Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Consequence Of Puppets

SOUTHAMPTON: “Wonderful, isn’t it?”

OXFORD: “Well, it’s certainly, um, big.”

SOUTHAMPTON: “I promise you, Edward, you’ve seen nothing like it before.”

OXFORD: “There won’t be, um, puppets, will there?”

That’s from a 2011 film called “Anonymous,” about the theory Shakespeare’s plays really were written by the Earl of Oxford.

I liked the movie a lot.

I’m very dubious about the Oxford theory. And I’m very dubious about so-called “historical” movies in general, because they always change real-life events around—sometimes very drastically—to suit some perceived dramatic need of the filmmakers.

I haven’t heard, or read, anyone say anything good about the film “Anonymous” as history, or even as a pseudo-historical drama. But I have talked to one or two other people who simply enjoyed the movie.

A lot of people in the media world seem to have enjoyed and been strongly influenced by the David Shields book “Reality Hunger.”

So now we are seeing a lot of entertainment mixing-and-matching true history with entertainment. This weekend a film opens called “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

This business of mixing-and-matching true history with constructed history—wantonly mixing-and-matching the two—seems like a very bad idea to me.

If this were happening in a culture where everyone had a great education, and everyone shared a deeply in-grained sense of the past and understanding of what’s real, I’d say this kind of thing could be fun and entertaining.

But the modern world seems very polarized. Some people know a lot about history, some people know very little. Some people care a lot about what’s real, some people couldn’t care less.

After one or two generations are raised on entertainment that mixes-and-matches real history with entertainment, will anyone be able to tell the two apart? Will anyone feel any imperative to want to tell the two apart?

One time on a commentary track for a contemporary vampire film that used a lot of religious material in the plot (either the commentary for Dracula 2000 or the much better sequel Dracula II: Ascension) the filmmakers—the director and writer—laughed that although they did a little research, most of their religious knowledge came from watching the movie “Jesus Christ Superstar.” This was at least honest of them. They acknowledged both that films in general are a dubious place to look for knowledge, and that in particular the film “Jesus Christ Superstar” though very popular and very entertaining is not necessarily deeply grounded in Christian Apologetics.

It’s difficult to imagine where this kind of media trend will end. In a couple of generations, will everyone—or almost everyone—be functionally insane, unable to discern a difference between reality and constructed fantasy? Will anyone want to discern a difference between reality and fantasy?

I don’t know if the real Shakespeare—or the real Earl of Oxford for that matter—ever worried about going to a theater and being entertained by puppets. I can say from personal experience, however, that puppets can become something like real. And whatever it is that puppets become, this experience that is something like real but not exactly real, it can be—or it can be perceived as—better than reality.

Seems to me there will be consequences to this.

“Keep in mind Mike can’t control
Where the movies begin or end
He’ll try to keep his sanity
With the help of his robot friends”

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