Are American Audiences Getting Dumber?

Mention the film "Jack and Jill" in the same sentence as, say, "Melancholia" and your conversation will inevitably end with someone shaking their head and saying: "I just don't get how movies can make so much money when they just keep getting dumber and dumber" to which someone will reply: "That's what sells- Americans are just getting dumber."

If the movies keep getting dumber is it because audiences are getting dumber? Is art imitating life?

The problem is that most filmmakers choose to make movies because they want to create meaningful work that will change the way we see life and, by extension, will change the world. By contrast, most people go to see a movie because they want to step away from the world for a little while. This isn't to say that the movie-going experience for the average American is strictly an act of escapism, but rather is an act of self-reassurance. Within the span of a few hours the hero will solve his or her problems, will win the love of his or her love-interest, and will live happily ever after. The audience will feel the bitterness of defeat, the exhilaration of success, the warmth of laughter and the excitement of danger and when it is all over will go back to the real world to find it just the way they left it.

If this sounds like faint praise consider this: Americans have been raised for generations to believe that all people are created equal and should have correspondingly equal chances of succeeding in life. The philosophy of our entire country is built on this notion. With so-called "equal" opportunity to be a success the burden of actually succeeding falls on the individual. If you don't succeed it is because you didn't work hard enough. And when you are responsible for your own success you are also responsible for your own failures- and the line between not succeeding as much as the next person and failing to live up to your potential becomes very fine indeed.

No wonder Americans are stereotyped as being arrogant: we  are compensating for a constant collective fear of not being good enough.  We work long hours and long weeks and take short guilt-ridden vacations and spend every spare moment "multi-tasking" lest our idleness is mistaken for laziness. Living with the luxury of having control over our own destinies we find ourselves responsible for our daily lives, our retirements, our health, our education, our nation, our leaders, and our safety- and in this day and age all of these things are overshadowed by uncertainty.

So to eke out an hour or two to go see a movie is a sacrifice of precious time for the sake of relaxation and inspiration: and who wants to risk mis-spending that valuable time working to understand a convoluted, esoteric story? Even as a filmmaker myself, sometimes I'd just rather watch Adam Sandler make fart jokes than try to learn anything useful. I won't be smarter when it's over, but I will be refreshed for having had a few hours without the burden of my own destiny on my shoulders.

The bottom line is: stupid movies aren't going anywhere  and maligning the American public for being lowbrow and undiscerning isn't going to change that. By all means filmmakers should keep trying to make meaningful films- this too is important of the health of our culture, but there is no shame to try to make a film that shows what audiences want to see: embrace the stupidity: it is a very essential part of being a human being.


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