Post-Holiday Pop-Culture Blues
by L. Brent Bozell III
It's simply not healthy spending the Christmas season (or
any other season, but especially Christmas) fixated on today's popular
culture, but there's no escaping it if a holiday movie outing or any amount of
leisure time watching the tube is in order. Following are reflections on some
of what I observed during the holidays.
-- I first wondered after seeing "Pulp Fiction,"
and, now that I've seen "Jackie Brown," am wondering more than ever:
Why in the world do so many people think so highly of Quentin Tarantino? He
shows touches of technical mastery and has a flair for sharp dialogue, yes.
But these qualities do not by themselves make a filmmaker first-rate. Those
who exalt Tarantino as the Auteur of the '90s either haven't noticed -- or
don't care -- that those two skills are pretty much all he has going for him.
What one would think matters far more to the average moviegoer is what
Tarantino hardly possesses: storytelling ability. That talent. -- central to
the renown of moviemaking giants like Frank Capra and John Ford - is
unimportant in Tarantinoland, where non-linear qualities like atmosphere and
It's long been clear that Tarantino is much better versed
regarding movies than he is regarding the real world. Perhaps this endears him
to similarly imbalanced film critics and other cinema wonks who relish that
which is sure to displease the sensibilities of the Great Unwashed, to use
Rep. Henry Hyde's delightful term for conservatives. No, Tarantino is not
offensive in the Oliver Stone mold; he's just analogous in his free abuse of
Contrast "The Godfather" with "Pulp
Fiction" and now "Jackie Brown." Francis Ford Coppola's
blockbuster is a movie about organized crime; what Tarantino offers (at best)
is a study in movies about organized crime. When you're watching Don Corleone
lecture son Michael about the ways of the Mafia you're there, in the room. The
artist has captured you with his story, and only when the lights come back up
do you return to the real world. With "Pulp Fiction" and
"Jackie Brown" there's no there there: You watch John Travolta,
Samuel L. Jackson, and Robert DeNiro play gangster roles but since there's no
real story to speak of , it's superficial, contrived. In "Godfather"
you wince in pain, recoil in horror as Virgil Sollozzo slams a knife into Luca
Brasi's hand at the bar; in "Pulp Fiction" you watch a character's
brains get splattered all over the car and listen as a disbelieving audience
giggles in the theater."
Jackie Brown" has an additional problem in that it
belongs to the blaxploitation genre of the '70s, with blacks stereotyped as
pimps and gangsters. It is inherently trashy and by definition can't attain
the (dare I say it?) romanticism of a "Godfather" story. Tarantino
might have succeeded with "Jackie Brown" by going the
"Scream" route of outright parody, but as a self-involved artiste,
he presumably considers such an approach beneath him, and we are expected to
accept his raunch at face value. I don't.
-- It seems like everywhere you turn this type of gratuitous
raunch is present, especially on television. Perhaps nowhere is this more
noticeable than when networks air promotional spots for their prime time
series. These spots tend to feature an episode's single raciest scene, and
they're broadcast throughout the day, even when large numbers of children are
in the audience.
During the holidays I watched a number of football games. So
did tens of millions of youngsters, but that didn't stop the networks from
airing several raunchy promos - and repeating them over and over again. In a
plug for its sitcom "Just Shoot Me," NBC aired a scene in which a
male office worker explains to a beautiful female visitor that he's licking a
stamp, to which the woman replies, quite lasciviously, "Lucky
stamp." ABC's promo for its revamped Monday lineup featured a scene from
"The Practice" with a couple making love while showering. And Fox
has ceaselessly flogged its new sitcom "Ask Harriet" during NFC
telecasts. The protagonist of "Ask Harriet" is a man posing as a
woman, but the show is a far cry from the innocent fun of "Bosom
Buddies"; virtually every (cheap) joke deals with sex, and breasts, and -
you get the point.
It's an all-out assault on the human spirit, and as a
society we not only have stopped opposing it, we salute it with our silence.
Virtually nothing is out of bounds any longer. There are no rules, no
limitations. There is no more morality, no more social responsibility. The
entertainment community's product no longer is merely a reflection of reality;
it is reality.
And that's a sad reality to ponder on the eve of the 2,000th
anniversary of the birth of Jesus.
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