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On Tue, 11 Jun 1996, Rolf W. Brandis wrote:
 
> Aside from the practical reasons (inflation, population growth, etc.) I
> would posit that one of the reasons we teach is our aesthetic, as well as
> knowledge,
> enthusiasm and unbridled love of cinema, its history and its influence on
> the mores of our society.
 
Ah, but a careful study of the most popular films can reveal much about
the state of societal mores at the time each was released.  Just as novels
can reflect certain identifiable currents of the time in terms of values,
sense of self (and society), and desires, so does film - in a more immediate
way. It's a question of what kinds of stories the public finds interesting, and
what kinds of heroes or antiheroes we find interesting. Or what types of
advertising appeals most (no need to fall back on the old action
hero/beautiful girl combo - we have films like E.T. to combat that image).
 
As for the practical problems of inflation and population growth, this
could be simply solved by studying the most popular films for different
periods of time - each year, each decade, or other measures such as wars,
presidencies, whatever seemed appropriate. The actual today-dollar amount
would be less important than the fact that each film was a top grosser
for its time.
 
> In my opinion it would be akin to teaching Literature based only best
> sellers or Art History on any era's best selling reproductions. Popularity
> and box-office grosses more often, than not, attest to notoriety and/or
> marketing acumen rather than more solid intellectual criteria.
 
Not to make the too-obvious point, but what's wrong with teaching a class
based on best sellers? Clearly Literature is no longer a stable body of
classics - all kinds of writing merits intellectual investigation (this is
what makes interdisciplinary arenas like Comp. Lit. and American Studies
tick). From the incredibly popular crap churned out by Rosamund Pilcher,
Danielle Steele and the like, to the equally popular psuedo-mysticism of
Deepak Chopra and L. Ron Hubbard, all kinds of interesting and disturbing
things are happening out there.
 
It seems this discussion teeters on the verge of becoming a classics v.
pomos argument. I respect your statement of frustration with the idea of
placing pop culture on a par with Serious Intellectual Study. It's a
matter of taste. Incidentally, I wonder what you (or anyone out there)
might say about the popularity of Emma Thompson's rendition of Jane
Austin? Extremely popular, well-made, and offering audiences two hours of
wonderful escape (though I overheard someone on a bus referring to
_Persuasion_ as the "sequel" to S&S. Ha!). Isn't that worth looking into?
 
> I strongly believe that creating an environment in which curiosity flourishes
 is
> more conducive to eventual maturation of taste and intellect than any
> exposition of colosal money-makers.
 
It's all a matter of _what_ you are curious about, isn't it?
 
--------------
J.F.
 
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