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Headshot of me with long hair, pink lip stick, light makeup Kara Babcock

The death of culture

Often you'll read one critic or intellectual or another say something along the lines of how Hollywood is destroying the movie industry, creating cheap flicks at the expense of "art" and "culture". And as much as I am sometimes tempted to agree with this cynical evaluation of our entertainment industry, I can't bring myself to jump on that bandwagon. I just can't.

I have observed that more movies are "packaged" these days. What are "packaged" movies? Well, these are the hits that look and feel like the director simply sent in a form from a mail-order catalogue--he or she filled out the title and main characters, and the company sent back a pre-packaged movie: special effects, music, etc. Movies like Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, and--especially with its third installment--Spider-Man are packaged blockbusters.

Are packaged movies inherently evil? Does it make a movie bad? Of course not. I like each of those three movie series above--although none of them are particularly spectacular--but they aren't moving and they aren't cathartic. And sometimes you need that. Sometimes you don't need a purging; you just need some action, some humour, and some explosions. The only reservation I carry is that it's too reflective of certain negative aspects of our society--namely, this increasing dependence on pre-packaged items, like food, that we just buy in bulk at a grocery store.

There are the "indie" films, complete with festivals, to attempt to carry on the art-form that Hollywood has--so some say--left behind. The problem with this phenomenon is not its goals, but rather, its demographic. The people who go to film festivals are precisely the type of people who like the films at film festivals. Which brings us to the hilt of the matter: the audience. Do people really want art? Or do they want entertainment?

The answer has and always will be both, and this is why I can't endorse those pessimistic and pretentious pundits who pretend to put-down Hollywood. I'm going to use Shakespeare as an example. Take King Lear, for instance. King Lear is one of my favourite plays and one of Shakespeare's best. It has pithy intellectual themes, and as a tragedy, is carefully written to move us to pity and compassion for the terrible tribulations of the hero, Lear, and his descent into madness. But Shakespeare was no fool. His plays weren't wildly successful just because of these themes--they were successful because they were also entertaining. King Lear has humour aplenty--ribald or otherwise--and that's why it has endured 400 years' worth of Eberts. If the jokes seem stale (or you just can't get them), it isn't because they're silly. They just get lost in translation; the language differences over the past four centuries make Shakespeare a tad hard to understand at times.

Yet I digress. Shakespeare and his ilk knew something about how to get a crowd's attention, and how to leave a part of their work with the crowd when the play was done. That's why the movie industry isn't in "decline". This perception of decline is just a misinterpretation of the charts. We're changing all right, but we're always changing--it's what culture does. It's a reaction to the last two decades of increasing technological development. Technology affects movies faster than it does stage or books (and to a degree, music) because of the visual nature of the medium; advanced technology means advanced movie-making techniques. Technology has developed more in the past two decades than it has in the past century. And it shows no signs of plateauing, so we have to be ready for more change.

Culture is dead. Long live culture!