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I've been meaning to post for a while to ask the folks who hang out here--many
with real training in film that I lack!--about the hows and whys of what appears
to be the escalation of just about everything in film (and for that matter, in
music, TV and most cultural products).
 
You don't have to be Bill Bennett to note this.  It's commented about most with
respect to sex, violence and profanity.  But the general trend seems at work in
something as innocuous as the sitcom.  Witness last season's Seinfeld finale, in
which--not content to limit the character's lack of basic humanity to
relationship failure jokes--the writers felt compelled to kill off a main
character in order to show how the crew fails to react.
 
I'm extremely ambivalent about a lot of this.  Take violence. Peckinpah was
considered the dean of violence in the sixties but one realizes, comparing his
Getaway to the more recent version, how much we have become addicted to a higher
octane level in the present day.  The early version now seems tame, as evidenced
by the lackluster response it got from a group of action-movie friends I showed
it to.  And I keep wondering, as I find *myself* noting with some disappointment
the failure of an earlier film to provide the same charge now that the ante has
been upped: what, if anything, is lost in this process?
 
Maybe nothing.  Maybe it's all just "new modes of cultural expression" made
available in this land of plenty in an era of abundance and high technology.
 
But I can't help thinking it's a little like pigging out on a high fat diet.
Our genes, developed in the hunter-gatherer era, tell us to eat as much fat as
possible, but when we open the floodgates we find ourselves in poor health as a
result.
 
In the recent book Dumbing Down, Philip Lopate has an essay which picks up on
some of these themes.  He, like me, admires the skill and energy with which,
say, Pulp Fiction is put together, while at the same time questioning the
impulses of a culture which demands that specific form of entertainment.
 
Rather than run on with this thought, I'll just stop here and invite comments.
That is to say, I'd finish with a conclusion if I had one.
 
Jeff Apfel
 
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