Friday, March 7, 2014

Hollywood: The No-Good, The Bad And The Beastly

By Ilana Mercer

Glenn Close's remarks, In Memoriam, at the 86th Academy Awards ceremony, captured the delusions of grandeur held by the "tarts and tards of Hollywood," and helped by their fans.

The actress (or is it "actor"?) did not thank the dearly departed for merely entertaining the masses, which is all actors and directors are capable of doing. Oh no. Her deities were, instead, acknowledged for "mentoring us, challenging us, elevating us"; "they made us want to be better, and gave us a greater understanding of the human condition and the human heart," language that should be reserved for the likes of Ayn Rand and Aristotle.

Where a motion picture has indeed transported anyone—it is because it cleaved to a decent script, usually a good book. "Gone With the Wind," "Doctor Zhivago," "Midnight Express," and "Papillon," are examples.

Still, Hollywood is quite capable of reducing great literature to schmaltzy jingles, belted out by shrill starlets. This was the fate of “Les Misérables,” last year. Lost in the din were a lot of lessons about "the human condition." The Victor-Hugo masterpiece I read as a kid was about France’s unfathomably cruel and unjust penal system, and the prototypical obedient functionary who worked a lifetime to enforce the system’s depredations—a lot like the powers that hounded Aaron Swartz, the co-founder of, to death, in 2013, and are intent on doing the same to the heroic Edward Snowden.

The dead were deified, but what of the walking dead?

To the Chinese, who appreciate the value of experience, the greater the ratio in a team of “grey hairs and no-hairs” to “black hairs”—the faster and better a task will be completed. The opposite assumption obtains in the youth-obsessed U.S.

On the old, Hollywood performs professional geronticide.

Aging actors are put out to pasture, retired into buffoonish, badly scripted roles (“Nebraska”). The annual Oscar Awards will see at least one old actor trotted out (in 2011, the "distinction" went to Kirk Douglas) from retirement. From the sympathetic thunder clap received by Harrison Ford, 71, this year, I'd say he's ready to be retired.

Yes, a silly society is a youth-obsessed society. Duly, a precocious kid actor will typically cameo. This year, viewers were spared the spectacle. Tykes did, however, twerk and twirl with the adults in a Pharrell Williams routine, conjuring the current crop of Walt Disney cartoon characters ("Rio 1"). Once-upon-a-time, our beloved cartoons were cute, innocent and mischievous. Think Disney's Donald Duck, Warner Brothers' Bugs-Bunny and Amblimation's Fievel of "An American Tail" fame.

Alas, like The Kids, the animated characters that festoon film nowadays sound and act as if created by another Victor (Frankenstein), combining pixelated bits of the putrefying Bethenny Frankel, and some "Mob Wives," "Real Housewives," and "Dance Moms," for good measure.

On the topic of body parts. Dance, in general, has also become more atavistic than artistic. Dance moves most energetically engage the rump and the reproductive region, as though choreographed to the rhythm of mating primates.

As for music, here too pimp culture has prevailed. Remember when the Obamas spiritual guide, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, attempted to illustrate how “African” music differed from "European" music? His voice dripping with envy, Wright mocked the cantata in an address before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "Black music," hissed Obama’s holy man, may be different to "white music," but in no way was it deficient.

Wright needn't torture himself over the fact that B.B. King is no match for Johann Sebastian Bach. Honky style harmonization—the controlled use of the human voice—that's all dead, replaced with tribal primal screams, the kind emitted by one Idina Menzel, who ululated her way through a frightful number from "Frozen."

Camelot culture has long since been usurped by pimp culture, because the latter is as easy as an American Girl Gone Wild on spring break. For her state dinners, Jackie Kennedy sought out the likes of the sublime mezzo-soprano Grace Bumbry and cellist Pablo Casals; the current White House promotes Mary J. Blige and squat-and-thrust Beyoncé.

The annual Academy Awards will invariably showcase some unfunny standup—almost, but not quite, as bad as the tomfoolery of Jimmy Fallon. Forgive another bloated digression, but what does the popularity of this whiteface minstrel show, starring the almost desperate, dancing, prancing, androgynous Fallon, say about America?

I'd venture that Fallon has been groomed to provide bread and circuses for Booboisie. Replacing Jay Leno's hardly demanding political satire with a vaudeville of giggles, goofiness, mind-numbing banter and God-awful "music" comes with the “responsibility” to propagandize the same population.

And so it was that during Michelle Obama's appearance on the Tonight Show set, as if on cue, one minute and fifty nine seconds in, dumb dweeb Fallon segues into an Obamacare promotional segment. Fallon's lead was a signal to Sister Act. FLOTUS launched her own agitprop for her husband's healthcare juggernaut.

Other than "Prisoners" (thrillers are my thing), there is not one film gushed over at the 86th Academy Awards that I'd watch. I was unable to endure more than 15 minutes of the first, much-ballyhooed "Hunger Games." Allegories—libertarian, left or right—are cumbersome, inorganic and artificial, all the more so when dreamt-up by Hollywood dumb-asses.

As a kid, I recall trying to divine (while reading subtitles) the agonized themes and symbolism in the work of the Nordic Chekhov, Ingmar Bergman. Like director Quentin Tarantino's fetish with actress Uma Thurman, Bergman's muse was the lovely Liv Ullmann. The duo tortured their viewers, but this director's work was never labored; the plot was not beyond the ken of a curious kid. More in the league of Federico Fellini, Bergman was way too sophisticated to be compared to the creator of “Hunger Games,” whoever he is.

Prequels and sequels, Steve Sailer has settled the score on "Hunger Games": “Like the Twilight series, Suzanne Collins’s 'The Hunger Games' young-adult novels are aimed at 12-year-old female readers. This puts the movies squarely in the intellectual wheelhouse of average Americans, a sizable fraction of whom don’t read much at all.”

Oddly enough, the most marked artistic deterioration in celluloid is due to computer-generated imagery, used in most all genres: action, adventure and event films. When compared to the on-set props of yesteryear's films, computerized special effects appear cheap and fake.

The computer-generated presentation transports this viewer no further than her local video-game arcade.

The best special effects were achieved in the old disaster-film productions: "Towering Inferno," "Earthquake," the "Airport" movies, and the original "Poseidon Adventure", where a real model ship was recreated. (Just imagine: Poseidon's original hero, played by Gene Hackman, was a priest who struggled with his faith!)

The authentic experience afforded in these films was owed not to a computer program, but to real props built on set and to the stuntmen who manned them. (And who can forget the on-camera war-paint wizardry of Dick Smith, in "The Exorcist" and "Taxi Driver"?)

Finally, please stand up and be counted if you flocked to see Lupita Nyong perform reruns of "Roots."

She was a sartorial dream-come-true, in pale blue, but I'm no more inclined to turn to Lupita, in "12 Years A Slave," for entertainment, than I am to subject myself to Oprah Winfrey and her M.O.P.E. (Most Oppressed Person Ever) "Butler."

llana Mercer is author of Into the Cannibal's Pot: Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Africa. She blogs at

Copyright 2014 Ilana Mercer


  1. Sometimes a person can be too critical when giving a negative opinion it comes off as just an irritating screed. A screed that longs for the past that's not coming back - it's over, gone, no more - so get over it. Today's art may not be what it should be, but I bet if and once deflation kicks in art will return to what it ought to be.

    The reason why kids now days don't read certain books but the Hunger Games is because those books (ie. Chekhov) are boring and don't really line up with today's issues. Well, they are. And, the author of Hunger Games is a she.

  2. I should have guessed "Hungers Games" was "written" by a girl (although, don't discriminate, carriers of the Y Chromosome can too be girls if they want to). Could Anon's impoverished imagination (Chekhov is not for kids and was referenced as "heavy," not necessarily enjoyable) be a consequence of utter lack of familiarity with the greatest, most exciting books ever? Classics for kids and young adults? Are you kidding me? "Hunger Games" or "Harry Potter" will never match gripping, culturally and historically richly textured, well-written stuff (so good for real boys) like: Ivanhoe, The Count of Monte Cristo, Treasure Island, Arabian Nights, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom's Midnight Garden, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Last of the Mohicans, Les Misérables, Around the World in Eighty Days, Black Stallion, Wuthering Heights, Kiss Kiss, and even The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. Problem is Anon has been brought up to revel in ignorance. You are perfect just they way you are. Kids nowadays don't read b/c they've been told, like Anon, that they don't need to---nothing much to learn from the great masters.

  3. What i liked as a child was considered mostly crap by the elderly. And what the youths of today like i consider to be mostly crap. 30 years from now the youths will wonder how anyone other than geriatrics could possibly like Beyonce, Pharrell Williams or Rihanna.
    Tastes generally remain stagnant on what we're used to. Because of this subjective opinion and feelings of nostalgia i don't really think it is possible to judge which is "better".

    Having said that, i am getting borderline depressed about what goes for "great movies" or "good music" these days. I don't bother watching the Academy Awards anymore, since it has turned into a liberal self-congratulatory smugfest (with matching "best movie" nominees) so thick it raises ocean levels a yard ever year.

  4. Actually, Tony, the value each consumer places on consumer goods in the marketplace is subject. But the Subjective Theory of Value should not be confused with objective standards that determine the quality of cultural products. It's pretty distressing to realize that libertarians confuse the two concepts and that cultural, intellectual and moral equivalence pervades our thinking as much as it does that of mainstream. To wit, applying objective, universal criteria (complexity, skill, mastery, intricacy, etc.), it is objectively and immutably true that, as the column states, "B.B. King is no match for Johann Sebastian Bach." I'm sure you can think of hundreds of similar examples: You might prefer to purchase one of Toni Morrison’s God-awful tomes, but the objective fact is that she’s no match for Shakespeare.

    1. No, Illana. They are not objective facts. Objective facts can be argued on the basis of evidence or logic, not on preferences or opinions. It is not surprising to me that i do not see you undertake any attempt at using evidence or logic in your response to prove that "BB King is no match for Johann Sebastian Bach". Maybe you could have used, as an example, that it is generally much much harder to come up with the kind of work that Bach produced than what King produced, and much much harder to perform it, but even then it remains a question of whether this harder work is an objective standard as to the quality of said work. Is harder work by definition better work?

      To be sure, there is cultural, intellectual and moral equivalence in society. But this does not necessarily have anything to say about objectivity or subjectivity. In many cases it is still mere preference. And in the case where it is objective it should be able to be proven by evidence or logic that it is indeed objective. Certainly, i have yet to see any objective standard that proves that the "cultural equivalence" between Bach and King is wrong as an objective fact. I agree with you that it is wrong, but i can only base this on personal taste.

  5. I don't know that one can be too critical of the strained pablum that passes for literature and poetry these days. I remember going to the local government school my children attended and asked the reading teacher why they didn't have the kids reading classics instead of the crap books they provided, like Sweet Valley High or some such trash. She informed me as long as they read it didn't matter what they read. I
    begged to differ, and banned such books from my house.
    In my opinion the pickings for good literature are slim after the early 50's and to be honest my favorite time period is the mid to late 1800's. Twain and Dickens (my personal favorite) are the best in humor and the human condition. There is so much to learn from the previous two plus Thackeray, Melville, Tolstoy, Flaubert and Dostoyevsky. These books draw you in with the best word craft. Maybe because my father is a ship's pilot, I'll never forget reading Melville's Ishmael stating, "Again, I always go to sea as a sailor, because they make a point of paying me for my trouble, whereas they never pay passengers a single penny that I ever heard of. On the contrary, passengers themselves must pay. And there is all the difference in the world between paying and being paid." Isn't that the truth. These author's books are worth reading more than once so if nothing else authors like these will last me the rest of my life :)