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Conventional Absurditites

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

I'm a nice guy to visit with, but you wouldn't necessarily want to watch a movie with me. I have a hard time suspending disbelief. I am able to overlook certain, little, conventional absurdities. A lot of these, in the action flicks I am drawn to, have to do with gunfire. For example, people taking refuge behind things that wouldn't stop a bullet or the hero driving without injury through a hail of brass produced by automatic weapons firing at 15 rounds per second. Continuing with the action genre, I was recently pleasantly surprised to see someone in a gangster film actually rubbing their knuckles after throwing a punch. Slamming your fist into someone's head hurts, you as well as them.

Last Saturday night we were watching Sully. Tom Hanks wades down the aisle to the back of the plane through thigh-high water, checking that no one has been left behind. Then, when we see him moments later on the pier, his pants are dry, blowing in the wind, instead of clinging to his calves. When I point this out, my girlfriend just laughs at me.

A pet peeve are wardrobe mismatches. A particular egregious example of this very common phenomenon is when she, the pretty, young thing, is in a sundress or, at most, a tee shirt and he, the rugged, male lead is in a flannel shirt and fleece-lined denim vest or leather coat.

Another, easily corrected, common, visual absurdity is the empty suitcase. The suitcases I pack, at 40-50 pounds, aren't so easily lifted out of the car trunk or carried to the door. I know it's hard to get Tom Hanks to wet his pants, to wear wet pants. So too, I'm sure that Hollywood stars are loath to lug fully loaded suitcases around, but, please, just give them enough weight to remind them to demonstrate a modicum of effort.

The same goes for paper grocery bags. On screen these are obviously filled with styrofoam topped with a loaf of white bread and a box of kleenex. I want to see the actor relieved to put a load of groceries down onto the kitchen counter.

Having lived in northern Vermont, I am upset when, on film, in the dead of winter, someone enters a house and launches into conversation with those inside, not bothering to close the door behind him. I know that the back-lighting, especially given the snowy front yard, is a great visual effect, but come on.

As I say, I can overcome, if not overlook, these little absurdities. Much more bothersome to me are plots that don't make sense: how did he know that they would be there?; why didn't she just drive in the other direction?; what happened to the dog? This is particularly unfortunate because a lot of Hollywood movies have holes in their plots large enough to drive a truck through.

It's my own fault. People watch movies to be entertained. When the lights dim you are supposed to zone out, to be pleasantly swept away. My hyper-vigilance follows me into the dark. I'm thinking too much.

Recently I've put this vigilance to work organizing my Netflix account. I finally took the time to figure out how to delete movies from the "Continue Watching" category, all those movies that didn't make the grade, that I am never going to "continue watching." Holes in the plot are usually not enough to have me stop watching a movie. But bad acting, a cliched story-line or gratuitous violence are deal killers for me. Mediocre cinematography or drawn out scenes are early warning signs.

Then, I've been whittling down my "My List" of movies. These are the ones that at some point in the past, perhaps the distant past, I thought I might want to watch. In the last two weeks I have started to watch a half dozen of these, all now erased from "My List" and "Continue Watching" and from the algorithm's memory. Oceans 12 was ridiculous. I only made it through the first 20 minutes, but in those the thieves spend more for the equipment to make the theft than what they are stealing is worth. And how did they get all that equipment on such short notice... in Amsterdam? The film was as cartoonish as Batman Begins, another 20-minute wonder, and I fast-forwarded through much of that. I should have know better; superheroes don't turn me on. I guess with the quarantine wearing on, I might be getting a little desperate.

With my girlfriend I watch movies like a normal person, start to finish, whole, in their entirety. On my own I have a piecemeal strategy, watching films in 20-30 minute segments, for as long as it takes me to eat lunch or dinner. Most often I can make my judgment in one meal. Sometimes it takes two. It gives me a certain satisfaction to bid the cast adieu while I am wiping my mouth with the napkin. I find myself pressing pause and muttering, "No. I don't think so."

I've always thought, starting in the days before Blockbuster and HBO, back when we went to movie theaters, that you have to know when to get up and leave. There is an art to knowing that the film is not going to get any better. Walking out of the shadows, freeing yourself from the flickering lights is a liberation of sorts. Even when I have spent money on a ticket, it always feels like a relief to cut the time I am wasting, to be released from the grade-B spell.

A month or so ago, at the start of a phone conversation with my daughter, I mentioned something about the virus. "Dad," she demured, "I'll talk about anything but Covid." In starting this article I thought, "I will write about anything except the civil unrest." I've already gotten in trouble, pissed some folks off at least, by offering my opinion, actually some statistics, about the unrest.

As compelling as is the analogy that is thrusting itself upon me at this moment, I will remain resolute. Adhering to my first intention, I will not write. But I will suggest some writings that say it better and more authoritatively than could I anyway.

A recent editorial in The New York Times (2 minute read):

"There is a spirit of ferocious intellectual intolerance sweeping the country and much of the journalistic establishment with it. Contrary opinions aren’t just wrong but unworthy of discussion. The range of political views deemed morally unfit for publication seems to grow ever wider."

An editorial in The Wall Street Journal (Cancel Culture Journalism - 2 minute read):

"All of this shows the extent to which American journalism is now dominated by the same moral denunciation, 'safe space' demands, and identity-politics dogmas that began in the universities. The agents of this politics now dominate nearly all of America’s leading cultural institutions—museums, philanthropy, Hollywood, book publishers, even late-night talk shows."

"On matters deemed sacrosanct—and today that includes the view that America is root-and-branch racist—there is no room for debate. You must admit your failure to appreciate this orthodoxy and do penance, or you will not survive in the job."

A more in depth article (The American Press is Destroying Itself) by a alarmed progressive reporter, I sent to my daughter today. She wrote back that her Pulitzer Prize-winning, AP reporter boyfriend agrees with the article, but that she "think[s] of it as a pendulum that’s still settling into its new equilibrium." I hope she's right:

"The leaders of this new movement are replacing traditional liberal beliefs about tolerance, free inquiry, and even racial harmony with ideas so toxic and unattractive that they eschew debate, moving straight to shaming, threats, and intimidation."

Another article, about the shaming, threats, and intimidation rampant during Mao's Cultural Revolution, written before the death of George Floyd, The Children of the Revolution - transcript or podcast) starts with a warning, apropos for today, by groundbreaking black author and civil rights giant James Baldwin:

"Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart, for his purity, by definition, is unassailable."

The article continues, remembering the Red Guard:

"The young may be pure in heart, but they are also high on emotion and short on life experience... With undeveloped mental immune systems, their soft skulls were fertile ground for... [a simplistic philosophy that] reduces society, with all the diversity and complexity of human experience, to a blunt dichotomy: light and darkness, good and evil, right and wrong, radical and reactionary... Ideologies like these are intellectually and morally vapid, yet their simplicity and certainty are alluring, especially to the young."

And now the analogy: Those flashing lights in a darkened cinema sometimes take us to another world. The talking heads on television have their own hypnotic power. It's ok, even necessary, to overlook the smaller, conventional absurdities, but we should be jarred into wakefulness by the bad actors and the holes in the plot. You have to know when to get up and leave. Press pause and repeat after me, "No. I don't think so."

**************

Dr David's roots go deep into the black community, as a future article will make perfectly clear. So just chill out, honkeys. And don't be schooling him about revolution, neither, you who've never stepped out of line in your whole life. He has a few things to show you.

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