A near constant theme of Hollywood films is the monster, system or mechanism that goes out of control. A parallel theme is that of an individual, almost always a marginalized white male who can trust no one, who, without authorization or acknowledgement, saves the rest of us.
It is a truism of cultural studies that every culture expresses its deepest fears and highest ideals through its arts. Hollywood films are our pinnacle of the formulaic expression of these twinned fears and hopes.
These people, forces or human creations threaten humanity – and the planet – and all of the world’s governments, militaries and law enforcement agencies lie helpless unless our current cultural hero, the alienated, misunderstood and usually underappreciated white male enters in; the plot only slightly complicated by the mandatory (or gratuitous) love interest.
If you spend time in the Hollywood area, you quickly realize why this ominous sense of life forces out of control is a constant and central theme; from smog to traffic, to the economy or the earth’s stability to any given individual’s weight or mental health, every aspect of life seems on the verge of collapse or implosion.
This sense of being over-whelmed is such a conditioned state that every entertainment and experience must also be 3D, HD, high voltage caffeinated.
By comparison, especially in the bleached-out perpetual sun, everyday life seems tawdry and dull.
Another aspect of almost every Hollywood film is the near adulation of the heresies of virtually every world religion. From the glorification of ruthlessness, violence, infidelity and the commodification of every aspect of life from love to family to life itself, we see every person or experience as interchangeable as it is available – for a price.
Also by Morf: The Grammar of Gun Control
As any cultural anthropologist would know, these dynamics are as true off-screen as on. And as any writing instructor would know, we write about what we know – and care about – whether we intend to or not.
But Hollywood’s message, critically analyzed or not, reaches the world, and defines America (for the ages) along the way.
Americans, especially white males, are presented as endlessly cynical, resourceful, and, at least according to the Hollywood formula, always victorious.
It would be easy to make the point that Hollywood is a massive Psy Ops propaganda campaign to conquer the world in a 3D cultural colonialism.
No force, no military, and even no culture, the message seems to be, can withstand the onslaught of the mythic triumphant American.
We will face – and conquer – any alien, any conspiracy, even any betrayal. This is the individualization of Manifest Destiny.
Or as Daniel Craig’s James Bond (in Skyfall) puts it, the ultimate American (though represented by a Brit in this film) is ‘the last rat standing’.
It’s an interesting legacy. In achieving survival, our hero, and vicariously each one of us, has achieved not only survival but ultimate alienation.
And, as Judi Dench’s ‘M’ observes in the same film, “Orphans make the best agents” precisely because of this near clinical psychopathic personality. And by extension, Hollywood would make orphans of us all.
Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.