Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hey Tom, Let's Talk Real Oblivion

March Madness. TV is on. Somewhere between the sound of shoes squeaking and endless product placement, I catch a commercial for Tom Cruise's new ego-driven work: Oblivion. The story line is the routine American action film canon: conflicted man, planet facing extinction, time is ticking and only he holds the ability to save us all and claim his reward of a kiss from a pretty girl half his age. The idea being that a single man who is angry enough can face the enemy, get beaten around a little, yet in the end, arise victorious.

That's all well and good when the enemy arrives in the form of aliens, zombies or rabid talking monkeys throwing their crap at you for 96 minutes of action-packed fun. But what happens when the enemy that is threatening the planet's future isn't a thing that can be seen, but apathy? How do you defend against weapons of ignorance, laziness and complacency? Because in my mind, the future of our planet is indeed in grave danger. I just believe that danger lies more in the extinction of independent thought than in the invasion of blood-sucking cyborg penguins.

I have been very frustrated lately with the dumbing down of content in order to make it accessible to the masses. Steven Brill wrote an eye-opening article about the billing practices of the medical industry for Time magazine called Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us. Those who have read it insist that it should be required reading for anyone living in America, yet always with the caveat of "It's a long read, but worth it."  What? It's an article in a mainstream MAGAZINE. Even if it took up the entire 60 pages in an unprecedented ad-free publishing, it still wouldn't begin to fall under the category of long read. Atlas Shrugged? That's a long read. An article of 24,000 words spread amongst glossy pictures, graphs and charts? Not a long read. Yes, it's longer than typical news magazine articles, and that's the point really. We have so lulled our nation into a sluggish state of passive consumption with short blips of predigested news, that when we break from that pattern to present a more researched and thorough picture of an issue, we must first warn the reader that some time and thought are going to be required in order to access it.

And here is where Tom Cruise comes back. Because, there was a man who saw this destiny awaiting us. In 1953, a man named Ray Bradbury published a book called Fahrenheit 451 that when read through the internet-accustomed eyes of today, feels like it was used as a blueprint for the renovation of our society.  He, of course, didn't mean for it to be taken that way. He was warning of the dangers of censorship, on putting blinders on to the suffering of the world to keep from feeling anything bad. He was outlining the consequences that await us when we choose to accept the doctrine fed to us in a syrupy sweet elixir. A drug which keeps us moving from one manufactured distraction to the next never pausing long enough to see, think and determine for ourselves the truth.

The book was published 60 years ago in the time of I Love Lucy,  and he nailed the plot vacuum that would become the reality television genre and our complete, zombied acceptance of it. He envisioned a future where the people on the screen replace the people next to us to become our new family.  In this world, there is no greater happiness than to find oneself encased inside 4 walls of pixelated, full-color emptiness. Always moving, but never advancing.

We are not so very far removed from that world now.

We've allowed the hollow to replace the solid. Let the deeper truths melt away. Bradbury saw that coming too. His words:

How like a beautiful statue of ice it was, melting in the sun. I remember the newspapers dying like huge moths. No one wanted them back. No one missed them.  And then the Government, seeing how advantageous it was to have people reading only about passionate lips and the fist in the stomach, circled the situation with your fire-eaters. 

And a snippet of today's twitter feed from an online newspaperesque replacement:


Passionate lips and fists in stomachs. Check. And this is what is read and considered news. We've created an artificial world and embedded it so deeply that anything real begins to feel like the fraud-- the information so preposterous and irrelevant to our candy-coated world that it is not worth our time. Why read about war and genocide when Kim Kardashian is pregnant and about to tell me how much she weighs? That's what I really care about. My family. And then just as Bradbury wrote--suicides, drug addiction, violence all follow swiftly thereafter. Simply the price paid for smothering the voice buried deep inside us that screams: This is not what life is meant to be.

Ray tried to save us from ourselves 60 years ago and failed. We weren't listening. So Tom, it seems it might be up to you. Can the weapon be turned against itself?  Use the Hollywood machine to fight the true Oblivion?  You can even keep the pretty girl. Tick tock.









No comments:

Post a Comment