More than just ‘mindless entertainment’?: Why movies matter

ImageAt the small-town newspaper where I work, we used to have an anonymous opinion line, where people could call in and leave comments we would later run in a column in the paper. We eventually retired the column, mostly because it was taking too much staff time to keep up with it and also because people started using the opinion line to complain about the same issues and snipe at each other. “Anonymity without accountability” was the point my boss raised, I think.

Anyway, I used to have the pleasure of typing up these comments, 😉 and sometimes I would pick a theme for the week, in an attempt to diversify the conversation. One week, the question people were supposed to answer was, “What film do you think should win ‘best picture’ at the Academy Awards?” As a film fan, I thought that would be a fun question to pose, and I was looking forward to hearing people’s responses. However, it didn’t go quite like I planned.

I can’t remember the exact words of one response I received, but it went something like: “Who cares? With all the problems we have in our world, who cares about movies or awards?” I’ll admit, I was a bit peeved at the comment, but it also made me feel guilty. Maybe the caller had a point. Maybe our culture is too obsessed with entertainment, and maybe I was guilty of that too.

Everybody who knows me knows I’m a film buff. I love watching movies, talking about movies, writing about movies. I drag my friends to the theater almost every weekend during the summer to see superhero or sci-fi movies, and I get some good-natured teasing for being the walking “Internet Movie Database” — which is my favorite website, by the way. 😉 I read Entertainment Weekly cover to cover each week, and I’ve had fun blogging about movies here on WordPress and meeting other bloggers with a passion for film.

I think sometimes, it is true that as a culture (me included) we do focus too much on entertainment and may not pay as much attention to serious news headlines — poverty, war, social injustice — as we should. But as I thought about the caller’s comment, I realized the more problems we have in the world, the more important it is to care about the arts.

True, not all films probably qualify as “art” (here’s looking at you, “Grown Ups 2”). 😉 But good movies — whether they’re fun or thought-provoking — encourage us to think, imagine, and dream. They provide an escape from the pressures and stresses of life (something we all need), and they give us a chance to sit back and explore another world for a couple of hours. Disguised as entertainment, movies — and TV — can help us, in a subtle way, to consider new ideas we as a culture may not have considered otherwise. The original “Star Trek” TV series was ahead of its time, including characters in the show from different cultures (African American, Japanese, and Russian) during a time when many of these cultures were experiencing prejudice. And while movies like “Saving Private Ryan” can never truly capture the real trauma of combat, they do give us a clearer understanding of the sacrifices soldiers are called to make.

Movies also are a communal experience, especially when you go to the theater to watch one. That’s why I still love going to the theater, instead of waiting to rent a movie when it’s released on DVD or streaming it from home. There’s something magical about sitting in a darkened theater with a large group of people, waiting for the curtain to go up. On opening weekend, you can sense the excitement in the air, and the concept of people all experiencing the same thing at the same time is powerful. In a world often distracted and disconnected by technology, this is a moment for all of us to switch off our cell phones and connect in a more immediate way.

Besides, sometimes movies are just plain fun, and with all the problems in our world on a community, national, and international level, we need those moments that make us smile. “Thor: The Dark World” may not technically have made the world a better place. It didn’t really bring up a serious issue or try to teach a lesson. However, it was fun and funny, and as I walked out of the theater, I felt better than when I walked in.

Although movie ticket prices continue to climb, going to the movies is still relatively inexpensive entertainment, and I usually feel like I get my money’s worth. Film is — as you’ve probably guessed by now 😉 — my favorite artistic medium, and while I don’t like every movie that comes out of Hollywood, I hope Hollywood continues to turn out thought-provoking, creative content for many years to come.

7 thoughts on “More than just ‘mindless entertainment’?: Why movies matter

  1. At the height of the Great Depression thousands of people flocked to see King Kong because they wanted to escape the reality of their dismal life. There are always going to be people that make negative comments to your posts – shrug them off. It means nothing. I like reading your posts and if you give one person a little enjoyment then you’ve done good. And if a movie lets people escape their hum-drum existence for a couple of hours and puts them in a better frame of mind, then its helping the world become a better place, isn’t it? I do notice that Facebook has a lot of people that are just looking to pounce on someone’s opinions which is why I don’t share much there anymore, but most bloggers here on wordpress, I find a little more respectable.

    • Ah, thanks for your kind words! 🙂 I’ve been blogging on Word Press for about two years, and I’ve found it to be a great community of people. 🙂

      If I walk out of a theater feeling better than when I walked in, then I consider it time (and money) well spent. It doesn’t always have to be a deep and thought-provoking film; sometimes it’s just nice to have something that makes you laugh or smile.

  2. I think entertainment can have profound, and positive, impact on culture. In The Heat of The Night (and Hollywood in general) did a lot to assert the need for greater equality, by showing competent minorities having positive impact on their communities.

    Entertainment can also have negative impact, and perpetuate stereotypes. Peter Pan’s portrayal of Native Americans is one such example.

    Which is to say … I don’t think we ought feel guilty for doing something we enjoy, and I agree with you. I think the key is simply remaining aware of what else is happening in the world, and critical of the entertainment we seek.

    • Agreed — sometimes the ideas in movies can help our culture, but they can hurt it too. That’s what’s exciting, and scary, about the power of film.

      I think it’s good to have a balance. It’s good to have an awareness of world events and being informed, but it’s OK to enjoy something for just pure entertainment, if a movie is exciting or just makes you laugh or smile.

  3. Wow what an interesting topic. Star Trek is a good example of how the arts and entertainment can show what our culture can aspire to. The idea of all these diverse nationalities coming together was unheard of back in the day. Movies is a great way to experience and see things we may never know about it. I also like that movies are communal, it’s important to share stories and the lessons that go along with them. 🙂

    • I think our culture is becoming slowly more fragmented, so it’s nice to have those big movies every once in a while that everyone is talking about, like what happened with “The Avengers.” 🙂

  4. Pingback: The good, the bad and the ugly: Looking back at five years of hits (and misses!) at Box Office Buzz | Box Office Buzz

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