Monday, December 21, 2015

Movies, Society, and Consideration

Currently I'm taking a break from social media: I have to stay off Facebook and Twitter until I see the new Star Wars movie, because my friends are way too excited about it. Even if they don't spill the beans, some of them have friends with a poor sense of humor, who will find it funny to ruin any surprises the movie holds.

After a weekend of radio silence, one person has noticed my absence and emailed me to see whether I'm okay. No one else is aware anything has changed, or else they lack the curiosity (or are even relieved at the reprieve).

Rebecca and I saw two movies on Saturday, neither of which were Star Wars, if you can believe that. We were plotting our weekend and had nothing planned, which is a precious, increasingly rare delight, so she suggested some movies that we might see, Trumbo and Hunger Games Number Three Part Two.

I asked why we couldn't see both of them, and my wife transformed into a bubbly child: "We could see... two movies today?!" Her eyes were round and huge, and one of her hands gracefully alighted upon her chest, over her heart.

"Why not?" I said. "We're adults, we can do whatever we like. We can eat horrible food and stay up way past nine."

So we played only a few hours of World of Warcraft and cleaned up and drove out to see Trumbo at the theater in our old neighborhood, on the edge of Edina. Readers from other nations should like to know: Minneapolis is the major metropolitan center of Minnesota, and Edina, right outside of it, is as much wealth and elitism as Minnesota can muster. The houses are beautiful, the shops are twee, and the people are self-assured and soulless. White liberal women will proudly show off their Lululemon clothing and tote bags, despite the founder's well-documented misogyny, racism and Libertarianism. Groups of white adults, from young families with oversized off-roader strollers to clutches of well-to-do retirees, wander thoughtlessly or playfully, respectively, into the street before moving traffic, tacitly daring any driver to hit them, just as Edina drivers run stop signs and red lights and challenge pedestrians' legitimate claim to the streets. It features a few trendy bistros which are somehow immune to the pressure to update and innovate with which Minneapolis pulses.

But I digress. We very much enjoyed Trumbo and discussed it animatedly as I drove us out to St. Louis Park to see Hunger Games. One of the prominent differences between these two movies is the trailers: Trumbo's trailers were serious political dramas or acclaimed foreign dramas. Hunger Games' trailers were amped-up fairy tales, children's stories, culturally appropriated mythological reboots, as well as the movie adaptation of Hunger Games' YA wannabe rival.

We very much enjoyed Hunger Games Number Three Part Two and discussed it animatedly as I drove us home. Rebecca asked me which I liked better, which is an obliquely reductive question. I admired Trumbo's struggle to create and produce, in defiance of fascistic conservative politics such as we enjoy today in half of the Republican party, the half that doesn't think the other half is fascistic and conservative enough, the half that bullies the Democrats from left to center, that drags the center to right. Trumbo's environment is entirely relevant today, and as a writer I permitted myself to feel a little pride at this legacy, or proud for this leader in my chosen profession and his supporters.

As for Hunger Games, one is safe to bet that Jennifer Lawrence may well be the genius of her generation. Her energy and conviction flare from the screen like standing too close to an explosion. At no point does she slip and bring any tedium to her performance, even as the boys around her endlessly mewl, "Yeah, right, revolution, but do you think I'm cute?" She strides from scene to scene with lethal power and she slumps in a large chair with regal power, and there's no reason to think this will end with Hunger Games' conclusion.

In between movies I was hungry, but we'd driven to West End to see the second movie and our eating options were few. Anything that wasn't a sit-down restaurant was a fast food chain, and with those you have to consider your ethics as they all seem to be owned by money-lusting, inhuman Libertarians and conservatives. I knuckled and went to Jimmy John's, which is owned by a large-bellied, knuckle-dragging trophy/safari hunter. Did my eight bucks support his inhuman habit? Can I dodge that answer by once again pointing out we'll all be dead soon?

When the lights went down at Hunger Games, a glowing light caught my eye, went away, flared up and distracted me again, and again. There was a middle-aged couple, a little older than my wife and I, off to the right. The woman rested her cell phone in the cup holder of the seat beside her, and its screen was angled toward me. It lit up every time she got a new text message, which was frequently. After the movie had started I finally got up, leaned over the seats and quietly said, "Pardon me, but could you please turn off your phone?"

She flinched and stared at me in fright, struggling to find words. "It is off," she finally managed. I looked at her phone and so did she. It sat there, a rectangle of light in the darkness, white and blue word bubbles running down its screen. We were operating on different definitions of "off": for her, this meant the sound was turned down; for me, it meant I shouldn't hear or see her phone during the movie.

Her husband began to say something while I explained to her that I could see her phone was on and it was distracting. She pocketed it while her husband gamely offered that they had a babysitter. I didn't acknowledge this as a reasonable addition to the conversation and went back to my seat.

His statement particularly set off Rebecca, who began scripting a pointedly sarcastic exchange with him in which she came up with all the reasons that two adults might need constant communication with their babysitter, at the expense of other movie goers: their baby was sick, for example, or their house was balanced on the edge of a cliff. The fact was that he prioritized their instinct for helicopter parenting above any courtesy due fellow movie goers who have paid not a little to see a movie without distraction or interruption. They had a babysitter, therefore it was permissible for her to text during the movie and leave her phone glowing in its cup holder.

Neither of us had any sympathy for them, of course, as we'd each grown up with babysitters and, despite, survived. If they were so concerned with the safety of their child, they should not have gone out at all but stayed at home to monitor its pulse and respiration, waited for Hunger Games Number Three Part Two to come out on Netflix or Amazon Prime. It was not reasonable for them to go out and demand the audience to accommodate their alarmism.

To listen to me speak, you wouldn't think I was attending any Equity and Diversity courses at all.

Now it's Monday morning. One friend has emailed me to see if I'm okay, because she remembered that I was having some trouble with some friends, and then saw that my Facebook account was deactivated. But she is diligently thoughtful, like no one I've ever seen before. I know plenty of thoughtful people, but their consideration is mitigated to varying degrees with "but what am I getting out of this?" This friend, however, is an endless stream of gratitude, warmth and concern, partly in rebellion to how she was raised, partly due to her desire to construct the kind of world in which she would like to live. I'm going to let her know I'm taking a break for a petty reason and I appreciate her concern.

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