Reel apathy

Kyle Smith

The biggest sports fans I know are usually terrible at sports. For all the activity athletics requires, many prefer to live out their love through fantasy teams,, and video games.

There is a similar effect with movies – die-hard movie lovers develop an even stronger passivity toward life. It’s an alarming situation that worsens the more saturated our lives are with media. The ideal life is filled with screens, not people; with stories, not ideas; with pause, not stop; and pain-in-the-ass DVD rewind buttons, not bulky two-head VCR rewinds that gear up like small aircrafts and screech like the Chipmunks on helium.

Not to go down that well-walked path of Internet paranoia (though some friends and I harbor a well-founded theory that Google is run by villains from some unpublished Batman comic who are brainwashing us with awesome services while slowly stealing our privacy and personal liberties and credit card information and first borns), but as much as I liked ordering a pizza online last week and not having the awkward exchange with someone named Carl and getting the pizza, I wanted-well-I wanted to talk to Carl.

A steady diet of movies and media doesn’t just remove one from the day-to-day interactions of the real world. It does something much worse: It breeds an apathy and cynicism to life. People are experienced rather than experiencing.

I’m speaking in generalities, of course; most film geeks have active lives full of friends and enemies. But the constant watching now comes close to simulating some kind of real-life experience, where part of living is consuming media. Hipsters listen to iPods – to what they want to hear, not what others have to say.

To pull this conversation out of Chomskyite talk: Nothing’s better than when you see something ridiculous. For example, I was at a high school today with an enormous mural of wolves trampling through a snowy wood. This was the white-trash Guernica.

But I was simply reacting to something, not participating in anything. Sure I had put myself in a high school lobby through some stroke of luck, but all I could do was analyze, laugh and make comparisons to one of the few pieces of art I can freely name without Wikipedia. That’s why this story is mildly amusing; and, therefore, why it sucks.

But the truly epic stories that color our lives – the ones that are more ridiculous, hilarious and truthful than the ones in movies – don’t just happen to you. A defining moment of my youth was sitting in front of the middle-school directory, mulling over whether or not to call a cute girl on the phone. My friend, acutely aware of my insecurity, strangled me with the phone cord. This would never happen today: It’s out of the question to call a girl’s cell phone randomly.

Or rather: I used to love calling radio stations to ask them to play certain songs and talking with the DJ. Only a fool would do such a thing now; which is why I scoff cynically whenever I hear people request some song freely available on everybody’s MySpace page.

One of my recent pastimes is discussing hipsterism with a Wisconsinite friend of mine who has penned an unfinished manuscript entitled Hipsters in the Heartland. The hipster is the creation of all this media, and has an infallible belief in the coolness of accidental intelligence. A naturally passive creature, the hipster is best spoken of as if he/she is an animal sleeping in the corner of the room.

As cool as hipsters are – and there is coolness in aloofness, no doubt; it inherently makes any talent a surprise – the lifestyle of receiving, never giving, to the world is selfish and boring. “Hipster” is a misnomer; the modern-day hipster is white and inherits the tradition of the beatnik in aspiring to be cool without trying.

The simulated movie world is everywhere: the reliance on movie quotes and constant conversation among young people that consists entirely of obscure quotes; the proliferation of movie soundtracks; the identification with fictional characters and John Cusack (who might as well be fictional). Now there’s even the video iPod, which allows me to watch Trapped in the Closet whenever I damn well want.

And it’s Trapped in the Closet that’s really at the crux of my argument. To appreciate R. Kelly’s hip-hopera as unintentionally hilarious, a simulation of quality, is cheap and easy. To buy into R. Kelly’s earnestness and madcap creativity is either inane conformity or liberating individual freedom.

Either way, you’re still into a story, and I’m still watching it on a video iPod. And that means we’re still not talking.

Communication senior Kyle Smith is the PLAY film columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]