Your Premises are Wrong Mr Pegg

This is a response to the i09 article that looks at Simon Pegg’s recent comments about science fiction and movies.

Here’s what he said:

Before Star Wars, the films that were box-office hits were The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie And Clyde and The French Connection – gritty, amoral art movies. Then suddenly the onus switched over to spectacle and everything changed …

… Obviously I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science fiction and genre cinema but part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste. Now we’re essentially all-consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes. Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously.

It is a kind of dumbing down, in a way, because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about … whatever.

Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.

If anyone can be accused of taking apparently juvenile things seriously, (still), it can be those, like Mr Pegg, involved in film making and entertainment more broadly. Few people making films, even art films, are saving any kind of lives are they? I mean how adult is it to waltz around pretending to be somebody else for the enjoyment of others? That sounds quite childish. And how adult is it to make up complete worlds in your own head? Who’d do that? Why aren’t they focused on real stuff that matters. Like conducting drug treatment trials or driving trucks?

Frittering away time has a long history and includes Medieval monks drawing weird crap in books.

Frittering away time has a long history and includes films, Greek plays and Medieval monks drawing weird crap in books.

Except of course Hollywood peeps don’t think like this, nor do members of any arts practice or organisation. The Gladiators who distracted the Roman locals with bread and circuses didn’t back in the day, and I don’t now, since I too make up stories in my head.

The arts industry employs people to make things we more or less are told that we want by the makers. And we get to have some of these things because of how places in the world construct society to enable more people than ever before to afford them.

We don’t think opera or ballet are juvenile or infantalising because they are made to entertain too. Even when they can be very emotionally infantile. All pointless jealousy and murder. No. Generally we call them contributions to culture. Just like film.

Yet, another point is that people have been telling all sorts of stories of the past, and potential futures and alternate worlds for as long as there have been people. If that alone didn’t prove humans find this past time one of the most important aspects of human activity, then the fact we start and end wars over these very important stories and the art and actions related to them just might. So stories of all kinds, told in variety of ways: serious adult stuff. It’s lucky kids get any stories at all.

In fact, what is childish, is responding to forms of story telling so simplistically so as to dismiss the many ways cultural productions can be read and deployed. Bringing my adult sensibility to a measured discussion of cultural production is being an adult. Throwing poop at the screen and wailing through a film would be bringing my inner toddler and I don’t do that. Because adult.

Perhaps he is worried that people are not getting the allusions to previous cultural productions in any work – that the inter textuality of texts / films are perhaps being missed. But that is a matter of education only. Just because some miss allusions doesn’t mean they are not there for some to pick up on them.

Of course, how any of us responds to a story is part choice and back background, but we can take what we want or need from a story, or we can leave it as a mere spectacle, which incidentally might be what we need, occasionally.  Something something catharsis, according to Aristotle, who didn’t mind a bit of spectacle himself.

Not sure what he means by spectacle either, but films, as a visual medium, even primarily a visual medium, have always been about spectacle as much as they have been about anything. Did Mr Pegg never see a silent film, or a 1970s disaster movie? Surely he is aware of the impact of the spectacle of say, a Leni Riefenstahl propaganda film, or the earliest horror films, or a western, or The Seventh Seal, perhaps? They pretty much all pre-date Mr Lucas’ efforts with a galaxy far, far away and each contain their own kind of spectacle. The only thing that has changed is the scope, given developments in technology and their popularity and accessibility.

Is he saying comics by reason of being stories told in pictures are childish, or is he saying their super heroic content is childish? Cos, pretty sure hieroglyphs are pictures and are not childish. And as for comics, they are not just one form of the ancient and noble art of story telling and can tell anything (see Persepolis)? Regarding superheroes, they can be as complex as any art film neurotic, troubled by the every day concerns of the current social milieu.

If he is worried about our consumption, as in the commodification of superheroes for adults, maybe he has a slight point. Maybe the problem is not the fans, but the makers of fetishist objects – in a word Hollywood. Yet adults have always designated some objects special and put them aside. In the bits of the world that secular and post modern, this impulse is commercialised.

Maybe some adults are indulging childhood obsessions with their collections of plastic figurines and cos-play, but at least they’re not out waging war. Everyone’s allowed a hobby. And it turns out collections of stuff are worth money too.

We can use future and past superheros or any kind of heroes, to comment on society and which bits work and which bits don’t and on the traits we valorise, (and those we don’t) and on why we think we need them. Every alien, beyond human or in-human is a comment on actual humanity, if you want to look at them like that. Or you can just watch for the ‘plosions, if you wanna.

I have seen Marvel and DC films and all sorts of other films and I do walk away feeling stuff about the world. I saw, for instance, Guardians of the Galaxy in the middle of yet another Palestine vs Israel round of shelling and amid events in Syria and I walked out of the cinema feeling like Ronan the Accuser could have been the spokesperson for any regime or group that wants all its enemies dead…I think it was troublingly too real. That was my challenging emotional journey. Not sure what the 15 year olds around me thought, but it wasn’t my place to ask.

As for Hulk fighting a robot. Why do we think the Avengers fought robots at all? Hulk smashing real humans is just a little too real, and we get the bloody and messy reality in our news feeds if not our lives, 24-7. Destroying robots could be viewed as fighting the future, a Luddite reaction to inevitable and yet questionable progress, or the violent birth pangs towards technological evolution that saw the creation of the Vision. But, according to Mr Pegg, such a sophisticated reading is childish, because I have bothered to examine Age of Ultron too deeply. I should, like him, be spending all my time rescuing sailors from sinking ships and training guide dogs for the blind. Oh yeah, except he doesn’t do that either. We are both frittering away our time.

I call BS on this. I am free to read whatever into whatever, and childish or not it gives me some pleasure to do so as a past time.

It is whatever adults want to read in to it, and find solace, comfort, entertainment and enjoyment  in.

3 thoughts on “Your Premises are Wrong Mr Pegg

  1. I could not have put this any better. We like what we like. One person’s trash is another person’s art. One wants a fireworks display while another wants to be moved, and yet others want a bit of both. Etc etc etc. 🙂

    • And we like what we like and can put any importance on it we like:) We have, in modern western societies, so little space to be whatever we want & express whatever we want. Our civilised security forms the boundaries of our expression. The arts, at least, allow us the imaginative space to either identify with or create what we like within, around and beyond these boundaries. Catharsis, as Aristotle said. And whether we find it in pop cultcha or High Culture, or both, or neither, is one of the few freedoms we have.

      • Amen to that. Really, in so many ways our minds are our last refuge, our last remaining playground, and thus of critical importance to nurture and maintain. 🙂

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