July 13, 2010

The Uncanny Canyon, Part 2

I've been trying to figure out why increasingly I get more enjoyment from watching a B-movie than the latest Scorsese, why "production value" sounds more and more like a euphemism for "inhuman," why reality television continues to be popular despite the glut of elegies sung by a host of cultural critics. The same critics might explain the persisting popularity of actor-free TV as a failure of taste or evidence of cultural collapse: the coming Second Dark Ages.

The mistake that many cultural critics make is arguing that reality television is inferior because it is obviously fake; it is artificial. The "actors" are just amateurs emoting under the "direction" of producers, working through crisis after crisis in the stead of a plot. It is a mockery of writing, direction, production, and acting. It is dishonest.

But reality television is popular for precisely the opposite reason. It is popular because it is more human than the staid sit-coms, more honest than the morbid and cynical cop shows, more relatable than the Cheshire-hearted anchors. Reality television, like community theater, has no reverence for the illusion or the artifice; reality television is drunk on the goofy and inconsistent, the insecure and petty humanity of its characters. The artificial elements are obvious, and seem, if anything, the butt of a joke. More important than story, or production, or direction is emotion: that elusive, irrational, and utterly human quality.

The "uncanny valley" creeps us out because we are being shown artificial structures which are trying to approximate humanness. Reality television, on the other hand, delights (and sometimes frustrates) because it shows us humans playing with artificiality, with fraud, with pretension. By doing so, they forefront their humanity.

B-movies are delightful not because of their story or staging. I don't laugh and grin while I watch because I am superior to these "amateurs," these deluded auteurs and their cast of bumbling, unpaid friends and colleagues. I'm not laughing at their obvious humanity, but rather I heehaw because the B-movie is one long poke at artificiality, a jab at the tidy perfection of the shadows we're used to seeing on the wall. The greatest B-movies are more human and inspiring than anything that's ever won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

Or put another way, most studio movies are advertisements posing as art. A B-movie is humanity posing as an advertisement. It is wonderfully subversive, an uncanny zenith.

1 comment:

  1. Mamet: "'Production values' is a fancy way of saying 'pour money on it'."