Sunday, September 30, 2012

Behind Older Lenses: Considering Previous Norms

 Ever wonder why it is many people tend to find themselves disconnected with a creative work that features ideas that do not gel with them on a societal level? Something that often intrigues me about even cult media, is its acceptance or denial by those who claim to be that much more well-rounded in their manner of discourse. It's like this wall that they've run against that is simply too high to even be bothered with it. That's the nature of subjectivity. But this isn't a post centered on say the current state of certain mediums. In no way are we talking about some of the more skeevy pander material either. In this case, I speak largely of works of the past that are capable of carrying what were even considered social norms of another era. From gender roles, to social habits. It turns out that upon spending more time to reading the blogs of contemporaries, or even listening to podcasts, there is at times an expressed deep urge to dismiss certain works because they either engender a world purview that doesn't jibe well with them, or makes the work seem regressive in thematic nature.

Take for example, my most recent post at Anime Diet... Some new thoughts regarding Wicked City (1987). It's a film that continues to burst with 1980s Japanese thoughts on sexuality, relationships, with a little extra grafted on to its dark fantasy milieu. The lead character starts the film as something of a playboy type, making bets on who gets to bed an attractive lady. It's an opening that many seem to take for granted, or at least seem to forget about because the scene following this is infamous for presenting one of the most terrifying visions of the female gender ever captured on celluloid. Skip to later though the film, we are then offered a vision of this man, inevitably settling down with someone who could more than capably be his equal, and yet the angle hovers very closely toward making this strong-hearted, independent character into something of a domesticized creature. And while Wicked City never spells out a complete transformation, it could very easily be construed that throughout the often terrible humiliation she goes through, that the narrative is something of a molding process. Adding the fact that she is of another race from a dimension dubbed, The Black World, there are some mildly intermingled messages happening here. And while it can also be considered, she retains a good amount of her own special nature come the finale, the finale takes its last moments of focus back to the male lead, who's role has been transformed from slick, tough guy lothario, to stone-jawed breadwinner. As expressed throughout the existence of Through Older Lenses, it is in many ways less a review series concerning older titles, but rather a way of looking back at something that might have had different meaning at one point in time/outlook, and coming up with new things to consider. It would be much easier to merely dismiss a work for some of a certain work's undertones, but some might also carry some hidden heft, some tiny hint of a more contemporary world view just scratching at the surface. Even if much of said film's views on male/female relationships seems dated, and perhaps even a bit sexist, it is also important to consider the time in which a work was made, and the audience it was specifically made for, where their minds were at this specific point. A bubble era, mostly male-driven society is not going to be the best place for any full barrage of progressive ideas, regardless of the industry's often impressively left-wing nature in those days. A production would grant some here, and lose some there. One has to appease sponsors and general audiences somewhere.

So when we look at other films of the era, like even John McTiernan's Die Hard(1988), and the dynamics regarding the marriage between the estranged McClane's, one can also see such notions snapping hard back toward the status-quo. One can still enjoy that film as the influential action spectacle that it is, but the subtext regarding Holly's gift Rolex remains more than a little suspect. For those partaking in the general discourse, it is perfectly fine to dub a work as something qualitatively strong or weak, but the layers past this are equally, if not more substantial.

But does this make a work worth dismissing outright? If art is the place where certain conversations, debates, and declarations can be made manifest in ways beyond the word, then isn't it important that those who comment either do so to further the discussion, or for those who make to respond in kind? If a work is able to successfully convey a hypothesis, or a political viewpoint, or even social norms, it is our role as those who are hosts to them to either confirm or deny them. It isn't enough that it didn't lose our attention, and more that we see where the author(s) involved were attempting to go with their project. Now this doesn't mean that works cannot disconnect, or even offend on an individual level. There are some creations where the lack of insight, or education, sensitivity, or whatever simply will not work with a person's internal worldview. So this is not so much about that manner of discord, so much as about bigger thoughts that concur with the mainstream of a specific era. If it succeeds in getting its ideas across, that is success on a level, but to be able to see how it connects to the population at large might be worth considering too.

Any form of expression is borne from the moment. It's a snapshot of a given time, place, or thought. And like any form of communication, the key invitation is for us to listen and consider. We're capable of doing much more than what a history textbook has ever done. And if this is all a matter of study, perhaps true discourse is about the consideration, and questions that follow.

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