. We question through creation rather than observation.

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  11. the cinephile says:

    “the movie is not meant for emotional depth. it is made for just watchig” is a deeply troubling comment all in itself. If art does not resonate at all with you on an emotional or a spiritual level, then isn’t that either a strong indictment of its ineffectiveness or on the hollow existence or dumbed-down expectations of the viewer? Either way, it suggests that “this generation” of movie buffs may be in a bad way.

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  12. the cinephile says:

    @brandon. I suspect that you’re oversimplifying matters here by assuming that PoMo and Capitalism are one and the same thing, or that they are joined enough at the hip to be criticized with the same evidence and attitude. One is literary theory, the other is economic and just because both enjoy hegemony in contemporary society does not imply that they are equally valuable or despicable.

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  13. brandon edmonds says:

    I was asking you @damndemons. You slant me as lagging behind some new wired sensibility that creates through ‘appropriation and remixing of the existing’. Trust me I’m with you. What you describe there is simply what the 1968 Situationists called ‘detournement’ – taking the given and twisting it into new formats and forms. But they did this with a political, revolutionary intent. They wanted to change society, not simply pile up its products and re-arrange them for affect. Questioning through ‘creation rather than observation’ suggests an endless round of making more stuff uncritically. Adding to the cultural glut rather than intervening on behalf of some wider social project beyond your protools bedroom noodling.

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  14. damndemons says:

    cinephile, i didn’t in anyway promote lack of depth in cinema with my statement. Hollywood has always released trash and will continue to do so until we burn it the fuck down and put a new system in its place. What I did suggest, is that the new generation is able to extract a different level of meaning from cinematic texts, a certain depth that resonates only with them and is viewed as ‘shallowness’ by the older generation.

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  15. damndemons says:

    and I, in turn, mr edmonds, am with you. I do not for one moment pretend that this trend is new. yes it has been around since the late 60s/early 70s. and yes, then the intent was political.

    but now it has moved beyond that – the very idea of a ‘revolution’ (in its political sense) is trite and lame to the new ‘kids’. their ‘remixing’ deals with a much wider range of subject/ideals, their ‘revolution’ functions almost on a subconscious level. Ok, perhaps I should rephrase – ‘observation THROUGH creation’…does that sound better? Modern youth is much more intent on ‘changing society’ than the youth of the 60s/70s/80s/90s combined, but the old ways of doing so – protest and such – have been proven not to work (in the grander scheme of things). A wider social project IS in place, it is just so built-in (admittedly into a small, but fast growing section of the youth) that it needs not to be named.

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  16. Bill Nye says:

    “The answer to such a question, within the film, would be pointless – akin to philosophizing ‘why is the sky blue?’”

    The sky is blue because air scatters short-wavelength light more effectively than light with longer wavelengths. Since blue light is at the short-wavelength end of the visible spectrum, it is more strongly scattered in the atmosphere than light with a longer wavelength, like red for example.

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  17. the cinephile says:

    @damndemons – interesting theory you have there. Would you care to mention any of these movies that only the younger generation is capable of comprehending to the fullest extent, together with some more specific thoughts on the aspects of these films that elude older movie buffs?

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  18. Roger Young says:

    I want to kill everyone who has ever used the word “akin”.

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  19. Lizzy says:

    @damndemons “the very idea of a ‘revolution’ (in its political sense) is trite and lame to the new ‘kids’.”
    if you were a poor south african or living anywhere other than in a western-style economic comfort zone would you really believe this to be true? Hmm. seems like these ‘new kids’ are not representative of most people on the planet anyway so they can have their post-post-modern ennui, and everyone else can get on with basic survival and attempting to effect what you see as an outdated political revolution…

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  20. the gasworks says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzEo4NBvE-Q
    another for your collection.

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  21. Moose says:

    While I agree with the thrust of the article, you obviously do not understand Scott Pilgrim at all. The film is a homage to video games. An ode to their irrationality, simple ridiculous stories and structure. Everything you moan about is affectionately deliberate. It’s like complaining that mob films are homophobic, misogynistic and violent. Scott Pilgrim is a genre in itself. It’s just a pity that it’s about to be copied to death like Pulp Fiction.

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  22. brandon edmonds says:

    Scott Pilgrim can eat my ass out. Then reach around and bobble my balls with his callused Halo2 fingers…

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  23. Moose says:

    @brandon edmonds
    “Why does he view life like a video game? That’s where the story ought to go for me. Instead it just accepts that idea unreflectingly. Fail.”

    er… the movie is a video game. That’s the premise.
    Why do you view life as meaningful? That’s where your writing out to go for me. Instead it just accept the idea that you are a carbon-based meat sack, spinning around an insignificant burning gas ball. unreflectingly.

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  24. brandon edmonds says:

    I like you Moose.

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