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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Generation and Culture Gap (Increasingly a Divide)

[ETA: Mr. Kenny has pointed out via his own blog that I misspelled his name. My apologies. However, this isn't actually about you per se but instead about this generational hostility that seems to be on the rise in the critical community.]

The [film critic] blogosphere has recently been up in a tizzy about the perceived dwindling of the collective intellect. The failure of movies like "The Hurt Locker" to gain major financial traction while "Transformers 2" makes more money than God have led some critics and writers to blog extensively about the dumbing down of film audience.

A.O. Scott launches the opening salvo over at the NY Times.

Roger Ebert becomes exasperated, calling it a Gathering Dark Age.

Jeff Wells gets all Wells on our asses and calls the current generation Eloi here.

And of course, it becomes point-counterpoint with Drew McWeeny formerly of Aint It Cool News weighing in and later, Glenn Kenny in a response devoid of the name-calling and cutesy inserts of incendiary film shots.

Past the name-calling and the "cute" use of counterpoint images (Wells in particular is fond of his Morlocks and Eloi) is a relevant and tricky question: as a society (and I'm talking about the U.S. only) are we coming apart at the seams, getting slow and dumber as some critics insist?

Bill Maher recently ran down a list of the educational failings of the U.S. - how the man on the street (according to recent survey data) is unable to provide the name of his Senator, the purpose and text of the Bill of Rights, or even about the history of their own country. This is a pet topic for Maher, who insists that we've long been in a swift slide into mediocrity or downright stupidity. Maher's complaints join the resurgence of the unfortunate "culture wars" which seem to crop up during times of crisis.

The connective thread between this and the movies is the idea that subjective increasingly trumps the objective. Facts don't matter - feelings do. "I know what I know, facts be damned."Debate becomes a matter of who shouts loudest longest. Because "G.I. Joe" makes money hand over fist, that doesn't make it an objectively better film - just one that makes a lot of money. At the same time, it doesn't objectively mean audiences are dumber - it means that visually and tonally it touched on something audiences were seeking.

This whole discourse isn't an and/or prospect of one either being slow or in the know - it's a more nuanced thing that many in this argument (both about film and in the broader cultural space) tend to neglect.

Among Maher's statistics it would have been useful to post a comparison showing whether the number of Americans knowledgeable about the facts and functions has increased or decreased as opposed to say, 1960. Instead, he wrings his hands and shakes his head at the failure of the country making the facile point that being intellectually incurious is, you know, dumb.

Maybe there's a segment of the population that refuses to learn, know, or grow beyond its limitations. Maybe there also a segment that has been left behind by an inadequate educational system. Maybe people see summer tentpoles because it's part of the shared annual cultural experience from May to August. Maybe the most ignorant of us are the most visible thanks to endless re-airings of their shouting matches and shenanigans.

All I'm saying is, I don't know if it's as bad as many are trying to make things out to be. I think there is a gulf that separates generations and we all reach a point where we look at those younger than us and wonder, "why?" It's nothing new, it happens as one generation ages and the other comes of age. Populist tastes will make money hand over fist but it won't kill independent voices and work.

I don't know.

I distrust the insistence among the deeply religious that evolution never happened or among some of our citizens that our President is both a non-citizen and a Muslim with a Socialist agenda for our nation (apparently with reparations being the motivation for his actions and policy). But that's not really the generational divide so much as an artificial cultural gap widened through repetition.

"They hate you and think you're ignorant!" "They're smug, Socialist scum!"

There's little to no modulation in opinion. It's binary. It's them or us. Sometimes there are wrongheaded notions about actual facts but the answer isn't approaching the other side with either condescension or insults. You don't convince the young that there's interesting, non-mainstream cinema out there for them by insulting them. Furthermore, you don't get the guy who's convinced that our President isn't from here to change his mind by rolling your eyes and walking away.

I guess this whole thing is an exhaustion with smug. I want to be smarter. I want people to be smarter, but I also want us talking to one another instead of pretending that the so-called other side/age group/whatever doesn't mean anything.

Anyway, comment, think on it, ignore.

Better still, start coming up with solutions instead of talking about how much better things were way back when or elsewhere. We're in the now, so goddamn figure out how to make it work.

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