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Under the Spotlight: How the Visual Arts Introduces Proper Meaning

Author: Merrick Egber (February 2018)  Movies, movies, movies….

How I love them, from an early age when I was introduced to Disney films, I would start my lifelong love for movies, and the visual arts. Back then, my hero was Jim Carrey, my favorite movie was “The Lion King” and the biggest controversy was more about the political leanings of the people who made up the talent, with social misbehavior being much more isolated.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, some of the biggest personalities in our media world, especially in the Hollywood circuit, have been misbehaving for such a long time, starting with the expose of Harvey Weinstein in the “New York Times”, snowballing to almost epidemic quantities. This spotlight that has been foisted on all of these celebrities as, somehow, paragons of human virtue has dimmed, as so many who have been caught under the light use it as a license to sleaze, and it is not too well-known if we’ll be seeing more of the undead come out of their closets anytime soon.

But the weirdest thing? You can learn a lot about social behaviors, relationships, by indulging in this industry, not from the frailties of the people you read about in the newspaper, or watch on any visual media site, but from its product itself, film and television! Sometimes I even think that I became advanced, socially, due to my exposure to the visual arts, it especially helps with comedies.

So, what is a movie? You may be thinking “well, a movie is a series of moving pictures where you watch actors and actresses play characters in service to a plotline”, but that may not be the exact answer. A movie really is a series of social interactions conducted in a way that is meant to be realistic and natural, set up in a universe with an almost consistent set of rules, sometimes even teaching someone a lesson, whether through an allegory, a direct comparison, or as part of an educational body of work.

Sometimes, like, in real life, a movie can be unpredictable, you cannot always guess the listener’s reaction when a message is received. But there is usually context, and a purpose, for why they may act that way. But, usually, just like in real life, you can guess a subsequent scene in a movie as a reactant, in the same way, I could guess the reaction to my message.

Here are a few common movie plots that have relevance in social situations. They are mostly comedies, specifically, because comedies are the movies most in tune to the human condition, and to the eccentricities, unpredictability, of people’s behaviors, while also noting the importance of social behavior. They’ll make fun of a person’s social guffaws while wearing a heart on the sleeve to care for that same individual as that person is learning how to live in a social environment. It also points out what society expects as normal, and what society rejects as “abnormal”.

Yet, it also depends on the times. “abnormal social behavior” like famed entertainer Al Jolson in blackface, was characterized as perfectly normal back in his day, but would be seen as racist and unacceptable today. On the flip-side movies like “Moonlight” and “Brokeback Mountain” portrayed gay relationships in a way that would’ve never been seen as acceptable in the early 20th century. Still, there are timeless educational bits in many of the movies we watch.

The Romantic Comedy:

These are movies usually about relationships, where, typically, the two people fall in love with each other at the end. As relationships can be complex and nuanced, they offer pathways, and scenarios, as to how to conduct actual human relationships, but usually they also offer a rival of sorts, who is meant to represent the opposite of what the ideal protagonist could be. Sometimes, because they are written by eccentric people, you can have poor versions where the rival ends up being sickly, and loud, like in Sleepless in Seattle, but, even still, it’s the idea that getting to be in a relationship like that involves the art of conversation, and a little bit of work no matter what.

The extreme flipside to this convention is the “Stalker Thriller”, like “The Boy from Next Door” or “Fatal Attraction”, where instead of a burgeoning could-be romance between the two protagonists, it’s about the wrong ways of relationship building or creation, where it gets to the point in which the protagonist is the victim of the “lover” who becomes his/her worst enemy. While like in “Fatal Attraction” there may be a key narrative going on that supplants any social messaging, cheating is wrong, there is still a sense of recovery from a bad moral decision that never happens due to poor honesty, poor diplomacy, or just poor messaging.

Movies like “When Harry Met Sally”, and “Serendipity” fit this mold.

Certainly, I would be curious if someone were to do a documentary on someone attempting to get a girlfriend or boyfriend, or even just a good friend, by following the rules of 5 romantic comedies, one rule I know of is to have some special thing in common, a movie, or an audio record.

Fish out of Water Comedy

This kind of movie, typically, is about somebody who ends up in a foreign environment, a strange land, or any situation or scenario that they are not used to. It is about adapting to any new purpose, scenario, and even the chaos of the moment. What viewers will learn is how to conduct themselves in foreign lands, how to adapt to the dramatic change of events in a light enough way to where the education almost happens subliminally, as much as all other substantial comedies.

Movies like “Coco” (most of it), and “Back to the Future” could be defined as such.

The Snowball Movie

You ever wonder about the importance of even one sentence, one phrase, one bit of social misbehavior, the Snowball type of film is usually about a specific social action, could be a lie, or even inappropriate conduct, and depending on how the person communicates, could shape their lives either for good, or for a momentary purpose. The individual learns, through the film, it doesn’t even have to be a film it could be any kind of performance art, how to, not just negotiate through rough terrain, but to, perhaps, prevent it from happening in the first place.

Movies like “I Know What You Did Last Summer”, and “Rango” fit this theme.

That is a layman’s analysis of cinema, but it is important. Cinema and television can help shape culture, and can either influence, or be influenced, by the way we dress, the way we talk, and the way we understand things while being entertained without being put through the wringer for inappropriate behavior. Movies can define acceptance of what, who you are, look at “Benny & Joon” or can educate the viewer into building up a better social life, like the movies listed above. Certainly, with the world being more open to portrayals of characters with autism, it is important now, more than ever, to embrace the more virtuous acts of Hollywood, even if the fingers clinging onto them are rotted, and perverted.