Monday, February 27, 2017

Moonlighting in La La Land


14 hours straight in the back row of Economy Plus to arrive home to San Francisco in the movie theater in the sky. Read my book, did three Crostic puzzles, slept for five minutes and watched some five movies to pass the time. The surprisingly engaging fun fluff of Keeping Up with the Jones, Masterminds (both featuring a trimmer version of Zack Galifianakis), Ghostbusters, Jack Reacher and then the classic Jimmy Stewart Anatomy of a Murder (where he plays piano with Duke Ellington!). Between those movies and looking at the screens around me, I saw more guns and explosions and fist-fights and murders than I ever have seen (thank goodness) in my entire lifetime of real living. No question that appealing to the lower chakras of sex and violence is what sells movies and who knows what affect it really has on our psyche and general world view of life on this planet as brutal, a battle for survival and the need to be tough and armed and always looking out for number one.

Movies, like novels and music, can be mere entertainment and distraction from the important things in life, a way to numb us to and shut down feeling and keep us from paying attention to what actually needs attention. But it can also elevate and reveal and inspire and help us confront and get through life’s sins and sorrows. Kenny G and Coltrane played the same instrument, Danielle Steele and Shakespeare used (mostly) the same language on paper, Frank Capra and the latest shoot-‘em-up director used the same media of film—it’s up to us which we choose. And not to be too snobby about it— I secretly enjoy some time with the non-complex hero who always shoots the bad guys and the pot-boiler story and some dubious music (but not Kenny G!). They all have their place in the ecology of art — the more advanced evolutionary forms need the bottom feeders somehow. But to stay too long in the reptilean fight or flight part of our brain is good for exactly no one and a disaster for a culture.

So after arriving in San Francisco at 9:00 am, sleeping in my bed until noon and walking through Golden Gate Park in much chiller weather than Singapore, I sat down with my wife to watch the Oscars. Along with Election Returns and the Super Bowl, the third spectacle of the year with millions of viewers. And what an inspiring evening that turned out to be! The constant reminder through the winner’s accents, words and works of the way immigrants and the marginalized have defined the best promise of American culture and the oft-repeated publicly-stated renewal of vows to keep working on behalf of art, truth and social justice in the face of what’s happening in the news. Using their voices and the occasion of a million times more viewers than any person’s Facebook posts to remind ourselves and the world watching what we really value and what is needed to keep that moral arc bending the right direction. And then that bizarre mistake at the end that actually made the real choice even stronger. I wrote in Facebook:

Kudos to the Oscars for rising to the top of art's role to shake up the world with truth, love and beauty. Using this most public forum to show the world that we are more determined than ever to speak and act on behalf of diversity and justice. And what an ending! La La Land was fun and escaping from hard times into musicals was a big strategy in the Depression-ravaged 30's and war-torn 40's. But it feels like now we need less escape and distraction and diversion and mere entertainment and more facing the real struggles and challenges of keeping the light of humanity lit, in ourselves and in our communities and in our civic engagement. Moonlight was one of the most complex films of the year, dealing with poverty, racism, substance abuse, bullying, homophobia—and also love, forgiveness, redemption— with courageous honesty. Given the themes in the movies nominated and the inspiring speeches made, it was the perfect choice (I would have been happy with Fences also) to end the evening. Thank you, Hollywood.

And then added a second post:

So the Patriots win the Super Bowl in the last moments against impossible odds. Moonlight deservedly wins the Oscar when at first it didn't. Maybe there's hope the true Election Results will finally come in?

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