Some people suggest that Donald Trump’s victory in the American election is as a result of his television personality.
In some senses, I do not doubt it. More than this, though, I wonder about the role that television (and other media) played in ensuring only a 58 per cent turnout of the electorate at the polls. (This is by no means unique to the USA.)
“People don’t care,” Trump repeatedly has said about his avoidance of paying tax – as this article reminds us. Perhaps it has always been so… But perhaps the numbing effects of the media and their anaesthetics is equally turning many people off politics – and this truly is something we should worry about.
As I look to the right hand-side of my Facebook page, I see that 440,000 people are talking about the forthcoming Beauty and the Beast film release. And that 120,000 people are talking about Jason Isaacs and Tom Felton meeting up in Orlando.
Frankly, who gives a shit?
Now, I am a film scholar – and so a lot of my work is about studying the media. What is more, I am heavily into cinema – and so I know that I can post things on my Facebook wall that are ‘trending’ and/or which are about ‘fluff’ like movie releases and performers.
I did, after all, post something about how much I admired Rebecca Hall’s performance in the film Christine (Antonio Campos, UK/USA, 2016) last night – even if my admiration for her exceptional performance is also mixed with sympathy for a film that portrays the rejection of intellectual thought for the purposes of promoting sensationalist news reporting (a kind of Nightcrawler-from-the-other-side).
That is, I think that the film is an intelligent and critical piece of work as opposed to yet another loud, meaningless spectacle.
Am I a hypocrite – in that I seemingly care more about cinema than about politics?
My hope is that I care about the politics of cinema and try to talk about cinema as politics – and that this is linked to our political realities, as is made clear by the election of Trump as a media politician and by the role that the media might have played in turning enough people off politics such that Trump wins, albeit with a clear minority of the vote.
(Even if media-induced apathy is hard to substantiate, we can and must take seriously this question because of media-created-Trump.)
I more or less got upbraided the other night by two friends of mine for not making entertaining films, who equally felt that my analysis of film as political was unfair – because, for example, Tom Ford is an artist and therefore Nocturnal Animals should not be charged with carrying any political weight. Perhaps this refusal to mix politics and entertainment – and to prefer entertainment to politics – is something like my point.
On what feels to be a related point: I paid £16 to watch Christine last night at the Curzon Bloomsbury cinema in London.
I vowed never to return to a Curzon cinema on an evening or a weekend, since I basically am priced out of watching films there, meaning in turn that I am basically priced out now of watching art house cinema in London (I can of course watch it at a later point on DVD and/or online).
I pay £19.99 a month to watch as many films as I want at Odeon cinemas – and nearly the same to watch a single film at a Curzon. As I shall demonstrate below, this is not an advert for Odeon.
But, as the adverts played in the Curzon, their own ident ended with something like the words ‘the home of people who love cinema’ – and I found myself shouting out at the screen a correction: ‘for rich people who love cinema.’
Something struck me, which I have known for a long time and yet the weight of which I felt as if for the first time: we do not talk in cinemas – myself included. We have been cowed into silence before our screens – listening, obeying, but never answering back (and yet with so many people desperate to get on to or behind those screens so as to make themselves feel empowered).
I thought about some of the rot that I have seen in the last few months – nigh every blockbuster and a good number of Oscar films as over-hyped rubbish. That Odeon membership allows me mainly to see bollocks. (I told you that this was not an advert.)
Now, I understand that many, perhaps most people, do not consume films at the cinema. But they do consume films, which increasingly become ‘universes’ comprised of constellations of films.
Furthermore, they also consume ‘smart’ television that is made up of hours and hours of episodes (the person next to me on the Tube last night was watching Breaking Bad on their phone, I think).
Might it be that ‘smart’ television leads to a dumb populace as we spend more and more time following a show than we do taking part in political life – just as universes of Marvel and Star Wars (i.e. Disney) films keep us watching rot about flying humans and talking animals?
Dumb – not necessarily in the sense of stupid. I assume that most people are pretty smart. But dumb in the sense that they do or say nothing about what is happening, not even voting, and thus being voiceless.
I ended up really liking Christine, and felt that this critical film restored a faith in cinema after my outburst at the screen. It is, as mentioned, a film about the rejection of intellectuals and intelligence in the age of sensationalism-for-ratings. In other words, a film that is on point, relevant, and says something about our world today (especially its gender politics and an insight into how we might better understand and deal with mental health issues).
But here it is playing in a Curzon cinema at £16 a pop, meaning that barely anyone can watch it – while detritus like La La Land, which involves little to no political engagement, is effectively on for free for anyone who wishes to pay a similar amount to go to an Odeon whenever they wish.
(This is not to mention the way in which La La Land has received 14 Oscar nominations, thereby meaning that its fluffy nothingness is validated by the entertainment complex more than a film like Christine, which has received none – not even for Hall whose performance is leagues better than anything else I have seen in the past year.)
I shouted at the screen and fortunately for me, last night, the screen answered back with a complex, meaningful film. But who will watch Christine as it plays on two screens in London and at an exorbitant price?
It should be playing there where it will reach a wider audience. Because in the Odeon, not only do people not shout at the screen, but the screen also does not offer anything nearly so thought-provoking, instead cowing its audience into dumb silence as they behold loud spectacle after loud spectacle.
Getting beyond spectacle. Answering back to the media. Getting used to answering back. Developing media savviness and political awareness. These might be tools that we need to develop in order to come up with an answer to Trump (and of course our own, related issues in the UK).