As with every summer, would-be blockbusters crowd the box office for views, reviewers rub their theoretical hands together and the rest of us gawk at the latest depiction of destruction and heroism, hoping we’ll see something new. I don’t think much of that will change in 2014 and that’s not necessarily a bad thing (though books are always, always better), but I do see a trend that is both obvious and has potential to change the game of mass entertainment, or at least how we analyze it.
It has been said, countless times, that entertainment influences culture. I’ve seen nothing to suggest that’s not true, but with the advent of such stories as The Hunger Games and Divergent, and the wild success of not-so-subversive political commentaries like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I’m beginning to wonder if the tables aren’t starting to flip.
In recent years, we’ve seen an unusual increase in respect for those in uniform (i.e. End of Watch, and Lone Survivor) in addition to a number of faith-based films, many of which came out at the beginning of 2014. Indie flicks and every-day life features, like The Spectacular Now, and off-color monster movies such as Pacific Rim have stepped onto the scene, and while they may not do as well in the U.S., movie makers are increasingly reaching out to a broader market—as in, the world. There is no doubt that, as with every money-making scheme, this shift is about publicity and, well…money; and I don’t think all of these movies share the theme I intend to reference. But as the world’s opinion becomes more important and, sometimes, supersedes local or national enthusiasm, the fact that certain movies are doing well internationally is very telling. Let me explain.
In 2013, there were an unprecedented number of anti-government protests around the world, most notably those in Ukraine (shortly before Russia’s notorious Winter Olympics) and those in Venezuela, both of which were fueled by a widespread view of government as abusive and corrupt. There were riots and clashes, blackouts and protests in Romania, Slovenia, Bangladesh, Italy and countless other countries, many of them challenging the legitimacy of their governments’ actions and motives. In the U.S., with the growth of the Tea Party and increasing political polarization; with the continued fallout from Snowden’s leaks; with Lois Lerner and the IRS’s current troubles; along with a host of polemic from both sides, even our government is under incredible scrutiny.
So what does this have to do with movies? Well, it looks as if movie-makers are following suit, rather than cutting it, so to speak. And they’ve done remarkably well.
The Hunger Games, a dystopian action-adventure-romance-flick-trilogy about a young woman with the heart of lion, who essentially begins a revolution against her tyrannical government, has been a worldwide sensation. Divergent, a less successful but similar young-adult catnip, brought in $100 million by its fourteenth day of domestic release, with its tale of individualism and, notably, its enshrinement of a person’s ‘independent will.’ Captain America 2, Steve Roger’s internationally successful second installment, tells of a government overstepping its bounds in the name of safety, while unwittingly opening itself up to extreme abuse. It pointedly references mass government spying and the eventual use of that system to target ideological enemies, a not unfamiliar concept (either historically or currently). All it lacked was a direct use of the quote: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The relevance of these movies is surprising, as Hollywood is often accused of having no bearing in reality and just doing whatever it wants, but there’s been an obvious shift towards what the world is actually worried about. While some attempts may fall flat with their target audience, there is no doubt that movie-makers are putting their ears to the ground. People want to see movies that address the injustice they’re currently seeing—hypocritical governments running wild and treating citizens as enemies. This focus could change in a week, a month, a year, but right now it’s very real and right now it’s working…on an international level. A solid percentage of the world is on the same wavelength and, lacking the luxury of prosperous times, Hollywood seems to be getting on board.
I would say that this heralds (at least) a temporary shift in who lays the egg. Up until now, we’ve gotten our life cues from entertainment, whether we know it or not. But with a populace that’s tight on money, in an era where bait-and-switch is all but lost, thanks to faithful reviewer blogs that churn out warnings in real time, I wonder if movie-makers have a choice in the matter anymore.
So the question is this: Is culture starting to influence movies, rather than visa versa, or is it too closely related to know? What do you think?