TAKING AIM AT HOLLYWOOD
by Dennis Brooks
Somewhere there must exist a bedridden boy whose only knowledge of the world comes from movies and television. The child must be terrified. Vicious alien races, the living undead, gigantic sharks that outwit humans and swallow them whole: Every attractive woman a psychotic man-killer, every attractive man a secret agent seconds away from disarming a nuclear bomb that would destroy the world: One day an asteroid is hurling towards Earth ready to send us back to the Dark Ages, the next day it's Armageddon. Murder, mayhem, death, destruction, catastrophe, violence, revenge, torture, deceit, genocide, and fratricide, we're at the tipping point of the very end of civilization itself.
Would you blame the bedridden boy if he were faking his illness?
But despite all the evil in the world this boy surely knows there is much good. In fact, that is all there is: Good and evil. They are in constant battle, and thankfully evil loses every time. That makes the world AND film very simple to understand. If ominous music magically plays the moment a stranger walks into a crowded ballroom, the party's over. There are only a few more rules but they are just as easy to learn and there are no exceptions.
For example, the boy will have learned that if you want something strongly enough, and work at it hard enough, in the end your dreams will be fulfilled. Perhaps you want to be a famous baseball pitcher. You would only have to go out to your Pa's barn and spend your days throwing the fallen crabapples at distant targets while the other children wasted their time with silly games. Throw enough crabapples and one day a city man driving through the countryside will have car troubles and need to stay a over few days enjoying country hospitality. Although keeping out of view, you sense the man is watching you throwing your apples and you know that he's taken a keen interest. Then he'll leave without a word. Don't despair; in a few days you're sure to find a cavalcade of city cars driving up your dirt road to see the boy who can throw crabapples like no other. They'll put a baseball in your hand and hold their breath as you wind up your pitch and they'll let out a huge cheer as the 95-mile an hour fastball blows a hole right through the side of your Pa's barn. Your Pa will throw his hat to the dirt and stomp on it in mock anger as tears of pride pour down his face. He's happy. You're happy. If your Ma had only made it through the tough childbirth leaving your poor Pa to raise you alone, she too would be happy. Oh, happy days!
Many people live their lives just as sheltered as the bedridden boy. Their morals, values, their entire understanding of people and places far away is defined by what they see on television and in films. To make matters worse, there is something intrinsic in American television and film that gives people the feeling that if their lives don't measure up to the lives on the screen they are somehow a failure because without knowing it we are proffering a set of morals and standards that even we as individuals don't agree with: Good triumphs over evil, boy gets girl, cop gets robber. Work hard and you will achieve all your goals. Be rich, handsome and successful or be beautiful and marry someone rich, handsome and successful and you have lived the Hollywood dream.
But what about the rest of us who desperately hope for something - a better life, a better job, more food for our family, more love and spirituality in our lives , and have worked and slaved for our dreams for years, for decades, for generations until we discover that we are no longer working and slaving to fulfill our dreams but just to stay alive in both body and spirit. Where are the films that teach and inspire us how to continue when life doesn't turn out like it does in the movies. When I watch most films today I don't walk away knowing more about others and myself in the world, I walk away knowing less. I walk away feeling isolated and disconnected and alone. Where are the others who suffer? How do they deal with shattered dreams? Or am I simply one of the unlucky ones and these movies have not been made to speak to the likes of me?
I am not necessarily ashamed of any particular genre of movie. I understand the need for escapism and fantasy. But I am terribly ashamed that we as a culture have not grasped something so revolutionary as the ability to influence the very essence of people?s understanding of themselves and one another and made a valiant effort to use it for good. Where we could have raised people up, we have dragged them down.
Those who distribute films throughout the world have the power to shape the minds of people everywhere. These forms of entertainment are actually forms of communication: They have become the biggest influences on the world, the largest pulpit from which to proselytize to the world, since the Holy Bible. With such God-like power comes a tremendous responsibility: A responsibility the film and TV industry in my country, the United States of America, a country I love so dearly, has tragically failed to live up to. Continuing this trend of importing films full of falsities about the world we live in, full of incorrect values and high-reaching ideals that we wryly purport to be our own, is to continue engaging in an immoral act of betrayal and deception against humanity.
The main character in my film "Goodnight, Joseph Parker" suffers from the shame of not having achieved "The American Dream." And for that he feels he is so thoroughly a failure in life he can't muster the courage to face his old friends truthfully for fear they will turn their faces in horror. I have a mortifying confession: Although I understand how deeply embedded I am with an understanding of the world I've been inculcated with since the first day I sat in front of a television and have therefore set a task before me to unlearn much and struggle to see life for what it is, not for what it should be or pretends to be in the movies, I still feel like Joseph Parker every day of my life. I can't shake it. THAT is the "American Dream" we are living.
Imagine for a moment; imagine what we are doing to the children of our world. Children should not be shown lives they will never have or told lies about people they will never meet. It is heartbreaking. It is unacceptable.
Every day for the past ten years I have driven past a man on the sidewalk in front of his weathered corner house a mile or two away from Sunset Boulevard watching the traffic go by. He is perched up high in a strange looking contraption with a stiff back, odd looking wheels and a surgical tube near his mouth that somehow gives him control over the mechanical marvel. This man is a quadriplegic and it isn't without irony that I pass him and notice that in his position for watching the traffic his back is turned to his home and I can see a dark television through the window. There are perhaps over a hundred channels of programming for him inside but even the humble act of watching the traffic drive past makes him feel more connected to our world and the people in it. And we all yearn for such connection because we have been missing it from our lives for so long, about as long as film and television have been around, interestingly enough. Instead of escaping inside, without shame this man wheels his crippled, distorted body out on the sidewalk each day for all the world to see and to see all the world he can. The real world. He is one of my heroes.
Authors are asked whom their audience is, to whom are they writing? I am writing to one only; the one I wave to as I pass; the one who does not wave back; the one who dearly appreciates human connection. I am writing, in essence, a wave: A wave to those of you out there looking, searching, and hoping to find a kindred spirit. No need to wave back. I know you're out there. I see you every day.