I saw a movie a while ago in which a mouse got crushed. It was funny. I have no memory of what movie it was or why it was so funny. What I mostly remember is that some time later, I saw it was not a real mouse but only a computer generated image of a mouse. How disappointing.
It’s not that I wanted a real mouse to be crushed. It just took something out of the humor to find out it wasn’t. And it reminded me of the definition of “funny” by Groucho Marx. To paraphrase greatly: “Funny is when a stuntman dresses up as an old lady, sits in a wheel chair, and gets pushed off a cliff. Very funny is when it’s a real old lady.”
Yes, there is something more tangible, more immediate, (dare I say it?) more real about the real when it is, in fact, real. And I think you’ll agree, it’s almost all gone. (I knew we were in trouble when an ad agency recently photoshopped more hair on my head in a photo they took. I barely recognized myself.) I say it’s time to fight back.
You say there is nothing new in all this? “Everything is fake.” “No more real life.” “There is no real love.” “Real tomatoes are gone.” (I recommend you read Jean Baudrillard and, except for the terrifyingly Marxist and apocalyptic tone, learn about hyperreality and how the media and advertising are destroying the human race. Now, that part IS true.)
What is new, however, is there must be a line, and wherever it is, I believe we’ve finally crossed it. (Did you know Shrek was not real?!!) Yes, we’ve gone much too far! And I say, let’s start a campaign. Call it the “Save Our Reality® Before There’s None Left” movement.
And I know just where to start. Hollywood – the single-biggest destroyer of Reality® in the history of the universe after the Death Star. Well, ok, that’s why we like it. Still, it’s time to take a stand.
Don’t misunderstand. This is not part of an effort to save humans from their atomic folly or their god-given desire to buy anything emblazoned with the coolest of cool logos on their way to self-annihilation. It’s too late for that.
My goal is much simpler. I merely want labels. Lots of labels. Many, many labels. And I’m going to start by trademarking the word Reality® (you might have noticed already). It will need to be capitalized whenever it’s printed. It can only be used if our organization approves it. And we’ll be paid for our endorsements because we will now own the name, if not the product itself. (Of course, then Reality® becomes its own brand name signifying the concept of “reality” that it has emptied by signifying the “reality” it signifies so that it’s no longer real. Yes, this could be a problem.)
Regardless, we’ll all become rich and have lots of colored plastic paper in our pockets that signifies that somewhere, before the centuries of abstraction and universal social alienation, there was once upon a time something of worth that ensured all this plastic paper its imputed value – I think.
No matter. I say if we can place nutrition labels on “food” like Cocoa Puffs, photos of cancerous organs on the side of cigarette packs, and warnings for me not to put my fingers into a spinning food blender, then why can’t we have labels safeguarding our reality? That is, I mean, Reality®? What, after all, is more important than that?
So to Hollywood we go. And here’s what we want, those of us in the Save Our Reality® Before There’s None Left campaign. From now on, we want to be assured at the end of each film: “No Reality® was harmed in the making of this movie.”
Yes, that’s right. It’s not because I feel threatened. I can still tell the difference – sometimes. It’s more about principle. I believe people who go out of their way to protect our basic Reality® should be rewarded, or at least acknowledged in some way.
And I know I’m not alone. We could probably fill a small room. There are websites all over. So now we all know Nicolas Cage does not have stomach muscles like the ones we saw in Ghost Rider. We also know the skinny guy in the beginning of Captain America wasn’t really so skinny, and that Robert Downey Jr. was not truly fighting on a half-finished bridge over the Thames River at the end of that movie.
But let’s step back. What if they were? What if all that was real? Wouldn’t you want to know? (Doesn’t anyone remember the immense accolades for Robert De Niro when he gained all that weight in Raging Bull?) In other words, shouldn’t the director and the actors get some credit for the fact they didn’t fake the whole thing? Seriously, whether you appreciate the artistry of movie-making by computer or not, there is something palpably impressive when you know that Tom Cruise actually hung from those towers, that Peter Jackson did go to New Zealand to find some really nice hills, and that Kate Beckinsale, in fact, well, she actually looks like she does.
It’s not always been this confusing. Just thirty years ago, some 300,000 extras were reportedly used in the filming of the movie Ghandi. I never saw it, but no matter, you have to give extra (no pun intended) credit to the director, Richard Attenborough, for remembering their names. And as long as we’re talking, how about Ben Hur’s chariot scene? That took a whole year just to cut the arena out of a huge piece of rock, and then another five weeks, 7000 extras, 78 horses, and weeks of training to film. That whole thing, I suspect, would take an afternoon in an air conditioned office today.
So if a director goes to all the trouble to find a real location and have a real actor actually dangle from a real clock tower (check out the famous Harold Lloyd stunt in Safety Last from 1923, here) — shouldn’t those people be somehow rewarded?
Ok, Harold Lloyd did it with angles, a stunt man, a fake wall, etc. But it was also real, in the sense that they were truly on a building, they were indeed way up high, they were actually there. And they tricked people for decades into thinking there was no net.
Now it might seem old-fashioned to do it that way. But I don’t think it’s old-fashioned to want to know it was done. What if you found out that Cristian Mungiu’s last movie, Beyond the Hills, was filmed entirely in a third floor office inside a building in Baneasa? Doesn’t that matter? In this case, I know that’s not true because I’ve seen enough computerized cold breath to now know the difference. (Then again, Kate Beckinsale was great in that movie up at the North Pole.)
Maybe I sound like a curmudgeon. But I’m not the first one. The role of mimesis was a topic that even ancient Greeks could not decide. Did it corrupt or was it cathartic? Imagine if they had video games. A little Mortal Kombat, Mr. Plato?
But humans like to be fooled. We like the pretend. We like make-believe. So instead of studying Aristotle’s Poetics, today we sit and watch cartoons. Or we go to museums and look at hyperreal photos and hyperreal paintings with perfect Chevys and very clean sidewalks. Ok, so nothing is real. Or rather it’s really too real.
Umberto Eco wrote about this 40 years ago in Faith in Fakes, Travels in Hyperreality, as he set off on a “journey into hyperreality, in search of instances where the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake; where the boundaries between game and illusion are blurred…” It seems we in America perfected these tricks, with over-stuffed museums and historically genuine fake towns. So much better than originals. So much cleaner. More real. (Oh, how well Romania has imported much of this. That, however, is a topic for another day.)
This is, for a few of us, a very real problem. For example, that French guy Baudrillard, who’s much too interesting to discuss here, was summed up recently this way: “It’s not so much that reality doesn’t exist, as that it is inaccessible from within a regime of simulation,” explained Ceasefire Magazine. And so? Melancholy (depression) has become the dominant tone in social life, “the brutal disaffection arising from generalised simulation and the loss of intensity and meaning.” Ouch, that’s not good.
And to think these ideas and all this “brutal disaffection” started even decades before the computer was born. At least, way back then, in the “generalised simulation,” we could still tell the difference between what was projected and what was still real – the street scenes that bounced out the back of Cary Grant’s car window, Godzilla fighting dinosaurs, Mary Poppins floating down, even most of the people who starred in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
But not nowadays. It all seems too real. And we can’t tell the difference, like in the movie S1m0ne. Isn’t it bad enough I have to pray that my daughters remember that none of the models in our real magazines actually have those waists or two elongated thighs?
If we don’t pay attention, just think where we’ll go. Why not add a little more fiend onto Jack Nicholson’s glare in the movie The Shining? Why shoot a scene one more time when we can dub a new sentence and make the actor’s lips move in sync – all in post-production after everyone goes home? And while we’re at it, as long as we can make Keanu Reeves float in The Matrix, why not also generate computerly a bit of acting ability?
Yes, we’ll no longer know which part of the bodies, or the background locations, or even the acting was genuinely fake. But would post-production tweaks be acceptable to all? What if half the acting was all dubbed in much later? Made up in the editing by a director and two geeks?
So let’s get all those labels. Let’s have a new category at the Oscars®. “The Best Completely Real Movie (in which no Reality® was hurt).” It’ll give credit to those who spent all that time and all of that effort to use ingenuity and artistry, creativity and guts to do things alive, out in the sun, in the wind. I say let’s call Kate Beckinsale and leave the computers at home.
I suppose if you don’t see the difference, you should not join our cause. For the rest of us, however, let’s print up some flyers and start wearing buttons. We’ll launch a huge movement. And the first thing we do is register Reality®. Then we’ll send pretty stuff we make up to the press. Maybe we’ll march through the streets. Then we can tweet our location. Pinterest some things. And instagram all our photos. But wait, before you send that one, first photoshop me more hair.