Subtlety

Over the past fifty years, a trend has befallen our society. We, as a people, have lost touch with the simple art of subtlety.

In the enlightenment, the popular writers of the day were masters of it. Voltaire wrote volumes of offensive material, but because it was so eloquently stated, a large controversy involving the stifling of the author's pen was circumvented.

'Twas a more civilised time then. While technology was lacking, the minds were sharper and more capable of true progressive thought.

Even in the early to mid twentieth century, certain measures were taken to soften the blow of the forked tongue of man to its victim. While negative thoughts were harboured against certain groups or individuals, they were expressed intelligently, eloquently, and required a bit of clever unraveling to discover the statement's true meaning.

Like everything else, I blame the media.

Specifically, let us examine the genre of cinema known as horror.

In the beginnings of the film industry, special effects, such an integral part of horror pictures, consisted of heavy makeup, chocolate syrup, and the old "shut-the-camera-off-for-a-second-so-I-can-walk-offscreen-so-it-looks-like-I've-disappeared" slight of cinematography.

This forced filmmakers to think about how to construct the story to provide maximum horror without having to show things on camera that had not yet been devised to work on camera.

Hideous, evil monsters were described in great detail in the dialogue, and victims of said monsters died as a screaming shadow being cast on the opposite wall. Shadow puppetry.

Not exactly the most romantic way to convey the scene, but on screen, the effect was chilling. There was an unknown element that bore a crippling psychological effect on the audience: the fear of that which exists, but is unseen.

As technology advanced to include stop motion puppetry, the horror film camp experienced a rift. Some chose to adopt the new technology and test its success, while the old-school directors chose to stick with the subtler art of suggestion and innuendo.

The former gave us a slew of laughable sci-fi films in the 1950's and Godzilla in the '60's, while the latter gave us Psycho in the 60's and Jaws in the 70's.

Looking back on these two camps, one side's output is regarded as humourous and cheesy, while the other side's are ageless classics.

Now that computer animation is advanced enough to be the sole medium of feature films, filmmakers no longer feel the need for subtlety. They feel that everything in a story must be blatantly thrown at the audience for them to "get it."

If aliens are in the script, they are sculpted, colourised, and given an extreme closeup, relying on the musical score to incite any emotion from the audience whatsoever.

1996's Godzilla is a classic example of effects ruining a good story. The entire ad campaign only showed bits and pieces of the gargantuan monster, tantalizing the millions of moviegoers with an oversaturation of the advertisements for tacos, pizza, cola and chips. Millions of moviegoers who were immediately disappointed as soon as they laid eyes on the entire monster on the silver screen.

So also was the case in M. Night Shamalan's work. His initial film, The Sixth Sense, was a brilliant story with a surprise twist ending no one expected, and made use of special effects only to show the dead that the little protagonist was being haunted by.

By the time Signs rolled around, he had an amazing thriller script involving unseen aliens. Except for the end, where a shoddily rendered grey being was shown with a weakness to dihydrogen oxide. More effective is the film that needs not stoop to such levels of obviousness.

Movies have come to spell out everything for its audience, and so has the vernacular conversation of our society. Before, adult language was used sparingly in order to convey extreme situations, and especially on television.

Fourteen years ago, a shockingly bleeding-edge program entitled In Living Color stood at the forefront of envelope-pushing to deliver the word "butt." Now, in a live awards show, beloved rock icons can drop the F-bomb in an FCC-kosher manner and get off without anyone thinking ill of him.

Bumperstickers and t-shirts proudly declare, "F--- Bush" or "Die, F---ers" without providing any intelligent, rational thought, or even an eloquent form of delivery.

Conversely, there are T-shirts out there that still retain a level of subtlety and thought provocation. Certainly the heart meter shirt and the "Officer Friendly?" shirt I saw last night offer a realm of conversation to their viewers.

Out of this stems my avoidance of posting holiday wishes for friends in places where way too many people can access it. Many AIM users are guilty of wishing people "Merry Christmas" or whatnot in their away status when the season is upon us. In fact, everyone who was online and away that day had something to that effect posted.

Mine read, simply:

I am away from my computer right now.

If social interaction and entertainment continue on this decline, pretty soon we'll have a loud, drill-sergeant barking orders at us through our TV's, telling us what emotions we should currently be feeling.

YOU ARE NERVOUS, MAGGOT.
YOU ARE SCARED SH-TLESS.
YOU ARE SAD, SCUM.
YOU ARE JUBILANT.
YOU ARE EXCITED, YOU WORTHLESS EXCREMENT.
YOU ARE MOROSE.
YOU ARE HYSTERICAL.

--Must see TV at its finest.

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