Back to the Arena
January 26, 2016
A typical action movie now has to show destruction: great destruction. The pressure is ever to overplus just that little more than previously, so that whole cities, continents, worlds, are in conflagration and ruin.
Now and then it can get ridiculous. A hero and his partner will survive somehow in what appears to have been an Apocalypse and a final destruction of everything which civilization contains.
Other times, like in the new Bond movie ‘Spectre’ one gets tired of perpetual crisis and apotheosis, scene after scene, like a string of young men’s commercials or an over the top parody of Indiana Jones. One begins to ask – is this the climax – the final dénouement – when, lo, another frantic mess of vehicles bombs carnage and explosions happens.
The provision of movie makers appears ever to be increasingly towards splash, sensation, spectacle, and showing havoc and chaos happening massively before viewers’ eyes. Movies like this are becoming more and more like comic strips. Marvel and DC comics have been made movies, and their influence has been to acclimatise cinema goers to an exaggerated and rather crude wishful make-believe trashing of everything.
They are indulgences; the movies and their presentations of fantasy that they display. They substitute for plot, for character and thematic development, a ninety minute binge of gross passions, excess, and wanton, imbecile destruction. They have changed the way action movies are done.
The bad guys no longer go to jail. They are part of the carnage and provide finales of gruesome lustful gore which these movies pour out like wine on our palates. The bad guys are left to chance or fate to be slain and ripped apart. The heroes remain unsullied by their blood, but we enjoy the relish of seeing them win and the baddies minced by fortuitous accidental death.
A bad guy and good guy fight on the roof of a moving train. The bad guy gets his head knocked off by a tunnel entrance. Even better is when the bad guy gets atomised by his own devilish devices which were intended for the bystanders or the heroes.
Of course applied stylisation can help contextualise these movies as being romps or as stories unfolding in worlds which are their own insulated and sealed fantasies. The first tranche of Batman movies managed this quite entertainingly. Since then a second tranche of Batman has ditched Gotham’s mock Gothic for a more naturalistic Gotham, and so for a more barbarous fare onscreen.
‘The Dark Knight’ stable of Batman movies has moved into territory very much nearer documentary than Batman’s former incarnations with Danny de Vito and Jack Nicholson. These allowed humour and wit and a level of joyous dark imagination. The new Batman stable of movies, like Daniel Craig’s Bond, admits no humour and offers no playful joy.
Instead everything is deeply disturbing and discomfiting because viewers are not so far away from seeing in them the horrible stories one hears on news channels and reads in the press. Viewers of these movies are being invited to feast on gratuitous violence very much more nearly like the prurient crowds who swell the surroundings of plane wrecks or vehicle accidents.
The movie makers have had to push the boundaries so as not to be offering the same old yesterdays thrills to moviegoers, and now they have encroached into territory which the Romans occupied during the days of the Republic. I mean the arena, where men were killed for sport before large crowds as an afternoon repast.
The triumphal arches of Rome; its obelisks and statuary; too much of it shows off the barbaric nature of its era. These edifices say to their observers that the guys who erected them were The Man; they instruct of, are demonstrations of, unbridled power and intent to shock and to awe, and so tame, those who look at them. The architecture rising in nations and cities like Qatar, London, USA, and Russia; likewise say to their beholders – this is me – look how outrageously powerful I am.
The Gherkin building in The City of London has been dubbed ‘the cock’ of the Chairman of the Board who owns it, or occupies its office space. The Shard also in London likewise is not beautiful, not attractive, except to those who worship power and brash statements of arrival at the top.
On our roads in the UK drivers habits have changed. Shouting abuse is much more common, even to elderly persons with sticks crossing a road; ugly swearing and lewd gestures abound on the roads as everyday parlance. The general level of free-for-all and devil-take-the-hindmost is massive and is now the norm in driving. The local daily newspapers here in the city in which I dwell: the majority of headline stories it carries are to do with traffic accidents and fatalities. This is the case most days.
You might wonder what movies, standards of driving, of behaviour, of ancient and modern architecture have in common. They all display the fact that the arena is coming back. The people all around are being coarsened; or they are coarsening themselves, whichever or both.
The levels of education are poor. The teaching of children is not passionate discriminating and earnest. There are too many time-servers and freeloaders in too many walks of life. Children and adults educated in State Schools have learned to be passively dependent and subservient – fit for employment.
The blinded social trend is towards following a line heading towards allowing and accepting free rein to gross appetite and towards taking what one can because one can take it. Any hopes for getting to a society in which its members regulate themselves, curb their riotous appetites, and delimit their grasping and hustling by their own sense of what is good and proper, are small. The trend of the times is totally flowing the opposite way from a measured espousing of self-regulation.
TV advertising right now in mid December happily substitutes Brand names in traditional songs for their once-dearly loved words and melodies. Everything and anything is up for sale no matter how much once-hallowed or revered. British society is drifting away like a continent being subducted. There is just one destination unless the trends turn around. That will be to destroy itself. The levels of disregard for others, of disregard for simple things like manners, for sharing and respecting traffic conventions, for giving due space for others, and for due respect and decency, all are carrying this society towards its disintegration. What is needed is far a less self-oriented inculcation; with its commonplace acceptability and emulation. Instead a higher seriousness about life and living is needed.
Duty and responsibility do not end as one steps out of one’s front door. Life is more than about eating and drinking. It is like as if we are on a final big binge before the systems which uphold us finally buckle and go under; the natural world, the world of political and quasi-religious conflicts, the inability of the world of science and scientists to keep the lid on their large Pandora’s Box of own-goals of ills and calamities; the stupid willingness universally to condone audacious 'land grabs' and to iconize the moguls grabbing them, together with their all-manner-of ugly and gross business practices.
The world’s focus is on wealth creation and on productivity, on selling and on trading, on upping the ante day-by-day to beat off rivals, or to bring in more cash and punters, or to continue the tightening the upward spiral, and so closing up the loop, or to ratchet up to the next notch; all these are being driven by and are likewise driving those blind men and blind women who espouse their expediencies.
The world is losing its stability as well as a balanced ability to sustain itself, simply because too many of us have opted for headlong self-absorbed immediate mass and massive gratification. Such are our lives.
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