Monday, December 5, 2011

Bonus Meta: The Essence of Joy

Because my review of SG1 6:17 couldn't help but be painfully pithy and uninteresting (sorry...I gave 1:20 - Politics a long review but that's the last clip show I spend all evening on), I thought I would offer a few little musings on the nature of entertainment and why we love the things we do.

Unless your name is House and you have divorced yourself from the last tortured vestiges of your soul to keep from staggering into the realization that your life is meaningless by your own self-destructive immolation, there are doubtlessly things you love that you literally cannot explain rationally.  We call them guilty pleasures (because the rational part of our brain wonders why we should be so attached to them and finds no answer so it feels guilty for not telling us to knock that off) but I think we need to stop and recognize the very real, very valuable joy such things bring to us.

Of late, I have been perusing another set of entertainment critics (you can find their work at Nostalgia Critic - warning, this site is rated PG-13 for excessive profanity!).  Nostalgia Critic (formerly known as "theguywiththeglasses" on Youtube, where he get his start...and his team of fellow critics (including Nostalgia Chick and her geeky pals) do mostly movies and the like, but do occasionally dip into the TV files when the mood strikes.  They review only things that are at least ten years old (hence...nostalgia) and have a bias toward reviewing films that they dislike (because it's funnier).  But every now and then, they set themselves the task of logically dissecting and utterly destroying a movie that doesn't stand up to real logic...even though they themselves actually enjoyed it.

I happen to agree with Nostalgia Critic that Moulin Rouge is, on its face, a HORRIBLE movie that sends a series of ghastly messages well disguised by flashy staging and epileptic-seizure-inducing rapid-fire shot changes to wow the viewer and hold their attention.  The film...a musical...does not include a SINGLE original song beyond "Come What May" (which, incidentally, is an awesome song), wrongly equates the empty pursuit of unearned "love" by the bohemian revolution in France at the turn of the 20th century with the kind of life-changing love that actually inspires us to the better parts of our nature, is completely devoid of credible acting performances (by choice!) and just plain doesn't accomplish anything of value.  Except that it made millions of us really...really happy for two hours.  We know all the songs they used (and the way they got them into the score was really cool)...we liked the clever staging and the artful depictions of the gaudy nature of the Moulin Rouge...we all wanted to enjoy the love story...and f*** it...we love this damned thing (myself included...I remember seeing it in the theater and really enjoying it).

If you really look at most Disney an do the same kind of thing.  I liked Aladdin and The Lion King despite the often contrived nature of the romantic elements of both stories (and you know how hard I am on most things that show up on this blog containing instant romance).  The Little Mermaid is a story about a rich brat who gets everything she wants despite not learning or changing at all while forcing everyone else around her to adapt (or die, they're evil sea queens).  Even the seemingly invincible Pixar team produces movies that aren't without their major ethical or social flaws if you really stop and think about it.  Armond White (New Yorker) stopped and thought about Toy Story 3 and concluded that it was all about product placement and merchandising.  I don't think he ever gave the film a chance, but...using pure cold logic...there was a lot of that in the Toy Story franchise and denying it is living in a fantasy world.

So why do we love things that, when you shine a light on them, just don't mesh with our beliefs that well?  Why did Avatar make a billion dollars without even working at making a plot that made any sense?  Why do we all love the classic Disney movies...even the hard core feminists among us...despite the fact that, in general, women are portrayed as needing men to be happy, needing to be rescued, and generally...being rather helpless?  Why can we sit and glow while watching Moulin Rouge scream at us in tones so loud that they become COLORS?  Why is the essence of joy?

For me...the essence of joy is thought and sensation.  I like plots that make me consider a world I never imagined - force me to think BIG - shake up my perceptions.  I like stories that inspire me to think about myself and to wish for more from my world.  And...(and this is where logic sometimes dissipates before the power of the body)...I like stories that evoke powerful emotions.  Moulin Rouge does this.  The Little Mermaid does this.  Even "Move Along Home" - the worst best DS9 episode EVER (not entirely serious)...does this by dropping us into a scene surreal enough to evoke a strange glee.  Almost everything I review here I love with the rational part of my mind (and some of those things also appeal to the emotional and aesthetic parts of me)...but there are some things I like because they bring me a different kind of joy.  And I think it's important to do three things with those kinds of "guilty" pleasures...

  • Realize that there's nothing invalid about that kind of joy and revel in it whenever possible.  Happiness is happiness and should be celebrated in its proper context.
  • Realize when I am enjoying a story for purely aesthetic / emotional reasons and make sure I am aware of that story's logical failings (so as not to be influenced into changing my core beliefs by a flashy show or a pretty song)
  • Call attention to what works in such stories and what doesn't stand up to reason...keep the good and use it in my own attempts at artistic creation...reject the misguided or just plain silly.
We can tell a story that far exceeds the insanity of Moulin Rouge and evoke the same sort of awe-struck child-like hypnosis at the bombastic, jubilant artistry.  Sometimes I get both of my wishes...I get a story that speaks to my mind AND to my soul - that appeals to my sense of aesthetics AND to my sense of logic.  When that happens (see: Rocks and Shoals (DS9 6:2), Duet (DS9 1:18), The Siege of AR558 (DS9 7:8), Heroes (SG1 7:10/11), The Gift (BtVS 5:22) etc)...the ratings soar.  But any joy is cause for celebration here at Right Fans...even the type that leaves you feeling a bit guilty when the dust settles.

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