More on Entertainment Simplicity

I just read a review of a recently released movie, and since I haven’t seen the film, and may not, I can’t say how accurate the review is, but one line of the review struck me as particularly relevant, especially in view of my previous blog.  That line said approximately, “You can’t tell whose movie this is, the star’s, the co-star’s, or the supporting actors’.”  From the rest of the review it was quite obvious that there was no confusion about the story lines or who was doing what to whom or why.  What the reviewer was stating was that he wanted the movie to emphasize without a doubt which story was the predominant one, and to make every one else subservient.

My question to the reviewer is:  “Why?”  Have viewers become so simple-minded that they can’t enjoy intersecting story lines, and the fact that at one time one part of a story becomes more dominant and that at another time another character and part do?

Certainly, life is like that, and much as we’d all like to be the center of attention and action, no one always is, not even the most powerful and most famous among us. Or is it that we feel our own lives are so complicated that we can only enjoy a movie when it’s straightforward and simple.

Or is it that, while many of us enjoy complex movies, more and more the media pundits and critics want to oversimplify matters for us.  That’s definitely been the case among the political analysts and the media talking heads who report on national politics.  It’s become the case with the economic “analysts” who present such data in the national general media.

As I’ve noted more than a few times before, we live in a highly technological society, and such societies are anything but simple.  And, in a riff on that theme, perhaps that’s really the gulf between the United States and many of the fundamentalist Mid-East cultures.  They want to hang on to the comforting simplicity and clarity of their traditional past, and can see all too well that such clarity vanishes in the conflicts of a modern technological society.  For that matter, even within the United States, that conflict exists, although so far, despite the horrible events in Arizona earlier this month, the violence around political events has been largely confined to verbal outbursts, despite the growing [until last week]intemperance of both media and political types.

And this movie’s review may well have bothered me because it’s yet another symptom of the conflict between “comforting” and clear traditional simplicity and modern complexity.  The problem with those old traditional clarities is that they cover up a multitude of injustices and prejudices under the guise of morality, rather than striving for a better ethical code, and one more suited to a technological society. Like it or not, until we can juggle those complexities better, and in an overall improved ethical fashion, we’re going to have problems, and all the entertainment that regales us with comforting simplicities won’t help in the slightest, just as the majority of the “popular” literature at the end of the 19th century did little to prepare Americans for the need for the changes required in a developing technological society.

5 thoughts on “More on Entertainment Simplicity”

  1. Mr. Croft says:

    I find this a somewhat ironic post from a personal vantage point. My first exposure to your writings, Mr. Modesitt, was in The Magic of Recluce, and I loved it and continued to persue your books (nearly every one I can lay hands on) because rather than focusing on a myriad of different story lines they allowed me to enjoy one story exclusively. I still enjoy your works which do not follow that pattern, and similarly I enjoy such movies as “Snatch” and “Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels”.

    I don’t see my enjoyment for single story format as a predilection for less intellectually challenging entertainment, more an impatience with having too much information poured forth whether it’s needful or not. (Which I suppose ties nicely into your previous posts about the excess and interference of info tech in our lives).

    Instead of asking if this issue is a difference betweeing comforting simplicity and modern complexity I would suggest that it’s a matter of differentiating between those in our modern society who will accept information / stimulation of any variety and those who are more discriminating.

    As for the reviewer, I suspect I’d agree that he just wanted something easier to sink his pen into.

    Thanks as always for entertaining my thoughts in response.

  2. Joe says:

    This is a more general problem. It’s also prevalent in technology: many good technical books receive bad reviews from people who feel that if they don’t understand the subject matter, it’s the book’s fault. Similarly good software is disparaged if it is not aimed at the know-nothing novice. Another symptom is that so few Americans study the hard sciences, math or computing and most PhD students in the US are foreigners.

    This is the inevitable cumulative result of two trends.

    The first trend is the emphasizing of SAT scores and certificates rather than of learning, and a deliberate policy of increasing the number of people going to University. These all led to lower standards so that schools could remain open and Universities could graduate more students.

    The second is the deliberate removal of reason from much of public discourse. Psychology has shown people are more easily lead by emotion than reason. It is more effective to advertise with emotion than by comparing the benefits of your product. It is more effective to sound folksy than to talk sense as a politician. Unsurprising this leads to disdain for the average American within the ranks of the elite, as epitomized by the Leo Straussian view that the masses should be sold a convincing myth rather than the truth.

  3. Robert The Addled says:

    Unfortunately I’ve seen this ‘desire for simplicity’ all too often with fellow readers. Tolkien’s LOTR is a prime example – I’ve known too many people who have given up on it because they cannot follow the parallel plot lines – even when re-reading an entire sequence of volumes/books. Equally – Jordans WOT series – I’ve known at least a dozen people who gave up w/ the third book for the same reason. Personally I prefer the books and series that are compelling to the point that you re-read them to find things you have missed. Gravity Dreams, the Ecolitan sequence, and Forever Hero are all compelling reads that have additional subtlies upon a re-read.

  4. Lee Thompson says:

    Doesn’t anyone read for pleasure these days? I am 72 years young and and collecting Mr. Modesitt’s books.Reason is they can be re-read time after time, for Pure Pleasure of the written Word.
    Soprano Series , the Imager series and the Recluce novels come alive with charactors that are real. Cyador series are a must as well and the Corean Series are also a must .
    The SF Books are a change between Robert Heinlein and Asimov, and very readable. The Ecolitian books, somewhat with understated humor (toungue in cheek) are so enjoyable , And being retired, I have nothing to do with my days but read, and I do read for the sheer enjoyment of it .

  5. David Sims says:

    I wonder what your critics would think about my dream of last night. Here’s a synopsis.

    I was a hermit living in the desert, inside a dome made of some transparent mineral—I think it was corundum, or white sapphire—in a frame of a hard metallic substance, like tungsten carbide. I had covered it with sand to block the sun and put a tarp shelter in front to make a shaded area.

    My water came from a rocky escarpment with a bowl shaped top with a funnel bottom, leading to a reservoir inside the rock. The collection area atop the escarpment was very large, to collect a sufficient supply of the scarce rainfall. The reservoir was tapped via a pipe that led into my dome residence.

    Anyway, I was living there, and then one day I looked off in the distance with my binoculars and saw a young woman struggling along in the hot sun, getting all burned up. Naturally, I ran to her rescue and brought her to my place, let her get a bath to cool off her sunburn, and gave her food and water.

    We got along pretty well for a while. (This is the part with the racy scenes, which I’ll leave to your imagination.) But then she started bossing me, telling me to do things. At first, I’d do them to keep her happy. But she just kept piling the work on me, more and more, and eventually I just gave up and quit doing what she told me to do. She got angry because I wasn’t being obedient any longer, and, while I was out of the dome, she locked the door and wouldn’t let me in when I asked.

    That’s when *I* got mad. You see, I made the dome so that it would also lock from the outside, but only if you had some specially shaped metal thingies (like keys) that went into slits in the metal frame beside the door. Once the thingies were in, you turned them 90 degrees and they fell into place, making a cradle that I used to hold a bar across the door to prevent it from opening. I’d hidden the metal thingies inside the water reservoir and had never told anybody about them.

    So after she locked me OUT, I locked her IN. Then I turned a valve to shut off the water. Then I moved the tarp shelter and dug all the sand away from the transparent part of the dome. By the time I’d done that, the sun had set, and I made camp for the night under the repositioned tarp, which I had set up to the east of the dome, where the young woman could see me in the light of my camp fire, through the transparent mineral.

    She knew, of course, that I’d shut her water off, and she was mad about that. But I don’t think she knew the rest of it until the sun came up the next day and the temperature inside the dome went quickly over 120 degrees and just kept on rising. I broke camp, picked up my hiking gear, and started walking away toward the rising sun.

    When I returned a few days later, the woman was done to a turn. Roasted, that is. Baked very well done. I unbarred the door and dragged her smoking body a ways off into the desert to feed whichever critters found it first. Then I restored my home to the condition it had been in before I’d met that woman.

    Short story material, huh? But if I’m going to get jumped on by Publisher’s Weekly and used as hate-fodder by miscellaneous feminists, I’ll not write it.

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