Last Saturday my son Sean told me that he and the kids, Kiera and Drew, 12 and 10 years old, were going to see “The Avengers” that afternoon. Of course I had never heard of The Avengers! That they were all eagerly looking forward to it made me wonder what the movie is about. Here’s a short review/reflection from always interesting Ran Prieur:
May 19. (permalink) Today I went to see The Avengers, and I’m wondering where human consciousness is headed when entertainment is so entertaining. If you’re eight years old and already seeing The Avengers for fun, what will you do for fun when you’re forty? How much more room do we have to push our own pleasure buttons with sound and light shows?
There’s a popular idea that we’ll entertain ourselves to death, we’ll fall into the holodeck and never come out. I no longer believe this. I think, in terms of its power to suck us in, a full-on holodeck will exceed Skyrim by less than Skyrim exceeds imagination — which is not even that much. We can add touch to sound and light, but ultimately it’s the same kind of thing as 3D — it adds no meaning, only novelty.
Whatever world you’re in, meaning is found in the wider worlds in which your world is nested. Subworlds nested within your world are meaningful only if they reflect the wider world. So if you’re in prison, books can keep you alive, but you don’t want to spend your whole life in prison reading books. I remember when I was 13 years old and first saw the D&D rulebooks. It was a transcendent experience, an unfolding of a new kind of consciousness. But once unfolded, it became merely fun, and finally not even fun.
If you look for this pattern you can see it everywhere: in games, movies, drugs, romantic love, even music. We keep going back to the source, trying and failing to recapture the experience of the first time, but that source is really just a mirror that now reflects something different because the world has moved. So, to answer my original question, when today’s kids are forty, maybe they’ll be re-watching The Avengers for nostalgia. But I like to think that advanced virtual reality will give more people the opportunity to pass all the way through fun to the other side. It’s said that the Buddha, as a young man, indulged in shallow pleasures until he burned out on them. William Blake said it best: “If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise.”
“Advanced virtual reality gives opportunity to pass all the way through fun to the other side.” I like that. Or maybe, pass through to the other side without entertainment of any kind. Without technology, just do it!
Here’s another review that I think really hits an important nail on the head. It’s about the relationship between blockbuster superhero movies and the 1% and the 99%. How we need “entertainment” that entrains our minds to imagine the 99% as the collective super-hero, rising up and taking over the world from the 1%.
But then, isn’t that happening already? Not so much through protests, though that’s the visible part, but in the growing renaissance in community self-help? Especially the local food movement. The Local Growers Guild is an example of what’s going on just in my little corner of the woods. Is not this wonderful idea of returning to our own roots in Nature’s abundance slowly sweeping us all into its cornucopian embrace? Slowly, but surely, and necessary, even crucial, in order to sidestep the Monsanto Monster.
And I, frankly, wonder about the future of the very concept of “entertainment.” Does it have a future? Or is this what we do when we are not occupied with our own personal and community survival and thrival. I doubt indigenous villagers who gather in ceremony and celebration call it “entertainment.” Their community gatherings are not about escape. They are about culture-building. We entertain ourselves with games, whether physical or virtual, in lieu of culture. Don’t we miss it? Does any kind of “entertainment” really feed the soul? Wouldn’t we rather tell each other stories? Stories from our own real lives?
Let us remember to sit in thrall to what others have to say. Let us pull the meaning that they have created by living authentically out of their bellies where it has lain, dormant, and fermenting, for so very long. Let us mirror for each other the wonder that is human.
I was a total Marvel comics fan when I was a kid. that meant regular trips to the local corner pharmacy to lay out ten or twelve cents for the latest Hulk, Thor, Spidey, Fantastic Five and The Avengers.
So I had to go see the movie, THE AVENGERS, in 3D Imax And it was entertaining.
But having been through the past year’s Occupy Wall Street experience gave me new eyes.
And what those eyes viewed brought me to an epiphany. Superheroes serve the 1%. They serve the top down powers that are waging a massive war with the 99%– we on the bottom.
Now, of course, superheroes are not real. But they provide fantasy material. Seeing the movie reminded me of a conversation I had with a really smart guy– Ward Wilson– a few weeks ago.
Ward and I became friends about five or six years ago after I attended a talk he gave at a local synagogue. Back then, Ward was just starting to talk about his ideas on how nuclear weapons don’t work. They didn’t win world war II and they don’t act as deterrents to war. I was very impressed. A few years later, so was the Nobel organization in Sweden. They gave him a grant of over $390,000 to pursue his work and get out his message.
Ward and I had lunch a few weeks ago and out of the conversation came a realization that Atomic weapons are the ultimate top-down fantasy. One ultra top, ultra power person can push a button or make an order and start or stop a war.
I say it’s a fantasy because it hasn’t happened. No-one has started a war with a nuclear bomb and Ward Wilson is very persuasive in arguing that no war was ever finished with nuclear weapons either.
That takes me back to the Avengers movie and superheroes They also engage the fantasy that one person, or a small few, can save the world. That can have the same kind of top-down fantasy theme to it. The Avengers movie did. I”ve come to believe that top down thinking is part of the problem that the Occupy Wall Street movement faces. To change the system it is necessary to change the way we think about saving the system and fighting our enemies. How many scores of millions of kids have grown up having read Marvel and DC comics, about Spiderman, the Avengers, the Hulk, Superman, Green Lantern, the Justice League of America– where people with super powers save the world?
This way of thinking takes the responsibility out of the hands of the people, takes the perception of possibility out of the reach of the masses.
I’m not saying that the original intention of the stories Stan Lee’s Marvel Comics told was to promote this top down way of thinking. Bravery, audacity, courage, independence– look at the way the individuals who comprise the Avengers are non-conformists– are all shown as strengths.
But today, we need big stories that show how “the people”– how vast groups of millions rise up to face the challenges to humanity. Occupy and the Arab Spring have shown that this is not fiction. it is reality.
We need big, epic, blockbuster movies that portray bottom up leaders who, rather than defeating the bad guys by being super-heroes, do it by inspiring the crowd to rise and join together. The plot line could show that a small group, when it joins forces, develops powers that the individuals in it didn’t have. The fantasy part could be that at a certain point, millions of people pour out into the streets and when they do the tide turns and rescue of the nation or the planet begins.
There have been movies like this. In Network, a crazed anchorman gets people out in the streets shouting, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
We need more movies like that. We need movies that push the envelope, maybe even portraying people out in the street, resisting police, movies that upset the censors in China and Iran, but that go viral anyway.
Maybe they won’t be done for $200 million by a major studio. Maybe they’ll be done by indie producers like the ones who did I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER.
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