The superhero fetish and why Hollywood cinema sucks ass

In many respects, the 1980s can be referred to as the “olden days.” Odd, for sure, but also, oddly true. For instance, in the olden days, I remember me and my friends rushing to any of the megacinema big house movie theaters around Los Angeles or Orange County in order to see the latest big budget, special effects-laden release. These movie events were truly events in every sense of the word. We stood in line for hours in anticipation of a movie which would be awesomely stupid and bland but which always delivered on the promise of projected over-stimulation. This also provided us an opportunity to congregate with similar fanboys and spot occasional noteworthy morsels of curiosity. For instance, while waiting in a very long line in Westwood to see that glorious piece of crap, Ghostbusters, we oohed and aahed over the entrance of a balding Phil Collins onto the scene with his entourage in tow. It was all community-minded crap and the movie was never as great as the clamor. But it was always a memorable experience of the sort that seems to have lost its footing over the last 20 years.

The same kind of concentrated excitement and lavish lines don’t seem to attend newly released potential blockbusters any more. There are so many theaters and most people relish the thought of not standing in a line to see a movie which will probably not be very good anyway. The sense of naive community is no longer there. Movie openings are not the geeky spectacle they once were. To be sure, many movies still open to much fanfare, but the intensely frantic curiosity doesn’t figure into the mix now. It’s as if modern culture is a just a little too blase to show such sincere wonderment. We are too cool for this!

Television has been better suited to absorb the paradigm shift triggered by the new digital age. Having previously sprouted many channels of broadcast programming, the digital age has enabled almost every channel to produce its own product and the only parties squeezed have been the major television networks. This has been no big loss. Cable or satellite television are only a phone call away, or a specific series or episode is only a download away. Due to the living room-sized limitations of the television screen, the visual spectacle has never been at the forefront of the appeal of the broadcast product. High def and 4K televisions render the viewing experience clearer, but nevertheless, television offerings are not hampered by screen size because they compensate in other artistic manners. Lately, I have seen some fabulous television series that consistently dwarf the infantile garbage Hollywood scoops into its lengthy and time-consuming features.

The Guardian published an interesting examination of the faltering Hollywood movie industry today. The article refers to the lackluster performance of several overhyped and overfunded Hollywood releases.

Industry insiders are referring to this season as “the summer of doom” – an overcrowded huddle of big-budget spectaculars, without the audience to sustain them. US box office takings are down 19% on the same period last year, while the studios are smarting from such high-profile casualties as The Lone Ranger, After Earth and the supernatural action-thriller RIPD. While the runaway success of Iron Man 3 and Despicable Me 2 helped soften the blow, major figures claim that the industry needs to adapt quickly or die.

Speaking on a panel at the University of Southern California last month, the film-makers George Lucas and Steven Spielberg suggested that the era of the $300m movie dinosaur may well have run its course. “There’s eventually going to be a big meltdown,” Spielberg said. “There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even half a dozen of these mega-budgeted movies go crashing into the ground – and that’s going to change the paradigm.”

Under Hollywood’s current business model, nothing succeeds like excess. Prevailing wisdom stipulates that action movies or established franchises – such as Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean or superhero movies – come with a pre-sold fanbase and vast potential for spinoff merchandise.

The Hollywood cinema industry is a gussied up whore that seeks to make the most money possible while exerting the least effort. This is very obvious when witnessing the flood of garbage that perpetually splats across our big screens. There is no story. There is not thought, no intelligence, just a visually florid conglomeration of technological marvels. It’s garbage. Hollywood movies are a victim of their own success. Movies, and their display at the local theater, overshadows any imagery we can ever sieve out of the televisions in our living room. Hollywood evolved to rely purely on spectacle, which was occasionally interspersed with the thoughtful movies that those of us who appreciate “story” flocked to. But as Hollywood movies have declined in story, so has television increased in the same. Television has become the refuge of the thoughtful and intelligent, while cinema has become the lair of the child and the fanboy.

Steven Gaydos, the executive editor at Variety magazine, had much to say here. His words ring dreadfully true for Hollywood, the creative outlet, but wonderfully true for Hollywood, the merchandising commercialist mass of trash.

Gaydos cautioned that the situation was complicated by the opaque nature of studio accounting, in which the US box office tally is just the tip of the iceberg. “Take a film like Pixar’s Cars. It made so much money from bedsheets, towels and coffee mugs that the movie is essentially a commercial for the toys.” Action blockbusters such as Pacific Rim, which have merchandise potential and a decent overseas audience, may not turn out to be the box-office disaster that they first appear.

“Look at Comic-Con and then tell me if you think Hollywood is going to cut back on its comic-book dependency,” said Gaydos. “Look at how that event was covered by the critical establishment and you’ll see how everything still validates the conglomerates’ bottom line. By and large, people are not looking for intelligent, edgy, mid-range movies. They’re looking for superheroes and special effects. They’re looking for amusement rides. They’re like the kids in Pinocchio who still want to go to Pleasure Island. They’re voting to be donkeys.”

I’d like to think that Gaydon’s last quote about Comic-Con was uttered with a contemptuous sneer because that is how I read it.

Hollywood cinema is shit. Pure shit.

I find more enjoyment in television’s offerings. “Rectify” is one of the grandest shows to hit the small screen in a long time. It’s a spiritual marginal form of entertainment that never would have been allowed to hit the movie screens, and which was surprisingly picked up for a second season by the Sundance Channel. The television field was expanding well before the digital age, and this expansion couldn’t have happened at a more auspicious moment. The variety and caliber of broadcast offerings available us in our home is vast while the variety offered at the local movie house is nil. It is all explosions and comic books and hollow garbage. Hollywood cinema has nothing to say, so it markets its product at those who have nothing to think. What we are witnessing is one big feast of marketing superhero gimmicks. This is the garbage Hollywood fanboys love and insist on making and financing. The Hollywood Jew execs eat that superhero crap up. They love the idea of the meek, 90-pound weakling transforming into a thudding mass of sinew and Nordic might. It’s a fetish and it makes lots of money from the equally meek-minded audiences, so we’re stuck with it.

Television has down-amplified its product to be viable and fantastic on our computer screen. Hollywood cinema continues to inflate juvenile expectations.

Ultimately, Hollywood cinema is the victim of technological and social evolution. Collectively, we have a tendency to “trite-ize” the past. Each generation laughs at the previous for no good reason and seeks to usurp its hold. Books gave way to e-readers without a fight. Music gave way to digital renditions, with a fight, but a meaningless one. Television traded in the TV Guide for the digital rewards of high-speed internet to deliver its product to anyone who chose across all span of existing channels. But movies…well, they just keep choosing to direct their product at the lowest common denominator. Movies have nowhere to go. No one cares about the big blockbuster one-mile-long lines now. In fact, that all seems rather quaint, looking back. Movies can’t move into our living room because the effect is not great since their product is dependent on size.