Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Stories you Couldn't Make Anymore

Last month, I saw Terminator 1 for the first time.  I know that's definitely not news to a lot of people: it's only been out for, what, almost 30 years?  I liked it.  The plot was simple, but also uncluttered and worked in its simplicity.  The action sequences were grotesque (in an 80s way), but used the horror of people being shot as a major point in thematic, plot, and character arcs, using the which I found oddly refreshing.  I did, however, have an interesting revelation:

You couldn't make this movie today.

The main character, Sarah Connor, is a teenage/early 20s waitress from the 80s with no fighting experience, and she acts like it.  She cowers when she's shot at, goes through a horrific time coming to terms with being the target of assassination, and distinctly does NOT fight back until the very end, after her male protector is dead.  If you released this movie today, no one would care that it was a completely realistic depiction of how most anyone, male or female, would react in that situation- It would be decried as sexist, of perpetuating stereotypes, etc.

Likewise, I recently re-discovered the old cartoon show Babar.  For those of you who don't know, it's the story of an Elephant who travels to a big, very British city, who takes what he learns there back to the jungle to improve the lives of his fellow elephants, and is soon appointed king.  

It's a very nice story, but you couldn't make it today because it is, in many ways, about colonialism.  There are critics who defended it-that it was a show about the appeal of comforts, the importance of manners and education, but if you made it today you'd probably be hung for daring to depict someone who transplants British civilization into the jungle as a good guy.

Now I understand that there are certain ideas that make us uncomfortable; ideas that we distinctly don't like being perpetuated.  But sometimes I look at our approach to movies- how we have to be so careful in everything we do to fit the current political climate- and I worry we're handcuffing our storytelling.  Art is, after all, supposed to challenge us and our assumptions, to make us think and reflect.  Now, no one wants a revitalization of pro-Nazi movies, but sometimes I feel like we care more about how stories perpetuate our current world views than about how they can accurately depict people in a given situation and give us something to think about, even if it's something we don't agree with or take for granted.

I bring this up, because one of my favorite stories of all time is the movie Hero.  Hero is a great Chinese martial arts flick, but it's also a movie I doubt you could make in America without being drawn and quartered.  If you haven't seen it, (Spoilers:) the dictator who wants to take over the world?  Stomp out everyone's language and replace it with his own?  The one who has assassins after him in revenge for the thousands of people he's slaughtered?  He's the good guy.  And he's not the good guy in spite of those actions, he's the good guy because of them.

It's a distinctly Chinese way of viewing government and unification, but because of that it's very thought-provoking.  If an American movie tried to carry that message, everyone would hate it.  They'd be accused of supporting genocide-practicing African warlords, of being Pro-Hitler skinheads, anything!  You see, in America, we like our morality very 2-D, where it's very easy to hate the other side for disagreeing with us- we may teach shades of gray, but we don't like it in our art.

One of the reasons I really like epic fantasy is it's the only genre I know of that regularly and realistically depicts people with viewpoints divergent from current trends.  Even if you don't agree with medieval views of life (and there are good reasons why most people don't,) there is a lot to learn by getting to truly delve into and explore philosophies and societies that fell out of fashion a thousand years ago.

Just something to think about.

1 comment:

  1. Ursula LeGuin has said much the same thing about why she writes science fiction. She puts people on planets where customs ate already hundreds, or millions, of years old, and the plants are often stable because of them. (Fisherman of the Inland Sea is a great set of short stories in this line.).

    LeGuin then gives us a way to see and understand something that is not only outside the norm in society, but takes it farther, to a logical conclusion far beyond anything that you could get away with if it was set on Earth.

    One of my favorite is a thought experience that takes the fact that almost everyone falls somewhere on a bisexual range. It may be 50/50, but even if it is 90/10, it still is a part of each individual. The story also assumes that everyone is capable of deeply emotional love for both men and women, no matter what their sexual attraction split is.

    The last real "universal" assumption is that children need to be raised in a loving home where they ALWAYS feel safe, to be able to learn and decide what they want for their adult lives. The right to choose, even if does not fall in a "traditional" (for that planet) marital arrangements. People "try out" different ideas about themselves and then settle into the one that best fits them individually.

    How all of this comes togeth would not be accepted if writing about earth life, even if the basic ideas are pretty consistent with the beliefs of a large part of the population.

    On this far away world, the most stable and encouraged form of marriage, is one between four (4) people, two men and two women. Each woman is married to only one of the men, but the men are both married to each other, and the women are both married to each other. How, or even if, the homosexual relationships work, some are sexual but all are based on loving both of their partners, so the individual sexual relationships have a high degree of variability, while the love that both homosexual and heterosexuals is always more important to the stability of the family.

    The society does recognize that some people will want to exclusively have either a heterosexual or homosexual relationship, and there are ways to accommodate that. There is no condemnation for that choice, but there are some things that place you, fundamentally in a different framework, than the bisexual marriages practiced by most.

    There are jobs in the cities, and places to live, that give diad couples opportunities for much more individualized training, than the "tradition marriages" that make up the most rural farming communities, where every child has two mothers and two fathers, generally with distinction for the connections between a child and one parent, irrespective of the genetics of a child.

    Thanks for a thoughtful post! I found your blog because you commented on Eric's at American Iconoclast!