Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Snooki Effect

Blame it on Snooki.
Yesterday I finally got to see the most recent Academy Award Best Picture, “The Artist,” but not before I had been sufficiently warned.  There on the box office window, typed in bold and ominous font, was a sign that read:


“The Artist” is a SILENT, BLACK and WHITE movie.

(And the surgeon general has determined that it may cause migraine headaches, cancer, leprosy...)

OK, I kid…they did not mention leprosy.  Of course, in order to cover their tracks, they might also have posted on that sign that the film contains symbolism and metaphor and only a very few of the words presumed to be spoken are actually printed on the screen. 
In truth, the film is miraculous...not because of its quality, but because of its very existence.  It is a very good movie, a true homage to early Hollywood and an entertaining, informative piece of art.  But what is miraculous about it is that it could ever have been made in the first place.  Of course it wasn’t made in Hollywood, but in France, and it was made on a very tight schedule with a budget that was less than what an A-List movie star would make for a single picture.  But it was made, so alas, there is hope.

Culturally speaking, what was once branded as elite and snobbish is now virtually extinct.  What was high quality and sometimes thought-provoking is now snobbish.  What was mediocre is now high quality.  And what was once idiotic is now PURE GOLD.

It is the Age of Snooki.  It is the Age of Cultural Junk Food, served super-sized at the drive-thru window, and we are eating it up like there’s no tomorrow.
I remember seeing a clip of the cast of The Jersey Shore when they first appeared on The Tonight Show.  Jay Leno did a skit with them on a mock quiz show and drew laughs from their lack of knowledge of even remedial facts.  It seemed like the show itself was a spoof, an over the top, let’s see how far we can go with this whole “reality T.V.” thing sort of goof.  Then they became superstars.  Now they sit on the couch at talk shows and are treated as serious cultural commodities, as, dare I say it…artists. 

Lower that bar, follow that dollar.
And why is this so?  There has always been entertainment and popular culture that hardly qualified as Shakespeare or Ibsen.  Most Vaudeville acts, indeed most early movies were anything but sophisticated.  But what is different today is the growing supremacy of the banal, the glorification of the downright moronic, and the unused brain cells that flitter away in their exhaust.

“Citizen Kane” wouldn’t get made today unless maybe George Clooney took it on and bankrolled most of it himself.  Today, Louis Armstrong would be stuck in a gig-to-gig existence playing 30 seat clubs for meal money.  Franz Kafka would be told to change the giant bug in “The Metamorphosis” to a vampire or a werewolf and to get rid of all the symbolism crap and put in some good fight scenes. 
I hear there are discussions of Snooki having her own show now that she’s pregnant.  Flash forward to September, 2013: “And the Emmy goes to…”

We reap what we sow. 
But that does not have to be the case.  There are oases of quality still to be found, not necessarily on the front pages or on AOL news feeds, but they are there.  It may require a little searching, sometimes away from the major television networks, sometimes to a movie theater twenty miles farther away than the local multiplex, sometimes past the usual suspects on the bookshelves or in the DVD displays or even on iTunes.  The quality is there, and now perhaps made all the more special by the search for it, by the rarity of it.

By the NEED for it.