Sunday, August 29, 2010


In more detail, here's why films like "Avatar" are damaging to the human species. I think all of us must recognize that rooted in our evolutionary adaptions is a "pecking order". We can't help but navigate the world with an underlying judgment structure that places us in value-based human relationships within our cultures. Every time we make a judgment (based on feelings), we are asserting our place in the pecking order. It's a key survival tool. We rationalize our individual pecking orders when we make judgments about others that we put into words. Those we feel negatives about are below us and those we like are equal to or above us. At the level of far above us are our heroes. Of course, we also loathe those we fear and who are in a transcendent place in our value systems. You can see this at work when the mob enjoys the downfall of their "favorite" movie star or the disappointment we feel when one of our heroes in the culture wars falls from society's grace.

We can see our places in the pecking order by taking a careful look at those we place above us and those we place below us and those we judge as equals (i.e. those we are most ourselves with). Even though we may not be consciously arranging our relationships on these value levels, our brains automatically do it. That's the pecking order at work. It's the monkey in us.

My contention about almost all Hollywood films is that they automatically try to trigger our "pecking order" functions in order to trigger us to shell out good dollars. They trigger the "good guy, bad guy" structures in our brains. Every time we shell out dollars to these men who are plying our "pecking order brains" for our bucks, we are allowing our nervous systems to be exercised and our pecking order brain functions are strengthened and reinforced almost automatically. You can see this revealed in almost any conversation about films and/or drama. People automatically like or dislike characters and usually talk about films with this in mind. When you put evil versus good into these films, you begin to push pecking orders into religious realms. I think religious persons are really stuck in a royal pecking order—witness their heavenly and/or religious hierarchies—lords, kings and princes all!

The directors are directing not only the actors but our emotions to make us feel identity with characters in the films and to keep us coming back. This is why people don't like downer films which aren't fun to watch because they trigger emotions and consequent thoughts which are unpleasant. People don't like to watch their REAL SELVES up there on the big screen. They don't want to learn from film and drama. They don't want to think about unpleasant realities. Most people go to films to escape. Most people are always in an escape mode. Anytime I hear someone tell me that they go to movies to escape, I usually lose interest in them because they don't like dealing with reality at any other time in their lives. Okay, I have a pecking order too.

I still recall the first time I told myself that I ought to be rooting for the native Americans in John Wayne movies. I wasn't a kid by any means. It was a great leap forward in one way, but, as my identity with the downtrodden increased so also did my alcoholism, and soon my identifying with the underdog led me to also become an underdog and a loser. The more I hated those "above" me in the pecking order, the lower I fell in the ranks of the pecking order. The more I resolved not to compete with the bastards, the more I was unable to compete. I sank pretty low before the friends of Bill W. helped me stop using the depressant alcohol as a treatment for my depression. By age 31 or 32, I was so low that I spontaneously crashed my car one cold Winter's eve by speeding into a turn I knew I could not negotiate at speed. By the time I climbed out of the bottom of the pecking order, a good part of my earning life was over so my retirement is not in the greatest of financial straits, but I'm content because the "demons" are gone from my life. Like that "demon" metaphor? The religious among us also like to use that term.

Two recent films that demonstrate a way to make films that escape the "pecking order" are Rachel Getting Married and The Last Station. Films that worked against the pecking order in the past were Fellini's 8 1/2 or Juliet of the Spirits. In Fellini films, the characters are always at battle with the pecking orders in their heads, the distorted views of reality they carry around in their imaginations. It's wonderful and enlightening to come to in a Fellini film. Another great film which defies the pecking order is Sante Sangre. A serial killer is portrayed sympathetically, and I came across that film just when Silence of the Lambs was making a killing by portraying a serial killer in an almost evil light. Also, the last scene in The Truman Show was a vital metaphor. When Truman stepped through the containing wall into the real world, he was leaving the god-dominated, false world and entering the real world. That was my emotional response to that film. Scorsese's Taxi Driver approached the "pecking order" from another satirical angle. By making an insane and violent scene become the making of a hero, Scorcese revealed the whole fake pecking order nightmare we live in, surrounded by people whose "pecking order" responses are nearly automatic and not reflective.

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