A Trend Toward Shallowness?

Readers may remember my recent rant about how journalism has basically gone down the toilet when a news station feels Paris Jackson’s suicide attempt is something they should be devoting that much attention to. However, I feel like I can see trends in pop culture in general that I’m not feeling particularly happy about. In general, it’s a trend of style over substance.

man-of-steel-flagOne of my more recent movie reviews was that of Man of Steel. Going into the movie, I should’ve known what it would turn out to be as it was directed by Zack Snyder. Zack Snyder is most well known for having helmed 2006’s 300. While I did enjoy 300 very much, I’m also the first to say it was the ultimate quintessential mindless action movie. It had mind-bogglingly good special effects, but the movie was interspersed with a thin plot and hokey dialogue that probably sounded ok in the graphic novel on which the movie was based, but honestly had no business actually being in a motion picture. At least it was better than most of the dialogue written in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

Ultimately, Man of Steel’s problems weren’t really Snyder’s fault. I could tell that Christopher Nolan was having a tough time coming up with a compelling story for an unkillable alien to deal with. While Man of Steel had awe-inspiring visuals, it was nowhere near enough to make up for the fact that Superman himself really lacked personality in my opinion. All they really needed to do was have him just say a few more lines of dialogue. As I said in my review, I remember Christopher Reeve doing significantly more talking than Henry Cavill. Also, because they tend to be battles of brain instead of brawn, I always felt the best Superman stories had him battling arch-nemesis Lex Luthor as opposed to other supervillains like General Zod. The route that they went however resulted in Man of Steel basically being an orgy of computer graphics that left me feeling empty afterward.

shootemupOn the other hand, my most recent review was that of 2007’s Shoot ‘Em Up. Despite the fact that Shoot ‘Em Up seemed like it was actually trying to be the worst action movie ever, it actually wound up being the best movie I’ve seen in a while. It made 0 attempt to take itself seriously, but it had a pretty carefully made story, complete with symbolism and character development. In fact, as I said in my review, it seemed like the creators of Shoot ‘Em Up could see where action movies were going in general, and thus decided to make Shoot ‘Em Up in order to mock such trends.

Honestly, I don’t feel like there has been a single, truly special movie to have come out in 2013 as of yet. There was the kind of decent Star Trek Into Darkness that was almost single-handedly supported by Benedict Cumberbatch, the manipulative half-hearted scarefest that was The Purge, the seriously cliched Epic, and the Fast and Furious 6 that was just….fast and furious. All of them were gorgeous to look at. None of them really left me with a satisfying story. I went through all of them almost predicting exactly how they were going to end. At least we had movies like The Dark Knight Rises last summer. However, as most of 2012’s better movies came out in the winter, I’m holding out for better things later on this year.

I’m seeing a very similar trend in music. What I mainly point to is the rise in the popularity of Korean pop music.

When most people think K-pop, Big Bang is more than likely the first band that comes to mind. This is the official music video for the song “G-Dragon”, Big Bang’s most recent single. As you can see, the video is very grandiose, very well-choreographed, and clearly cost a fortune and a half to make. The video is a treat for the eyes.

Now listen to the song without watching the video. If you were to ask for my very uninformed opinion, I think the song itself has next to no merit whatsoever. To me, it sounds like a repetitive, artificial, electronic mess that is definitely more a demonstration of how good some jerk is with a computer than of Big Bang’s musical merits. It would work ok in an Ithaca dance club where everyone is probably drunk out of their minds, but I just don’t see myself casually listening to it.

Korean pop culture, to me, strikes me as being extremely superficial. My opinion is that modern Korean pop music (and, let’s face it, modern pop music elsewhere) is designed to lure buyers in with a pretty package (i.e. the video) and then get disposed of soon afterward. I don’t know if there really is such thing as an enduring Korean pop song, and I sure doubt any Big Bang or Girls Generation song will be remembered 50 years from now like the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.

I guess the problem with pop culture is exactly the same problem as you have with journalism. With the frightening rate at which technology is advancing, entertainment has almost become a mass-produced commodity. Back in 1977, a movie like Star Wars was the technical challenge of the day, and thus people like George Lucas were more determined to make something that was really special for people to come out to see. Now science fiction movies are almost a dime a dozen, each with better special effects than the last. It’s impossible for all of them to be so good. Similarly, anyone with a camera can go ahead and shoot a video and post it on YouTube, and anyone can get a record deal provided they look cute and know someone who is really good with a computer.

I guess this post resulted from long-term effects of having read Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince. I feel like people in general have really lost sight as to what made movies real works of art, and the fact that what is really important is what we can’t see with our eyes. The trends we see are such that we can easily, as consumers, reverse by simply not buying every generic mass-produced piece of trash that we’re fed. I think the success of such entertainment is ultimately the result of the general public having grown far less capable of consuming more “difficult” entertainment, like Forbidden Games, or even something like 2046, which is only 9 years old. Movies and music are going exactly the same way as literature.