Hollywood loves Americans for the same reason the rest of the world hates us: We are fast food-eating, carbonated beverage-drinking, pleasure-seeking layabouts with little ambition other than to maintain bodily function. We know little of true survival; we mistake trivia for knowledge.
Many a college student might disagree with this pessimistic conclusion, combating it with a case for individuality. (They just all happen to want to free Tibet, vote green and get a flesh piercing.) Regrettably, there is nothing rugged about individualism anymore. The general public floats through life exercising the minimal amount of physical and mental activity; seldom is it necessary to use more muscle mass or cerebral enterprise than is required to operate a remote control. This is the Hollywood demographic – the lowest common denominator, a.k.a., the majority.
Hollywood is the caterer of dreams, providing heaping portions of pure escapist comfort food. This year’s menu of releases offered up some of the poorest product in recent memory, yet box office revenues continue to break records. Mirroring itself, the town that survives on the illusion of reality did it in a more literal sense. The new gimmick: Create a convincing reality, add in a surreal twist, pull the rug out from under the protagonist and audience – then reveal that it was all a dream.
In general, this was a cheap way of giving an unpredictable break from continuity, with the notable exception of Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life,” which combined expressionist animation with an engaging conversation on existence. “The Others” was little more than a cheap “The Sixth Sense” knockoff. “Vanilla Sky” happened to set its story within a mind under a cryogenic deep freeze, but was basically Cameron Crowe’s usual tale of the young (and beautiful) couple that faces romantic complications. In theaters now, “A Beautiful Mind” attempts to create the delusional manifestations of a genius plagued by schizophrenia. “Fight Club” did the disorder first, and did it better.
The making of run-of-the-mill films is one half of the equation; convincing the public they need to see them is the other. The process involves television advertising, print media campaigns, merchandising and a synergistic overlapping of commercial entities. Whole networks, such as E!, and dozens of weekly publications shamelessly survive on the “intimate” details of Hollywood lifestyles.
As a reviewer, I can rail against weak films and mock celebrity hype, but it is a waste. The onus is not upon the studios to make artful films for a public that is not inclined to seek them out. For them the bottom line will suffice. The fault, dear reader, is not in the stars but in ourselves. We are underlings, slaves in the Wonderful World of Disney, and, provided the tools, forge our own shackles.
Why the current bonanza of faux philosophy flicks? Perhaps dishing out the impression of depth makes money. But no matter how it is arranged on the plate or how much ganache you throw on, if the meat is rotten, you are going to taste it.