There's really no point in giving movies a rating anymore. No one goes to see them anyway. What is it — too little banging for the buck when you can get the same at home? You can get the same sitting on the front porch on a Sunday afternoon, barbecue simmering into the sunset, two ears of corn cooling down next to a couple of dirty empty plates.
At one point, Sunday afternoons got crazy. Even in a quiet, historic neighborhood in the East-Center of Metropolis, you could find a demolition derby in the street before nightfall. A cascade, a waterfall of safety glass, better quality sound than on television or in the theater. There's nothing like a real scream and crash. We got so we could pick out sirens like hit songs — that was an ambulance, that one a hired guard, that one a fire-rescue because it bellowed like a collapsing, imploding iron lung.
Pictures on the Internet, on the front pages, still life studies of fruits and severed limbs on the TV — these keep our attention rapt now. No more craving moving images: active imaginations joined forces with hyper-literacy and won out over the passive boredom of packaged gore. Now we can see the fuzz of splattering blood, spraying off a curved blade embedded in dissident flesh and tell our own horror stories. One pixelated shot gets us fired and conjures the vivid visions that Bruckheimer and Woo could only dream to show — back when that kind of thing might have sold.
Some years back, we had a radical vision. We pictured sweeping changes in how we learn, how we communicate, how we make contact with one another and with the worlds we live in.
We all knuckled down and got to writing. We got in as teachers and committed education to our radical visions.
Students consumed texts with the kind of voracity that used to pull billions into movies and television. They went to art galleries on Friday nights. They talked and conversed and wrote treatises radical enough to make us twitch a little. Coffee shops were full, especially after the Starbuck's boycott. It was like they started drinking coffee just to not drink Seattle black-water.
Everybody joined teams, more than just athletics: debate teams, service organizations, theater groups. No more bowling alone. No more empty seats at the community playhouse. Billboard's top pop got infected with jazz and classics. On re-release, even Mingus scored a posthumous number one. I'll never forget the first day I pulled up along side a street racer thumping out his "Haitian Fight Song". There's never been a gangsta fight that hard, and he didn't even utter a word.
That's it now. Finally everyone woke up, and finally they saw the Hollywood blood parade for what it was. The audience left when the superhero became the journalist, the freelancer, the radical author who was every bit as real as the dirt in the political streets. Clear Channel and Viacom sowed their own demise when they started pumping pictured hate everywhere there was room left to stick up a billboard. We started making up our own stories and entertained each other and ourselves, like all the burlap-clad radicals said we used to do before the curtains rose and exposed addictions to plastic flashy pictures and bellowing booms.
& being seen
I'll admit, I cheered when Barnes & Noble put up a parking structure — the overflow in the streets was insanity. And I think we all breathed lighter when Netflix spun off Netboox. Times were a radical dream come true for a while. The theaters turned back into bowling alleys and art galleries. The popcorn market took a hit, but the French Roast must be up 1000% by now. These were the roots of our revolution.
But then it all started to change again, like history hadn't learned that we could beat it back. The stories started to come in about parent groups worried about writers' groups and reading groups, that too many ideas were going unchecked. The PBRC — otherwise known as Tipper Gore's Phoenix — was the first to turn up the heat.
Fifteen months after Edwards Cinemas declared their third bankruptcy, and eleven months after the MPAA dissolved, we got the BPAA — the Book Publishers Association of America. And with them came their "new" rating system. Doesn't it look just like the old movie system? PG, R, X and those other funny-numbered ones they threw in when some wackos wouldn't send their kids to witness phony carnage. Sure they're the same "ratings" — the same people are running the show, so they ended up on the same page but now pressing their moral judgements on imaginations fired by books.
Now I get carded at Barnes & Noble. Used to be I could buy Palahaniuk's "Fight Club" without a hassle, but seeing Fincher's splashy take took an oath to get by the army of ushers. Now Borders requires Proof-For-Purchase and the stucco shell theater is cracking up, laughing at the mad residue of our professed radicalism. Even the LA Times, which I can only buy with a major credit card, comes in a hefty black safety bag. Skim through Nabokov and you might as well sign your own arrest warrant.
Is this what we dreamed when we were the radicals? When we were crazy beyond our years, when we couldn't see that Utopia was nothing different from today's lawn-mowed grass clippings and the stench of rotting suburbia. As long as "Utopia" remained a word we could utter with faith, and as long as we gave ourselves something to talk toward, the revolution was out of our hands.
Who ever thought we'd see this day, when the new guard, the ones for whom we paved the streets with our revolution, feel the need protect kids against rampant literacy and rampaging imagination? We the radical iconoclast activists fought "the media", but won the wrong prize.
Sometimes, I wish they'd just start making movies again.
© 2004 Sorrell