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October 27, 2015

Going By Movies, America Is In An Apocalyptic Frame of Mind

Via Instapundit, always-wrong movie critic Sonny Bunch notices the slasher movie has all but disappeared, replaced by a series of young-people-face-future-dystopia movies.

The true successor of the slasher flick isn't the found footage horror movie. It's not a horror movie at all, really. It's the teen dystopian movie.

The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Divergent: These are all series in which teenagers are thrown into horrifying, life-or-death experiences not because they are bad or immoral but because their parents have created a world that's not worth living in. If the slasher flick exists as a way for adults to express their concern over the uncontrollable behavior of the nation’s kids, then the teen dystopia serves as a means for adults to worry about the world they’re leaving behind.

Whereas the slasher flicks concerned themselves with adolescent issues--who's screwing who; who’s getting the beer--the teen dystopia concerns itself with a much more middle-aged host of concerns: economic inequality and environmental degradation and class structures, oh my!

As I said, Sonny Bunch is always wrong, and this time is no exception, for there are no exceptions.

But there is something here that should be pointed out. I think a lot of cultural critics have noticed this, but they don't want to say so.

Ages are marked by their paranoias and despairs, and we see those paranoias and despairs in the art an age produces. What we dread in earnest we enjoy in fantasy.

After Watergate, there were a series of very paranoid and nihilistic films -- The Parallax View, Capricorn One, The Conversation on the paranoid end; then all the violent ones about a growing nihilism in the world -- Dirty Harry, Death Wish, and so on.

Cultural observers had no problem pointing directly at Watergate (and the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr.) to explain the paranoia, and nor were they so blind as to not notice the decay and malaise (and rising tide of bloody crime) of the seventies were responsible for the various violent retribution films.

During the Carter years and the first few years of Reagan (bear in mind, movies take a year or year and a half to greenlight, make, and exhibit), there were lots and lots of movies about taking the money and running and pulling heists. Even normal, everyday suburbanites were just stealing stuff (Fun with Dick and Jane, The Thief Who Came to Dinner), due to the economic insecurity of the age and the lingering recessions of the late seventies.

Lot of outlaw movies made then: one about D.B. Cooper, a new burst of Old West movies, this time all about the outlaws.

In the eighties, cultural observers had no problem tracing movies' focus on wealth and excess for the "Age of Greed" they said was a product of Reagan, nor even in the nineties did they fail to notice that a spate of paranoid entertainments -- Murder at 1600, Absolute Power, Wag the Dog -- were all rooted in a very definite cultural consciousness that Bill and Hillary Clinton's co-presidency was a shady affair. You'll no doubt remember the "Arkansas Death List" emails that circulated about.

Since 9/11, we faced a lot of movies about cataclysm and the end of the world. It's easy enough to see that connection.

But the Age of Obama has not produced any uplift, nor any respite from the current preoccupation of people with the End Times. As a non-religious person, I don't mean this literally (though many may), but it is impossible not to note the idea of Apocalypse and Cataclysm is in the air.

Look at the number of zombie films and zombie tv shows -- as obvious a metaphor for decay and rot as can be imagined. Or the still-doing-bonzo-business cataclysm fantasies. Even the latest Man of Steel was about cataclysm.

And now add into that the large number of paranoid, rotten dystopia movies.

If the Age of Obama is so swell, if we're all filled with Hope, why is this age not producing the spate of feel-good, have-fun, get-rich movies the 80s did?

Why are our collective fantasies in the Age of Obama so single-mindedly focused on the idea of dystopia, cultural decay, and ultimately cultural destruction?

Whether liberal cultural critics want to admit it or not -- and they seem very much to not want to admit it, because this is so obvious it's painful, and yet they fail to make this obvious connection -- the Obama years are years of economic want, emotional depression, and spiritual chaos, at least as reflected by entertainments resolutely focusing on the end-times and the wretched dystopias that arise after the End Times, when civilization is dead but just hasn't stopped moving yet.

The Leftovers, The Returned, Revolution, the Walking Dead not only being a top-rated show, but spawning a top-rated spin-off -- I dare anyone to find any previous moment in American history, including in the years of paranoia after Watergate, in which our fantasies have been so dark, depressive, anxious and foreboding.

This is all very obvious. The people in Hollywood turning out one cataclysm-and-dystopia entertainment after another surely sense this, as do the talentless idiots paid to comment on the culture at fluffy magazines like the Atlantic and New York and the New Yorker; and yet, another aspect of the Age of Obama -- that one must never admit the horrible truth; one must always pretend it away, and give only praise to Dear Leader -- keeps people from stating what is so obvious it's increasingly uncomfortable to remain silent about it.*

* As to why Sonny Bunch didn't notice it -- well, he's just plain wrong about everything, pretty much. He wouldn't notice a zeitgeist if it were giving him a Rusty Trombone.

Caveat: Marvel superhero movies (and the Flash, and Supergirl) are a big, happy exception to this rule, but note that those films are flights from reality, not trying much to capture any kind of "spirit of the age" in them, more offered as counter-programming to the general spirit of dread and loathing of Obama's allegedly magical age of renewal.

Almost as if you can't make a movie rooted in the real world that is fueled by anything other than despair and dread. Any fantasy with an optimistic tone must be a pure fantasy, explicitly occurring in an unreal world.

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posted by Ace at 08:25 PM

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