Friday, January 21, 2011

Movies, Television, the ADD Generation, and Human Patience (or the lack thereof)

February to June 2009

I really think that with the triumph of Lucas-Spielberg style of filmmaking in Hollywood with its jump cutting acrobatics (often the only point of these is the jump cutting itself), its special effects emphasis (again the point of these often seems to be the special effects themselves), its adolescent eye view, and the triumph of that other bastion of contemporary Hollywood, the childish gross out big screen sitcom starring “celebrities” like Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell, the alliance of these forms of filmmaking with commercialism (tie-ins), the advent of the computer with its special effects and editing capabilities, and the coming of the internet have altered, transformed and speeded up human perception and human expectations particularly in the West.

The ADD film (films characterized by jump cutting and jump cut special effects) is film on speed (and steroids, I might add). It, along with the big and small screen sitcom (the films of Sandler and Farrell et. al. and others of the Saturday Night Live ilk), have come to define, for much of the ADD and gross out generation, what a film or television show should be, what the film and television norm should be, what a real film should look like (ideology making reality).

The triumph of the ADD film and television programme and the big and small screen sitcom has meant several things. It has meant that there is little room in the American film and television marketplace these days for the adult oriented fare Hollywood used to make during its studio heyday and into the 1990s. It has meant that there is little room for the European adult art cinema (the antithesis of jump cutting, special effects laden contemporary Hollywood cinema and one which the ADD generation sees as “boring”). The demise of art cinema in the US is also, of course, directly related to Hollywood's ability to reconstitute its monopoly over production, distribution, and exhibition in the US during and after the Reagan "Revolution".

By the way, the triumph of the "new" does not mean that there are no links between the ADD and gross out generation and generations of the past. The ADD and gross out generation, like previous generations, remains blissfully unaware of its ideological links to the past and hence blissfully unaware of history.

Like previous generations the ADD generation believes strongly in progress and technological utopianism as long as progress is defined by the technologically laden films and TV and the sitcom stylistics of contemporary Hollywood cinema and television that they regard as the way a film and TV programme should be. What is relatively new in the ADD generation (this has roots in the 1950s and 1960s) is their belief that black and white films are the products of a cinematic stone age. Allied with a strong sense of nationalism and nationalistic parochialism (hardly a new phenomenon) it also means the ADD gross out generation exhibits an "irrational" mania against subtitles. For them the only cinema and television is American cinema and television. The irony here is that so much contemporary American cinema and television comes from foreign sources a fact that most of ADD generation remains blissfully unaware of.

As a number of analysts have pointed out changes in communication bring changes not only in communications technologies and the speed with which communication takes place—think of how the telegraph expanded and speeded up our ability to communicate with others. Communication changes also impact human perception. I noted that for the ADD and gross out generation ADD films and sitcoms have become the (uninterrogated) norm for film making in the new Hollywood. Every generation, of course, has its new Hollywood and every generation believes that its own dominant or hegemonic for of filmmaking is the best.

The increasing speed of communications, the notion that bigger and better (and more gross out) special effects are more "realistic", and the love of the ADD generation for obvious and gross out childish humour, has not simply impacted human perception and the cinema going and television viewing audience, it has impacted journalism. As print journalism gets shoved into the waste recycle basket of history, online blogging, journalism on speed, is having a greater and greater impact on the ADD generation. With the advent of hordes of sites that you to can leave a comment on online cultural criticism has become democratized or, from another perspective, dumbed down to unprecedented levels.

Cultural criticism, of course, has always been speed journalism. But it has become even speedier in the computer era. Criticism is in many ways, the most ahistorical and anti-historical form of journalism given its need for quick value judgements and quick turnaround. As the computer generation has moved into the digital age of online cultural criticism the impact of those communication changes noted above allied with the ultra-speedy nature of blogging has produced a significant number of critics who seem more than willing to judge a TV programme on its impressions of the first few if not the first episode. This is, of course, akin to reading a chapter or four of War and Peace or Ulysses and reviewing the entire book on that basis. This is particularly problematic for that most beloved and most despised of TV forms, serial or novelistic television (TV, at least potentially, is more like a novel, a film more like a short story). Since novelistic TV requires that one pay great attention to what is unfolding on screen and patiently wait for the arcs (narrative and character) to unfold in front of you the lack of patience and the lack of attention of most viewers and most critics today has been harmful to careful and historically sensitive analysis. And if these critics turn people off from watching the show it can have a negative impact on the shows survival. And while critics aren’t the ones who make or break a show it is worth remembering that those who can make or break a TV show, US TV’s executives, have been doped up on ADD management styles since at least the 1970s. The mantra of TV execs seems to have become if the show isn’t drawing the ad revenue we think it should (commodity aestheticism) then let's cancel it. That so many viewers think similarly tells us much about how ideology works and about the influence of neo-liberal or neo-conservative ideologies on modern American culture and beyond.

Anyway, the triumph of ADD criticism has exacerbated even further the anti-historical nature of criticism since quick draw ideologies of value, a lack of narrative and visual patience, and anti-historical methodologies generally form the foundations of such criticism. Here the criticism of the hypermoment has triumphed. It is the hypermoment alone that the powers that be want us to remember at least until we move on to the next hyperfad of the next hypermoment.

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