POP CULTURE: What Is Cinema For?

Cinema is the most prestigious cultural
activity in the modern world. It is for us what theater
was in the age of Shakespeare, or painting was in
the days of Leonardo DaVinci. The art form with the biggest impact,
the largest budgets, and the most widespread audiences. Collectively, we recognize that film has
an astonishing power to induce emotion. But it would sound weird to stop and ask
what film was really for, what purpose it serves in our societies, and why we spent
so much time in its presence. We don’t generally think of films are serving
any very strenuous or serious cause. We ask for a lot of nice
but not terribly lasting things of films, to while away the hours
of a long flight, to keep the family together on the sofa, to give us a bit of a thrill. This is a great loss for us
and for cinema itself. We should try to pin down more accurately
what films actually do for us, then make sure we’re reliably making
and finding our way to see the best, that is, the most useful kinds of things. We would ideally accept that film,
like all the other art forms, best reveals its power, when we
conceive of it as a kind of therapy. Let’s consider five key problems and
how films can help us with them. We’re understandably prone to self-pity. We get ground down and frustrated
by the problems life throws at us, and we tend to react by
getting ever more stern and serious. Certain films can beautifully
address this natural tendency, when they show us people not
too different from ourselves, in difficult situations,
except very much unlike us. These films play our pains for laughs. They seek the absurd side, the exact things that really great
with excessive seriousness. At their best, there’s nothing trivial
about these comedies at all. They take on the momentous task of sweetly etching us towards being
slightly nicer people to live around. 2. We’re not careful enough Sometimes in life,
an action that seems quite small, goes on to have enormous consequences. You tell a little lie.
You steal a tiny bit. You’re a bit dishonest with someone. You get a bit lustful and
carried away just once, and then from this, catastrophe ensues. Films can help us by speeding up time,
and showing us in a matter of hours, fearsome result of what we might
originally thought of as small failings. Film can push the consequences
to the maximum. By witnessing horror and disaster it can make us want to
be the kind of person, who is a touch more forthright,
and little more honest and moral, readier to face an unpleasant moment now
and (thereby) head off a distant disaster. We leave the cinema, less inclined to be
self-righteous about the failings of others scared for ourselves and more
respectful towards things we hold dear. It might sound odd, but it’s usually very healthy and helpful, to feel that one’s life is a bit special, deserving of admiration and respect,
a little glamorous. But very often the opposite is the case. Glamour lies elsewhere, in the lives of
the famous in swankier parts of town, in activities and jobs
far removed from our own. Film has an enormous power to glamorize. It can put in front of our eyes
delightful images, many meters in size, shot an extraordinary colors,
vivid and immediate. Because so many films
glamorize the wrong things, we used to thinking that an element of
alienation and corruption is a generic, rather than incidental danger of cinema. But in fact, film is well able
to show us the less obvious, but real charms of everyday life. Whereas the worst sort of films
eject us back into our lives, full of longing and disenchantment, the best ones leave us ready
to re-engage with circumstances, with which we had unfairly grown bored. Cinema can help us love and
appreciate what we already have. It’s not entirely our own fault. The media is to blame for much of it. Because it tells us about categories of
people we want nothing to do with, places that seem frightening, bizarre,
unremittingly depressing. We going to think we’re not at all
interested in people in Iran or Venezuela. Our disenchantment make it expressed as
racism, arrogance, or just plain coldness. Ultimately, what we suffer from is
a denial of our common humanity. Cinema can perfectly compensated for
this withdrawal of emotional energy, by showing us the appeal of
people far away, we’d otherwise be
completely uninterested in. With the highest artistry, we’re reminded of an obvious
but so easily forgotten fact. Our membership of the family of humanity. We’ve gone so far down
the track of teaching ourselves about the importance of
gentleness and compromise. Many of us have unwittingly develop
problems around courage and self-assertion. Decent people have learned so well
to suppress their own appetite for a fight, their own desire for victory. But in a world where
conflict is unavoidable, good people sometimes need to strengthen
their willingness to face down opposition, not always to compromise and play it safe, but to take risks, to get out and fight,
to relish victory, and to be a bit more ruthless in the
service of noble and deeply important ends. Sometimes, it’s not enough
just to be right. You also need to win so some of us
might well benefit from seeing films, that tell tales of heroism to follow
someone who has to navigate the world, kill a dragon, outwit some baddies. The film shouldn’t ideally leave us just
in awe at the daring of another person. It should do that for most valuable thing. Educate us by example, so that we too become just a little more
heroic and brave where we need to be. Cinema, as we currently know it, is not a million miles away from
doing wonderful things. But in order to help with
the real business of living, we need this hugely compelling
and powerful art form to set out in a more determined
and systematic way to offer us the help we really need. The way we categorize films should
ideally get a little bit more subtle. Rather than say something was
merely a thriller or comedy, we’d put the accent on what these genres
might achieve for their audiences. Instead of suggesting that one needs to be
above a particular age to watch a film, the government classification board
would see its primary task is that of helping a film to reach
the audience it could best help. Thus a film might be rated A, meaning that it was regarded as being
particularly good at getting us to address and cope with anxiety. Or it could have an MC rating, meaning that it was of benefit to
those experiencing marital conflict. Films can do so much for us. They better direct
our feelings of sympathy. They offer comfort for
our unmanageable fears. They correct an unworkable sense
of what is normal. They edge us towards good conduct. They caution, and arm us
against our folly and vices. We should, as society, be ready to
see them as more than just entertainment. They are, at their best, guides to life and
pieces of spectacular applied philosophy.


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