The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

And Then, Inexplicably, the Villain Decides to Deliver an Arrogant Lecture …

Posted on | July 19, 2013 | 70 Comments

. . . a lecture just long enough to allow the seemingly doomed underdog hero to reach his 9-mm pistol and blast that son of bitch. Hero says sarcastic tough-guy line. Hero is embraced by vulnerable female lead amid wreckage. Roll credits over pop-music theme.

At some point, intelligent people grow up and get tired of seeing that same childishly simplistic action-hero movie over and over. But there is always a fresh crop of 13-old-boys in the multiplex theater too dumb to wonder why the Arrogant Villain always has a British accent, or why the Underdog Hero always has a Loyal Black Sidekick, and so forth.

Cinematic fantasy has a didactic function and the “lessons” that pop culture teaches impressionable young minds are mostly wrong.

Real life isn’t like the movies, and one of the things that Hollywood hero fantasies do best is to teach young people that they are inadequate and their own ordinary lives are so tedious and insignificant as to be essentially without meaning or purpose.

Your life is not exciting. You are not muscular and handsome. You are not combating evil and injustice. You are a loser and nobody likes you.

Watching too much crap like that — whether at the movies, on DVD or on TV — tends to deform the mind and warp the personality of young people too inexperienced and ignorant to understand that they are consuming a product whose producers are deliberately manipulating their perceptions, based on a canny assessment of their prejudices and psychological insecurities. Peter Suderman pulls back the curtain on the process to reveal the hidden mechanism:

If you’ve gone to the movies recently, you may have felt a strangely familiar feeling: You’ve seen this movie before. Not this exact movie, but some of these exact story beats: the hero dressed down by his mentor in the first 15 minutes (Star Trek Into Darkness, Battleship); the villain who gets caught on purpose (The Dark Knight, The Avengers, Skyfall, Star Trek Into Darkness); the moment of hopelessness and disarray a half-hour before the movie ends (Olympus Has Fallen, Oblivion, 21 Jump Street, Fast & Furious 6).
It’s not déjà vu. Summer movies are often described as formulaic. But what few people know is that there is actually a formula — one that lays out, on a page-by-page basis, exactly what should happen when in a screenplay. It’s as if a mad scientist has discovered a secret process for making a perfect, or at least perfectly conventional, summer blockbuster.
The formula didn’t come from a mad scientist. Instead it came from a screenplay guidebook, Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. In the book, author Blake Snyder, a successful spec screenwriter who became an influential screenplay guru, preaches a variant on the basic three-act structure that has dominated blockbuster filmmaking since the late 1970s.
When Snyder published his book in 2005, it was as if an explosion ripped through Hollywood. The book offered something previous screenplay guru tomes didn’t. Instead of a broad overview of how a screen story fits together, his book broke down the three-act structure into a detailed “beat sheet”: 15 key story “beats” — pivotal events that have to happen — and then gave each of those beats a name and a screenplay page number. Given that each page of a screenplay is expected to equal a minute of film, this makes Snyder’s guide essentially a minute-to-minute movie formula. . . .

Read the whole thing and understand this: The secret to not being manipulated is knowing that people are trying to manipulate you.

 

 

UPDATE: Y’know, I often include these Amazon book recommendations at the end of blog posts not merely because I get a small commission on each sale, but because a blog post is scarcely sufficient to explain some of the underlying ideas behind what I’m writing about. Notice that one of the recommendations is the 2004 book Andrew Breitbart co-wrote with Mark Ebner, Hollywood Interrupted, a scathing examination of the corrosive impact of celebrity culture. Andrew and I used to argue occasionally about which was the worse cesspool full of dishonest amoral selfish backstabbers, D.C. or Hollywood.

To-may-to,  or to-mah-to? But because Andrew Breitbart actually knew Bill Maher, he always won the argument.

There is no worse human being on the planet than Bill Maher.

Charles Manson is not a worse human being than Bill Maher.

Also recommended is Neil Postman’s brilliant 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman was a man of the Left who hated Ronald Reagan and capitalism, not necessarily in that order. But his insights about the nature of television as a medium are essential. Postman was a disciple of Marshall McLuhan, who famously said, “The medium is the message,” and if you don’t know what that means — how the inherent nature of television exercises an influence distinct from its content — you really need to read that book. And you might also want to read the 2003 obituary of Neil Postman in the U.K. Guardian. Just sayin’ . . .

Finally, there is High Concept, about the sordid life of a Hollywood “success” story, Don Simpson:

[T]he short, insanely foolish life of producer Don Simpson (FlashdanceTop GunBad Boys) stands as a larger indictment of Hollywood, and it’s hard to argue with him. For one thing, Simpson helped create Tom Cruise, Richard Gere, Will Smith, and Eddie Murphy, and his loud, high-concept, low-IQ school of filmmaking helped launch Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, and Bruce Willis to new heights (or depths).

Here’s a little clue: The price of Don Simpson’s drug habit was once estimated in excess of a half-million dollars a year. This was just “business expenses.” And did I mention the hookers?

Most people simply cannot imagine what kind of twisted freaks produce the entertainment they see on TV and in movies.

These depraved weirdos are not your moral superiors — unless you’re Bill Maher, in which case everyone is your moral superior.

 

Comments

  • http://deadcitizensrightssociety.wordpress.com/ rmnixondeceased

    Is there a difference between the two?

  • http://deadcitizensrightssociety.wordpress.com/ rmnixondeceased

    Heh. I’m a die-hard Pall Mall smoker …

  • Steve Skubinna

    Leave the gun, take the cannoli…

  • JeffS

    I take your meaning. And advice.

    But in the movies, The Real Hero™ is seldom an assassin. Often The Anti-Hero™, but seldom The Real Hero™

  • Conservative Cynic

    When I saw this headline I genuinely thought it was going to be about Obama’s Trayvon Martin speech today.

  • http://thecampofthesaints.org Bob Belvedere

    Me too.

  • Cube

    …knowing that people are trying to manipulate you…

    I remember watching Pierce Brosnan banging Halle Berry in Die Another Day and thinking “Man, I’d love to be in his place.” And instantly it came to me, “that’s exactly what the writers want you to think”. Understanding that manipulation allowed me to realize that real-life sex with Halle Berry could never be as awesome as what’s on the screen. It sucks when real life intrudes on the fantasy.

  • Pine Baroness

    Interesting…..2 thoughts come to mind…….I wonder if all those college kids making zombie movies are using the beat sheet……and UGH Neil Postman….I had an entire class in college studying Postman, McLuhan, Alvin Toffler and Bucky Fuller. That said thanks for the book recommendations, looks like Save the Cat is something I need to read.

  • FredBeloit

    “Witness” was a good movie because we got to see the heroine wash her boobs.

  • Richard McEnroe

    Don Johnson used the .454 Caasull in “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man”. Couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with it.

  • Richard McEnroe

    And look where you ended up. Good venue for conversation, tho, according to Twain.

  • http://saberpoint.blogspot.com Stogie Chomper

    Well there you go: Chapter 5, page 432.

  • dbervin

    Movies kill with foolproof author entries in a script. The rest of us use what we have. The writers of Dirty Harry had him carrying a model 29 with an 8 3/8 barrel. Think you’re lucky, punk? Try hiding one of those without script intervention.

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  • P_Ang

    Ok, THAT threw me…with the title of this piece I was sure this was going to be an article about Obama.