When the program or movie is billed as “ripped from the headlines,” it’s your clue the plot you’re about to see is fictionalized fact. A story that has something to do with what the media was covering just last bloody year from the streets of Detroit or Cairo.
And understanding this is important why…?
In our round-the-clock entertainment culture, it’s important to understand the constant interplay between facts and fiction, the people in the news and the people on our screens. If art imitates life (eg. Tom Cruise playing a warrior in Iraq), life these days often imitates art (eg. a serial killer in Detroit trying to play Tom Cruise). What we watch affects what we do, what we do affects what we watch.
Can there be any more watched or watchable moments in our lives both on and off the screen than these two? Sex (how life starts) and Death (how life ends)? I think not. Which is why the cameras spend so much time imagining these moments for us in the audience. Notice, though, how film and television deal with these moments differently today than a few generations ago:
* In the first half of the 20th C, sex and love-making were tabooed with discreet camera fade-outs. Then in the second half they were lyricized with background music, soft lenses and poetic anatomies. Today both those styles are long gone as sex usually slams onto the screen with grunting animal energy without the bother of much love-making
* At the same time, death has also slipped into something more raw and violent. No longer medium shot and bloodless, now death is usually portrayed in its ugliest closeup forms of pain, writhing and body parts. As with sex, today’s cameras and stories want no poetry, just the cold unadorned animal energy of extinction
And so we are left to ponder. When art imitates life, should it do so real and raw just as it finds it? Or are we obligated to find aesthetic ways of enriching the real and muting the raw? Of telling ourselves we are better than the headlines? We can and we should try? I’m asking the right questions without having the slightest idea of the right answers,
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