Thursday, March 09, 2006

Service with a smile 

I love reading newspapers and magazines both for new information and for people who crystallize something I feel more than know into something tangible. When I read those things, I find myself saying "hell yes" to the paper or the monitor. These don't happen too often.

Peggy Noonan, to be blunt, drives me nuts. She reminds me of my mom, or my old microeconomics instructor in grad school. You wade through a lot of tedious stuff, like what's going on with Aunt Dena, or how to invert a matrix, or how her son saw Reagan this one time, and you find yourself wondering why you're doing this. (With Mom, of course you know.) And then at moments you least expect it, they roll this pearl across the table to you, an unexpected gift that makes you smile and say "hell yes".

Today's pearl (and in classic Noonan fashion, the last paragraphs):
The Clooney generation in Hollywood is not writing and directing movies about life as if they've experienced it, with all its mysteries and complexity and variety. In an odd way they haven't experienced life; they've experienced media. Their films seem more an elaboration and meditation on media than an elaboration and meditation on life. This is how he could take such an unnuanced, unsophisticated, unknowing gloss on the 1950s and the McCarthy era. He just absorbed media about it. And that media itself came from certain assumptions and understandings, and myths.

Most Americans aren't leading media, they're leading lives. It would be nice to see a new respect in Hollywood for the lives they live. It would be nice to see them start to understand that rediscovering the work of, say, C.S. Lewis, and making a Narnia film, is not "giving in" to the audience but serving it. It isn't bad to look for and present good material that is known to have a following. It's a smart thing to do. It's why David O. Selznick bought "Gone With the Wind": People were reading it. It was his decision to make it into a movie from which he would profit that gave Hattie
McDaniel her great role. Taboos are broken by markets, not poses.
My emphasis. Mitch writes that Clooney "spoke of Hollywood's 'courage' in reinforcing an orthodoxy they always supported," but Noonan identifies the source of that orthodoxy. They believe their own fiction as non-fiction. Since I tagged Mitch with a Sideways reference earlier today on his blog, let me use this scene from the movie:
Mike Erganian: What is the subject of your book? Non fiction?
Miles Raymond: Uh, no. It's... it's a novel. Fiction. Yes. Although there is quite a bit from my own life... so I suppose that, technically some of it is nonfiction.
Mike Erganian: Good I like non fiction. There is so much to know about this world. I think you read something somebody just invented, waste of time.
Miles Raymond: That's an interesting perspective.
People live in a real world, are attracted to real things, where they see something that strikes them as a serendipitous pearl, to solidify for them something they sense but don't know. That's what Gone With the Wind was, a movie that gave expression to concerns about America's history with slavery. It wasn't challenging them; it was validating.

Noonan's pearl also gives us a way to see what bothers me about how my children, and maybe yours, grow up. They mistake their experience of media -- movies, TV, video games, internet chats -- with experiences of life. It is an act of maturity to be able to separate those, and it is an act of parenting to give children the latter experiences. Maybe that's why I enjoyed so much taking time with Littlest Scholar and her basketball team at a tournament in New Ulm a few weekends ago. The prize, the tournament championship, was secondary to the fact that kids were experiencing life, with time in the car driving through central MN, winning and losing, eating pizza in a hotel lobby, playing board games. Is it a bright, shining moment? Don't know, but then, you never know which moment it is the kid will tell you was meaningful fifteen years later when they're an adult. "Remember when?" And you won't. But she did, and that's all that matters.

When you give people real life experiences, when you validate and honor the place in which they live, when you serve them, they return things to you like fame and money. Serving others is how you make a living. Hollywood serves us by being beautiful, Noonan says; the movies it makes now, on the other hand, are self-serving.

UPDATE: Spitbull thinks Steyn is better.