Cinema and The Narratives We Buy Into

I finished HBO's Westworld before Christmas (no worries - I won't post any spoilers - at least not yet...)

The whole thing got me to thinking about the stories we tell each other and the absolute power those stories have in our lives.  Most of the stories we all collectively know in the Masscult come from television shows or movies.  Certainly, our personal stories come in to play but it is the influence of popular culture that defines the greater part of the frame with which we begin developing them.

The films that shaped me and still resonate with me have, in so many ways, determined who I see myself to be.  Harold and Maude is the first movie I saw and can recollect.  To this day, my sense of humor and sense of humanity is influenced by that story.  Rocky is a touchstone as is Star Wars.  Fight Club and The Fisher King and Brazil and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  It seems that the narrative of the outsider, the miscreant, the fish out of water, making good is my jam.  Fight the Man.  Buck the System.  Maybe lose but for the best of causes, personal autonomy.

The thing is, outside of Brazil (which ends badly for the hero), believing most of these fantasies meant also believing that beating House is possible if you just have heart and will.

The stories we ingest become the fictions we believe (even if, in Life, the House almost always wins.)  The plethora of television programs and movies tell us that we, the common folk, the flotsam and jetsam of the Land of the Freaks, are the underdog just poised to overcome the adversity in our paths.  No one watches Rogue One and feels like he is the computerized puppet of the long deceased Peter Cushing.  Very few of us catch a repeat of It's a Wonderful Life and deeply empathize with the plight of Mr. Potter.

We all feel like we are Frodo, Batman, Furiosa, Ripley, and Harry Potter and our consistent self narratives indicate that we are these characters.  "I am Spartacus!" we all cry except that the shout is not out of solidarity but rampant self delusion.

Now combine this invention of the Hero Against All Odds with the saturation of echo chamber news we metabolize.  It isn't difficult to discern how the constantly micro-aggressed, routinely discriminated against person of color could feel that by merely standing up and voicing his or her opinion at the brutality of racial injustice, he or she could somehow win the day.  Likewise, the perpetually denigrated (yet privileged) lower class white person who is "woke" to the faux reality of Fox News and weaned upon the tales of hardscrabble as performed by Rudy, Daniel-san and The Nerds of Lambda Lambda Lambda feels as put upon and marginalized as any of these characters.

My dad's favorite tale is Lonesome Dove.  Watching that mini-series I can gain some understanding of his view of the world - the passage of time, the fading of past glories and of an era when men were men and the only adversary was your own inner demons and past regrets.

My wife is drawn to Coming of Age films.  Granted, as she is far more in to arthouse and foreign films, her version of that resembles Dogtooth more than something more familiar or commercial but the idea is there.  I understand, for her, the image of transformation and the process of going from one place in life to another drives much of her perspective.

I think of the millions of Americans drawn to crime procedurals or stories of civil servants fighting against terrorist cells to protect us all and I am unsurprised at the reluctance to embrace the chronicle of authoritarian abuse told us by the Black Live Matters gang.  I think of the almost criminal lack of black and brown and feminine heroes in our pop culture pantheon and cannot feign shock that PoC and women feel somehow left out of the mix and disregarded.

For more than any other reason, the notion that we should seek out films and television that feature more of America rather than just the white, male parts is essential for our democracy.  Not at the exclusion of these White Guy stories but in addition to them.

Back to the hosts of Westworld.  We are all being programmed with stories that we tend to follow without question.  We are told what to believe and then seek out only those ideas that reinforce what we already think we know.  

Trump voters are unlikely to buy the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia hacked Democratic emails in order to help elect Trump, a view widely held by Clinton voters:

But on the other hand, about half of Clinton voters also believe that Russia tampered with vote tallies to help elect Trump, a theory that the Obama administration has repeatedly said there’s no evidence to support.


The television we watch, the movies we go to see, are all a matter of choices.  The Möbius Strip is that Hollywood makes the movies we wanna see and we go see the stories they tell us.  At some point, choices to get off the track and force new stories to be told are ours to make.

Have you questioned the nature of your reality?

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