Wednesday, May 10, 2006

PART 2: Hostage To The Dramatic OR How Modern Culture Misses the Boat

"The camera lies all the time; lies 24 times/second," according to film director Brian De Palma. Yet we spend so many hours with this distorted reality, it cannot help but shape our beliefs and expectations.

In Part 1 of this article I discussed the effect of a visual medium such as film on the culture. But visual media also requires excitement and this constant drama in movies and advertisements has a major impact on our culture as well.

Nothing is more dramatic than death and dying. So by the age of eighteen, children have seen about 16,000 murders on TV. Much has been written about the effect of violent TV on children. At the very least it helps desensitize young people and prevents them from understanding the true tragedy of death.

And then there is the everyday unreality that is common in the movies: heroes plunge effortlessly through glass windows, villains get killed in increasingly bizarre and sadistic ways, and at the end of the movie we get swept up in the obligatory chase which must be a bit different each time.

Things occur so effortlessly on film, we may think that our slow step-by-step and day-by-day lives could somehow move more quickly or be more exciting.

Take for example, the first time a couple connects. The initial kiss is often followed by a passionate throwing of clothes which leads to extended love making in which the partners move together in perfect harmony.

What nonsense. In reality the first time a couple makes love, things are often not right. They are usually nervous and a bit unsure, which is natural since they are just getting to know each other. Yet if you were to compare your life to movie stars in bed, you might feel disappointed.

Time also operates differently on film than it does in the real world. Process is almost completely left out. The audience is often presented with culminating dramatic events but not shown a hint of the long tedious work that was required to bring the drama to this point.

Yet time not only moves rapidly it also moves slowly: scoundrels swan dive leisurely off high rise buildings, bullets take their time penetrating a victim's skull before blood splatters on the wall behind the head, and houses explode with choreographed billows of flames as the hero leaps onto the ground.

If we spend four hours a day watching TV with such reality, how do we know what is real and what is not? What now is our point of reference?


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