Sunday, September 25, 2011

A New Hollywood Creative Paradigm?

Hollywood is still mostly trapped in its view of itself and society. A stale, 1960's era view of themselves as the good enlightened, struggling against a repressive, McCarthyist people and populace. A group of the true saved enlightened saints, against a dark and evil American people. But recently a glimmering of change is sprouting through Hollywood. Oh don't worry … they still hate America and Americans. But their attitude about themselves is changing. Partly this is due to economics and technology, but partly because of how they see themselves. The change is mostly in the ranks of producer/director/writers, not actors, of course, but it is quite interesting.

The change is that instead of seeing themselves as the new Puritans, "saints" who persevere against a repressive, sexually and politically, "evil White male" regime, the new crowd sees themselves as Batman. Who everyone wants to save them, by extreme violence, while condemning them for doing so if they ever get caught.


Mostly, of course, I'm talking about the Nolan Brothers, and JJ Abrams. The Nolans are famous for the Batman movies, which endorse pre-emption and snooping and all sorts of vigilante violence. Abrams has joined with Jonah Nolan, Christopher's brother, to produce "Person of Interest," perhaps the most unsettling and for what it is, revolutionary conservative show on television.

Nolan's Batman, famously, exists in a world and a city that has failed. Gotham is a pit, decaying into corruption. The cops, save one man, Gordon, are corrupt. Criminals run everything. The few honest District Attorneys are slaughtered, or driven insane, and cannot function. Judges routinely send criminals into a revolving door nuthouse. Nothing works, which is why Batman is needed. He exists because no one else will save Gotham. Leaving it to him, and whatever methods he himself finds appropriate or not. The only lines he follows are ones he draws himself.

You can immediately see the appeal for Hollywood's creative people. All their institutions are failing or have failed. The Studio system that gave them money, a budget, people, and told them what to do are long gone. Have been for nearly forty years. What replaced them, the Agent system, is failing. People are not buying DVDs anymore, nor are Blu-Ray sales fixing the deficit. TV rights are down, foreign sales have been no help with massive piracy, and 3-D is a gimmick whose time has now definitively passed. As Chris Nolan says, film-makers and audiences have spent nearly a century getting ordinary films right, and knowing how to see them. You can't watch 3-D with vision problems (most of the audience), on an Iphone or Ipad, or on ordinary TVs, where people most want to watch movies.

Nothing has worked, and so a few creative people have cast themselves as vigilante heroes. Determined to save the city (Hollywood) from the forces of darkness and violence (foreclosing on the Malibu beach-house) by whatever means required (appeasing the audience with traditional heroes). This earns them disdain from the populace (Hollywood's in-crowd) but they are extra heroic and mavericky.

I'm sarcastic, but that is the process. And more are joining them. Captain America and Thor, no matter what their problems, were straight ahead super-heroic. Therefore, ultra-mavericky when everyone wants to be the hip new happening guy who is the toast of the town and ticks off audiences. Fear, desperation, and a desire to stand out have led the Nolans and others to make movies that appeal to ordinary people with heroics and a distance from the Hollywood mores of "you stupid hicks, your 1950's values stink!"

Person of Interest takes that even further. It is astonishing that a conventional liberal like Abrams is even associated with it (he executive produces). In a key scene, the character Finch explains to the character played by James Caviezel, what he did for the government. Finch, he tells the man he hopes will work with him, developed a software system that would sift through everything. All the phone calls, emails, bank account activity, surveillance videos, supermarket purchases, everything, in daily life, that records activity in a database. And it would look for things, to predict violent acts about to happen.

The public, he says, wanted no more 9/11s. They just did not want to know how it was done. The government having given itself permission to read any e-mail and listen to any phone call, after 9/11, used his program to find out terrorist plots. But he tells the Caviezel character, there was a problem. The program found other things, mundane murder plots not associated with mass casualty terrorism. So he threw those away, but later came back and had the system send him just the social security numbers, of those people who were of interest. They could be the killers, they could be the victims, he could not tell because all he could safely send himself was the social security numbers.

Here there is another failure. The government could, if it wanted to, stop the murders from taking place. As the Finch character tells Reese (Caviezel), while crimes of passion or the heat of the moment cannot be prevented, those plotted over days and weeks and months, often can, because the plotters leave clues that his system can spot. But the government only cares about mass murder terror plots. Because that is the only concern of the public.

Caviezel's character is a former CIA man, presumed dead, who killed a lot of terrorists and enablers after 9/11. He himself, like Batman, decides where he will draw the lines, and what he will or will not do. He does not like killing people, but is good at it. A burnt out and bitter man, he finds redemption in saving people who can be saved but the system lacks the will and ability to save.

The pilot was based on a screenplay developed by Abrams and Nolan, and is pretty revolutionary. The government, far from being an omnipresent fascist state, does the bare minimum to protect a public that wants to pretend it doesn't know what is being done. Again into the gap of failure, by the government AND the people, rush the heroes using new technology and will power, to "be there in time," to stop murders. The pilot tested off the charts, the highest of any drama pilot in 15 years, with "crazy broad appeal you don't usually see," so much so that CBS moved CSI aside for it, and won its timeslot in the premiere with 13 million viewers.

What Hollywood is very cautiously nibbling around the edges of, is that PC and Multiculturalism and restraint and all that, don't work. More 9/11s don't happen because lots of people get killed by drone strikes, combat patrols, and the like aided by outsourced torture, lots of software sweeps of bank accounts, phone calls, emails, travels, airline tickets, and more, plus human intel from forces needing US help/protection/assistance against enemies. Not by a heavy dose of hope and change. More like lots of drone strikes and SEAL missions never publicized, which the public would like to ignore.

Ultimately this is not sustainable, and the lone hero model while very dramatic has its own limitations, as actual policy. Which Hollywood's creative types understand because no one makes a movie by themselves. Indeed the series raises all sorts of questions. Are we willing to tolerate thousands of murders, each year, because we don't want to have intrusive, software-spying? If a couple of guys using the software can save that many, why not the police using it at will?

Naturally, this only around the edges. There is the PC heroic Black female cop. The usual "corrupt White cop ring" though the hot young female prosecutor is corrupt, the schlumpy divorced White guy is the intended victim not the killer. PC still reigns supreme in some areas. No one is asserting a broad-based challenge yet.

But … the whole point of the show is that the good guys use the ever-present surveillance technology (the hero Reese snoops a lot on targets electronically) to stop crimes from happening. In the pilot, they save three lives. They stop murders by not just breaking but obliterating every law, rule, and criminal procedure on the books. They step in because the government will not. The heroic Black female cop is shown as always three steps behind, not knowing who she is pursuing, or even why the hero acts as he does.

Let us put it this way. Not even JJ Abrams believes in Hope and Change and the West Wing anymore. Instead it’s a couple of vigilantes stepping in where the FBI or NYPD will not.

9 comments:

red said...

I think Americans prefer heroes over governments fixing things. Governments do everything with publicity in mind(making themselves look good) while heroes focus on the mission. And while heroes violate people's rights they're not doing so out of desire of controlling the populace as our government is wont to do. And most importantly if they go rouge we can do something about them. Our government has been rouge for generations now and we can't do crap all about it.

Whiskey said...

What's interesting is that CBS in particular pioneered the "SWPL-anti-crime team" approach. Older guy (sometimes not always White, see Lawrence Fishburne and Dennis Haysbert), lead a team of "diverse" including at least one hot chick, people to solve crimes (against the PC order) and restore SWPL order. Never ever breaking the law, using technology to preserve PC.

See, CSI. Or NCIS.

Now CBS is effectively throwing that out. Amazing.

Anonymous said...

Meh, I'd rather watch The Wire again.

Kaz said...

Do you really think there hasn't been another 9/11 because we're out there in Iraq, Afghanistan, and drone bombing remote parts of Pakistan?

Whiskey said...

Kaz, yes. You need to know who to whack, and the whacking has not just been in "remote parts of Pakistan" but populated areas, including let me remind you Abbottabad, where Bin Laden holed up.

Being in Afghanistan and Iraq brought us into direct contact with people who for their own ends, sought to use us against Jihad rivals. They always have rivals and enemies. This led us to a lot of physical evidence (we are running a massive spy/scout operation deep inside Pakistan from Afghanistan) that is required to know just where to hit.

Clinton fired lots of cruise missiles, which killed no one, because by the time they hit anyone who was anyone was long gone. They weren't stupid. They did not hang around for long after a meeting, figuring it was betrayed. Being so close, means we can hit it, when say a courier arrives. Or tag him and follow him to roll up a network all at once. We've killed conservative estimate, about 5,000 fairly high level jihadis. These are the money men, the tribal leaders, the go-to-guys.

It is true the Muslim world is over-run with Mohammeds willing to blow stuff up, and sometimes themselves. But there are far fewer guys who can move money around, buy weapons, train people, run safehouses, connect with intelligence services (a lot of the jihadis we killed in Pakistan are active ISI or Pakistan military btw). We have not been hit because we have prevented the top planners from planning, their daily routine being stay alive.

AQ during the 90's evolved, from the Van Bomb (Oklahoma City style which was itself a re-run of Beirut) to attacks on the Cole, Embassy van bombs in Africa, and attempted missile attacks in Kenya on airliners. Culminating in something they'd never done before -- fly planes into buildings.

Whiskey said...

What whacking these guys constantly (which again requires on the ground intel, not a Tom Clancy like sat feed) does is make them unable to come up with new plans. No say, remotely piloted "do it yourself UAVs" loaded with mustard gas, sarin, or chlorine, basic WWI technology married with off-the-shelf components. AQ had a big section researching poison gas, imagine that combo headed for a college football stadium. Or Yankee stadium, guided by an operator in a freighter off NYC ready to dump the equipment when done. Or imagine a Bombay-style series of attacks in NYC, Boston, etc. with gunmen to draw away SWAT while second waves attack schools, office towers, the like.

Your average AQ guy is going to be trying to set off a bomb in Times Square without much luck ... as long as the guys who know how to make effective bombs are dead, hiding, and can't reach him. There are not that many of them that know how to do this, the most effective way to stop them is to kill them. Which basically means a lot of Marine Scout-Snipers, Delta, SEALs, and other Spec-Ops folks spooking around Afghanistan/Pakistan to find these guys out based on tips, and guide the hellfire missiles in.

Whiskey said...

Look at Britain. they cannot even deport London bomber accomplices because Human Rights laws forbid it. The public WANTS this stuff, the nice and PC things and no sending these guys back to wherever.

But they also don't want stuff blowing up in London. Since these guys were a bunch of middle class Muslims who did not know how to blow stuff up, the solution has been for the US and UK to kill the bomb-instructors in Pakistan, which is exactly what they are doing. You might as well ask, what has changed in Britain to stop more London tube attacks?

Killing bomb making teachers in Pakistan, basically. YES IT IS STUPID. But that is all PC and Multiculturalism allows. Most people in Britain want both stuff not blowing up all the time, and PC/Multiculturalism.

Jules said...

I don't know if the public in London really wants it. Their legislative, executive and judicial systems are far more democratic (at the whim of the mob) and simultaneously dictatorial. When the mob wants gun rights or the death penalty they are overruled but its democracy when it comes to bread and circuses.
Not that they're a great people, any country where "consultants" are still being hired to recommend schools stop using white papers to prevent racism is going down the drain.

Commander Shepard said...

Whiskey

Everything you said is applicable to the AfPak theater, Yemen, and parts of Africa. Iraq on the other hand fits in nowhere.

The premise of the Iraq war was a fraud and the criminal enterprise has cost tens of thousands of people their limbs and lives, diverted massive amounts of resources, manpower, and money from where it belonged, and created a messy political siutation who's ultimate outcome is yet unknown. I'm aware that you believe control of oil and petrodollars is important which I accept but then that should be the stated mission.