Post-Holiday Pop-Culture Blues
by L. Brent Bozell III
January 6, 1998
It's simply not healthy spending the Christmas season (or any other season, but especially Christmas) fixated on today's popular culture, but there's no escaping it if a holiday movie outing or any amount of leisure time watching the tube is in order. Following are reflections on some of what I observed during the holidays.
- I first wondered after seeing "Pulp Fiction," and, now that I've seen "Jackie Brown," am wondering more than ever: Why in the world do so many people think so highly of Quentin Tarantino? He shows touches of technical mastery and has a flair for sharp dialogue, yes. But these qualities do not by themselves make a filmmaker first-rate. Those who exalt Tarantino as the Auteur of the '90s either haven't noticed - or don't care - that those two skills are pretty much all he has going for him. What one would think matters far more to the average moviegoer is what Tarantino hardly possesses: storytelling ability. That talent. - central to the renown of moviemaking giants like Frank Capra and John Ford - is unimportant in Tarantinoland, where non-linear qualities like atmosphere and coolness rule.
It's long been clear that Tarantino is much better versed regarding movies than he is regarding the real world. Perhaps this endears him to similarly imbalanced film critics and other cinema wonks who relish that which is sure to displease the sensibilities of the Great Unwashed, to use Rep. Henry Hyde's delightful term for conservatives. No, Tarantino is not offensive in the Oliver Stone mold; he's just analogous in his free abuse of his art.
Contrast "The Godfather" with "Pulp Fiction" and now "Jackie Brown." Francis Ford Coppola's blockbuster is a movie about organized crime; what Tarantino offers (at best) is a study in movies about organized crime. When you're watching Don Corleone lecture son Michael about the ways of the Mafia you're there, in the room. The artist has captured you with his story, and only when the lights come back up do you return to the real world. With "Pulp Fiction" and "Jackie Brown" there's no there there: You watch John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, and Robert DeNiro play gangster roles but since there's no real story to speak of , it's superficial, contrived. In "Godfather" you wince in pain, recoil in horror as Virgil Sollozzo slams a knife into Luca Brasi's hand at the bar; in "Pulp Fiction" you watch a character's brains get splattered all over the car and listen as a disbelieving audience giggles in the theater."
Jackie Brown" has an additional problem in that it belongs to the blaxploitation genre of the '70s, with blacks stereotyped as pimps and gangsters. It is inherently trashy and by definition can't attain the (dare I say it?) romanticism of a "Godfather" story. Tarantino might have succeeded with "Jackie Brown" by going the "Scream" route of outright parody, but as a self-involved artiste, he presumably considers such an approach beneath him, and we are expected to accept his raunch at face value. I don't.
- It seems like everywhere you turn this type of gratuitous raunch is present, especially on television. Perhaps nowhere is this more noticeable than when networks air promotional spots for their prime time series. These spots tend to feature an episode's single raciest scene, and they're broadcast throughout the day, even when large numbers of children are in the audience.
During the holidays I watched a number of football games. So did tens of millions of youngsters, but that didn't stop the networks from airing several raunchy promos - and repeating them over and over again. In a plug for its sitcom "Just Shoot Me," NBC aired a scene in which a male office worker explains to a beautiful female visitor that he's licking a stamp, to which the woman replies, quite lasciviously, "Lucky stamp." ABC's promo for its revamped Monday lineup featured a scene from "The Practice" with a couple making love while showering. And Fox has ceaselessly flogged its new sitcom "Ask Harriet" during NFC telecasts. The protagonist of "Ask Harriet" is a man posing as a woman, but the show is a far cry from the innocent fun of "Bosom Buddies"; virtually every (cheap) joke deals with sex, and breasts, and - you get the point.
It's an all-out assault on the human spirit, and as a society we not only have stopped opposing it, we salute it with our silence. Virtually nothing is out of bounds any longer. There are no rules, no limitations. There is no more morality, no more social responsibility. The entertainment community's product no longer is merely a reflection of reality; it is reality.
And that's a sad reality to ponder on the eve of the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus.