Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Benjamin vs The Age of Disposability


A link from a friend. A tour announcement. Two new movie trailers. A long form article. An album stream. A film review. A breaking news story. An interview. A viral video. A new podcast. A book recommendation. A ‘best of’ list. Competitions! Sales! Fuuuuuck!
It's just hit seven am, and even before my first sip of cheap instant coffee I am dangerously at risk of my brain melting out through my ear holes, and not just because of how great the new Julian Casablancas album I am midway through streaming sounds. A majority of the blame goes to the various social media feeds flinging content my way at ludicrously unbearable levels. And It never stops.

So why exactly do I put myself through it, then? Can I not just choose to look away? Do I have some kind of sick addiction? Is it time for a good ole' fashioned 'social media intervention'? Maybe. But I also think there is something far more important going on here.
Only recently, I woke up to the fact that online content, in its many forms, had officially taken the place of the morning newspaper. Now, however, instead of walking out through the front door, half-dressed and bare foot, stumbling zombie-like across the lawn to retrieve the daily addition of the City News, I can simply roll over, tap the screen of my smart phone and scroll through the hundreds of new developments that have occurred the world over since my head last hit the pillows. Usually, it's a whole helluva lot to take in through my foggy - occasionally groggy - early morning daze.
One news item may appear multiple times over across various news feeds, with each featuring links to numerous sites offering up the very same story, though often from extremely different viewpoints. This is most definitely a positive. We are insanely spoilt for choice when it comes to the information we receive. And so we should be. I mean, why settle for the Fox News version of any given story when there are so many other - saner - options?
As the avenues for choice regarding online news content continue to expand, however, so too have the avenues for almost everything else. This is where, along with the pros, the cons begin to show their ugly faces. The most glaring downside is the really most obvious, at least for me - stuff no longer sticks in the mind like it used to. And it's because of this sad truth that many are now referring to our modern information age as 'the age of disposability'.
One area close to my heart that appears to be suffering in this regard is the world of Cinema. To illustrate, allow me to take you back to a great year for film: 1994. If you were to ask me what my favourites during that rather impressive twelve month period were, there would be little hesitation to my answer:  Just off the top of my head, there was Clerks, Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers and Ed Wood (I still think Shawshank Redemption is overrated - sue me).

Now, if you were  to ask me the same question relating to any recent year, I would honestly struggle to conjure up any kind answer. But why? Do I think the quality of cinematic fare has dipped of late? No, not really. It's just that twenty, hell, even ten years ago, there was a build-up and anticipation that would keep a film somewhere in the front of one’s mind, not only leading up to its initial release, but also long after viewing the finished product. Simply put, there wasn't an avalanche of content diluting the experience - or helping to erase the films from the mind completely.
Things are very different now. There is so much out there now that I often struggle to remember when the recent films I liked/loved even arrived on our screens... Was Drive 2012 or 2011? The Master was only released a year ago, right? And what of the masterpieces I may have somehow missed? Will I ever find the time for them?

Honestly, who the fuck knows… The only thing I am really sure of any more is that films are now but a small component of an overcrowded wave of information and entertainment that's damn near impossible to keep up. For a borderline-crazy cinefile like myself, this is proving to be increasingly problematic.
A quick search through the occasionally reliable IMDB reveals that in 1994, 3165 films were released theatrically. Alternatively, in 2013, 8769 films were released, via a variety of platforms: DVD, bluray, iTunes, and VOD among them. Because of the substantial increase in numbers, films that at one time may have been on people's radars, either because of their quality (Cold in July, Blue Ruin, Listen Up, Philip) or controversy (Cheap Thrills, God Bless America), no longer are. In fact, if a movie like Bobcat Goldthwait’s brilliant God Bless America were released at an earlier point in time, there is no way it could have managed to keep such a low profile, given the uproar it would likely have caused with the more sensitive and/or right leaning members of the American public. 

Music, sadly, sits in a similar boat. There are so many bands out there releasing new or re-issued work that a large chunk of it can't help but fall by the way side. I mean, with the exception of Arcade Fire, has any band from the last five years built up a large enough profile to command a headlining spot at a major music festival? Probably not, and the reasons are much the same - it's harder to standout in such a content-heavy world. From a listeners perspective, it is nigh on impossible to find the time to see and hear it all... and to not forget about it when the next shiny thing inevitably comes along.
Last year, I attempted to post quarterly lists of the music I had recently heard and loved. Challenging doesn't begin to cover it - after making the lists I would, without fail, discover around ten or so other albums/bands I had somehow missed out on along the way. Like films, great music is constantly at risk of being lost amongst the massive, soon-to-be-forgotten herd.

I am not alone when it comes to (over)thinking about all this, either. On a recent episode of his podcast, author Bret Easton Ellis broached the subject, making mention of a recent article by New York Times film critic A.O. Scott. In the article, Scott posed the question "What does it even mean to be a cinefile anymore in such a disposable culture?"  Ellis, quite the film buff himself, admitted to initially felling "kind of shitty" upon reading the article, actually going as far as giving serious consideration to the idea that perhaps A.O. may just  have a point. Thankfully, he just as quickly snapped out of this negative mind-frame, realising that it is now more important than ever to be a supporter of film, given the present state of things. 

I couldn't agree more.

Look, I will always hate the idea that great films - along with great music and literature, for that matter - could ever possibly be considered only short term distractions. I don't want any form of worthy art to be diluted, or worse, forgotten. I want fans to remain passionate. I want interest to be sustained.  I am not ready to surrender to the idea that cinema is dying, that new bands are doomed, that novels no longer have a place.  And it is because of this that I will continue watching, reading and hearing all that I possibly can, no matter how colossal the wave of content ultimately becomes.

Either that, or I'll drown in the process.


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