Give me crap or give me death

Yes, I’m being hyperbolic in my title. Given the choice between rubbish and life I’ll take life every time. But I like what is often considered to be “crap.” There are only two things about it that I object to: excess and exclusivity.

I object to the way, when something has some degree of success, it is milked for all it is worth. I also object to the idea of a world that is crap and nothing else.

I’m speaking here about entertainment and/or art – books, movies, television, music, games and so on. We go through recurring phases where many of us feel that the world has gone to hell in a handcart and the end of culture is nigh because we have succumbed to the avaricious tendrils of crap. I don’t think it has ever been true.

I recall when everything was Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code (which produced many copycats and inevitably became a movie). Loads of people told me it was crap. It wasn’t real writing. It was just awful.

I should write so badly!

If I could write a book like The Da Vinci Code I would. I might then buy an island to retire to and write a real book, but I doubt it. I’m pretty sure I would like my successful book and probably would try writing another. I can’t write a book like The Da Vinci Code if only because I’ve not the fortitude for the research involved.

I did read Brown’s book though. I thought his sentences were pretty pedestrian. But wow! He had the “what happens next?” aspect nailed. Yes, it’s a good, entertaining book. It’s not Dostoevsky but then it doesn’t try to be.

Scene from Twilight: New MoonCurrently we’re overwhelmed by Twilight – the books, the movies, the 24-hour feed of entertainment news about New Moon, the actors, the food they ate … all that stuff. Yes, it’s certainly annoying and I think you could probably set an egg timer on how long before the backlash starts (if it hasn’t already).

Like all backlashes, however, it will appear to be about the movies and books – they’re awful! They’re crap! They’re artless! The truth is that the backlash will be about the excess and it will be about the perception that the world has become exclusively about Twilight (and that won’t be quite true).

(Twilight, by the way, is simply the most visible example of an obsession with vampires and zombies in movies, books and games – an obsession that will pass as it always does.)

I think the only legitimate criticism of books and movies like these is the way the excess of marketing obscures other works – works themselves that may be well-made crap that is lost to us and works that have a more serious intent to them, equally lost.

People, however, like their crap, including me. And why shouldn’t we? There is a long history of art and literature that was the product of what is discounted as crap. Shakespeare, for instance, wrote people-pleasing rubbish. He, however, saw that it is possible to do that and make something more meaningful at the same time. Had plastic explosives been around in the Elizabethan period, I’m pretty sure old Polonius would have died in a car bomb incident in Hamlet.

The thing about crap is that when it succeeds it is fun and it is communal. You can talk to just about anyone about The Da Vinci Code, just as you can talk to everyone about Twilight. Even people who haven’t read or seen them have something to contribute.

I saw quotes from some well-known actors recently bemoaning the state of films today. The complaint is essentially that there are few roles with any weight, studios and audiences only want crap. I can sympathize with their plight but at the same time I can’t help thinking they are seeing it through actors’ eyes and not those of the audience.

Those making the complaint are also what is often termed “seasoned,” meaning they are older and have years of experience as actors. I’m not sure a younger actor would make the same complaint. I think they tend to be thankful for the work, are enjoying the ride and the gaining of experience, and are likely a bit bedazzled by the zoo that attends success.

Whenever I speak to people who are not cinema lovers, those people who make up the majority of the potential audience, people who simply want to “see a movie,” they are almost always reluctant to see something they perceive as “serious.” They simply want spectacle and/or laughs. They don’t want to go to a movie for an insight into life and people. They want escapism. What’s wrong with that?

If this observation is accurate then it is sheer dreaming to expect anyone to invest big money into something that might have a bit more meat on it. The kind of money that attends filmmaking, such as salaries, production costs, distribution and everything else, dictates trying to make a crowd-pleaser – bombs and bums. Comic books. Vampires and zombies (until it changes to something else).

The really good writers do what Shakespeare did: give the audience what it wants and, while doing that, subversively work themes and ideas into it that bring it an unexpected weight. It is definitely not an easy thing to do and it succeeds rarely.

Movies that are considered serious still get made – I think they get called dramas, usually independent films popular on the festival circuit. They succeed too, occasionally surprising us by doing so. But generally their appeal is to a much smaller audience and so, when made, that has to be considered and that means a smaller budget. To spend $200 million on a movie about surviving cancer would be to flush $200 million down the toilet despite the best intentions and the best outcomes.

One last thing … For all the nonsense that gets hyped, critiqued and discussed, the really big winners rarely do so simply because of their spectacle aspects. Say what you will about The Da Vinci Code, it worked because it was a well-executed mystery. Twilight? Yes, it’s about vampires, just as Titanic was about the spectacle of the world’s largest ship sinking. With all the vampire books and movies however, why would Twilight be so successful? From what I’ve heard it, like Titanic, is a love story. You may find them corny, unrealistic love stories, but that is what they are. And those who think they are nonsense should consider the age of the demographic they most appeal to and maybe ask themselves if somewhere along the line they have forgotten what it is to be young.