IMO: Extremism is the New Reality

I assume the intellectual set has come up with the term for today’s obsession for extremism representing the last decade in television and filmmaking. Or is this post-post-post modernism? Netflix and Amazon, HBO, to name a few, have kicked the shins of the traditional format for movie making and television. They don’t have to abide by FCC rules. FCC rules found here. The result? Cable television has few restrictions, if at all. Their influence has had a dramatic effect.

1. Nudity and sex are commonplace.

2. Profanity has never been raunchier.

3. Deviant behavior storylines abound.

4. Apocalyptic storylines abound.

5. There is no God.

By now I’m guessing you think I’m a prude and ultra-Conservative suggesting we reinstate a censorship board to protect the virtues inherent in children and society as a whole. Like in the 80s when the moral majority attempted to control the hair bands by censoring their music with a warning label.

NO. I’m not on a soapbox trying to persuade you that amorality has us enthralled. I’m saying we are desensitized. Like blogging and self-publishing, we are inundated with choices. The speed at which the removal of barriers, not for the purpose of telling a story that needs to be heard, but for the shock value to hook us, is akin to the rush of cocaine to distance oneself from the boredom of normalcy. The barriers I’m referring to are 1 – 5 above. 

For the record, narratives of varying viewpoints are welcome. Go LGBT. My idea of deviance is a storyline about torture. Especially children. (Absentia, The Alienist). Nudity and Sex in all its variations. Game of Thrones. Westworld. The use of extreme profanity. Even The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has its raunchy moments. Pick your series!

Take Netflix’s new hit, The Russian Doll, for instance. Created by Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland, it is a dark comedy-drama that has a smart, highly entertaining storyline. Natasha Lyonne’s character Nadia describes herself as “If Andrew Dice Clay and Merida from Brave had a child…” referencing the Disney heroine with big red hair along with the 80s NY comedian who was banned for his crass and rowdy routine. (Since A Star is Born, his raunchy routine redux tour has sold out.)

I focused on the Mindbender aspects of the story when I watched season 1 and tried hard to ignore the extreme profanity and casual sex and substance abuse like it was a mainstream part of life. It’s obviously made for a mature audience, but like the previous examples, the access to them is unrestricted. The story for select audiences becomes mainstream. 

As a teacher,  I have seen students watch this before, during lunch, and after school, because they heard it was really good. I have to confiscate phones daily. Students will plug their buds in their ears and tune in to their phone during the middle of class. They are addicted to extremism. And it can’t compete with learning. Learning a subject takes imagination and repetitious practice and active engagement.

Dragons and witches will rule in April with the advent of Game of Thrones. Who does the storyline target? Banging sex is a part of the package. It’s hard to watch students obsessed with it during school hours. I’m betting elementary and middle school kids have seen it, too.

It’s the stripping of inference and the death of imagination for the sake of extremism that has me concerned. When you reposition what was once behind closed doors to the center stage and put it up on a platform for all to see, especially children & teenagers, the loss of innocence has me wondering what price will we pay for this new liberation? 

Can you imagine films and television in the next ten to twenty years? What happens when there is no more envelope to push? Taboos a thing of the past? Do we need taboos in society? Or will it one day be okay to watch child sex in a television series and sadomasochism and bestiality?

“Restriction” has now become the foulest word in the English language followed closely behind “moderation”.

I’m a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock and film noir. Talk about gritty, deviant storylines. I know Hitch was restricted by the studio system (probably a good thing) because it caused him to tell a creepy story by using devices that activated the imagination. I enjoy historical fiction, science fiction, and mysteries. I crave complicated characters and smart dialogue. Tell the story. Please, don’t forget the underrated technique of subtlety.

The point: films and television series have pushed the envelope off the table with unnecessary jolting language and abusive or sexual situations to the mainstream.

What films or television series do you notice embrace the extreme? If you took out the extreme elements would the storyline suffer?  

1 Shot Wednesday: March Street

My stepfather died three years ago. 

Photos trigger memories and transport one to the past. That is the purpose of the Wednesday 1 Shot series.

This photo is from my hometown in Illinois. Just a typical street on the blue-collar side of town. The sky lacks definition. A misty rain coats the trees making them look gangly and tragic. Cracked streets and decaying homes suggest depression in our town.

The setting echoed how our family felt about the passing of a steadfast man who devoted decades to my mother–mind, body, and soul. Maintaining his corner of the world with dedication, he ignored the drama of humans surrounding him and expressed love with pride in his home and garden. He was a man who showed love not with words or touch but by action.

At this point, he would wave me off and tell me not to be so melodramatic. So I will try to obey. I raise my beer can and salute. “Thanks for taking care of Mom.”

March. Sadness & Hope

The wind blows. Soon, the leaves will fill the branches. The sun will return. Soon, a walk down this simple street in the heart of my town will elicit the nostalgic scenes from my youth and replace the chill. But not today.

 

Good bye, Richard

Winter has come and gone, so I say Adieu to this year’s focus, Richard Burton.

I finished the entertaining biography, Furious Love, by Sam Kashner & Nancy Schoenberger. Diving into his private journals, letters and exploring artifacts and associations, they created an in-depth portrayal of Richard Burton and honored him as a legendary stage and screen actor. When Elizabeth Taylor entered his life, their scandals and private life were broadcasted around the world. Critics and adoring fans couldn’t get enough of them. They lived in hotels, on their yacht, or beach home in Puerto Vallarta. They shared their children, their pets, and their money with family members and a huge entourage of help who followed them under the constant pop and crackle of the lights of the paparazzi.

Such conspicuous wealth enflamed their critics and created an intoxicating fairy tale story that allured and raised curiosity. According to his letters, Burton was proud of his rags to riches story. “Not bad for the son of a Welch miner!” when confronted with reports of yearly expenditures and costs to cover their flamboyant lifestyle. I think most of us would prefer to be wealthy to the alternative. To live in their shoes would be a dream come true, right? Celebrity stories are frequently repetitive. Scandal. Tragedy. Abuse. Highs and lows. Death. In the end, are you surprised to know that Richard and Elizabeth were human beings whose insecurities frequently got the better of them?

After watching many Richard Burton films, what did I discover? Well, he’s not my favorite movie star. Forget about several of his films, I say. It was his stage performances that were meaningful.  The best films he ever did were play adaptations. Maybe you knew that all along. For me, it was fun to find out.

Burton received many awards and nominations for his acting in movies, Broadway and television. He received two Golden Globes for his movies My Cousin Rachel and Equus. He received a BAFTA for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

He received two Tony Awards. One for the musical Camelot and a life time Special Award in 1976. He was also the winner of a Grammy Award for The Little Prince in the category of Best Children’s Recording.

His 1977 performance in Equus as Dr. Dysart is the last great performance.

In the film 1984 based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Richard Burton seemed wooden. In fact, I learned a botched neck surgery forbade the use of his arms. I revisited the film and conceded the contrast of the cold torturer O’Brien to Winston Smith (John Hurt) was fitting. John Hurt’s emotional performance was breathtaking. So, too, was Suzanna Hamilton playing Julia. Seeing the film today is as relevant as when the 1949 novel was published and the film released in 1984.

Burton died of an aneurysm a few months after filming when he reportedly spent time with John Hurt at Burton’s Switzerland home. The two went into the village to drink at a bar and Burton got into a skirmish and was pushed. He fell and hit his head. The next day he complained of a massive headache and his wife Sally Burton took him to the hospital. He died on August 4, 1984, of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. He was 58 years old.

I believe Richard Burton had a God-given voice and a fascinating personality.

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