Thursday, April 20, 2006

Drawing the Line: When does Good-Old Trashy end and Emotionally Trashy begin?

What the world needs now is not, as the song would have you believe, love, sweet love, but trash. Real trash. See, the problem that faces our contemporary culture is the fact that they are getting the two confused. A friend told me that a visitor to this site found my review of Sommerstrom very off course. In his opinion, it was film far better than the immaculate Presque Rien because the latter was "boring." The former, I would be willing to wager, he found emotionally fulfilling and "honest." He probably thought it was very "honest." I urge you to take one look at it with this in mind - We like to have the trite version of "love" that we have become acustomed to spelled out in the vocabulary of trash. We watch trashy romance and find love when really, we should be finding trash. We take great joy in allowing our emotions to be manipulated in the most dishonest game of tug-of-war imaginable. How else can you fathom Crash an Oscar winning film. It manipulates the hell out of you - and what's sick is that people LOVE it(the manipulation, that is). People are no longer sated thinking or feeling for themselves. That something like Crash or to some degree, Brokeback Mountain(let's be honest) rides on the fact that the swelling, orchestral music and snappy editing never allow you to wander for a moment is no coincidence. We like being told what to feel. Why else can you explain the huge successes of Jennifer Aniston movies or Lifetime television. Without that stong hand, guiding us to the appropriate emotions to be feeling at any given moment, we would feel lost, naked.

After my recent post on the BBC trash-fest Footballers Wive$, I began thinking about Dynasty and why I value it over the slew of contemporary pseudo-trash-fests that ride on their ability to translate what we want of an amorous vocabulary into a trash one without our noticing - or worse - caring. The O.C.'s and One Tree Hills hold our hearts in their trashy palm - or the Queer as Folks and their serial provocation intentionally confuse their smut with romance to ensure a regular audience (an audience which, I must admit, I am no stranger to). Back when Dynasty was big, the trick tactic was shock. What could they come up with next. Linda Evans and Joan Collins were more demi-Gods than romantic mavens and their exploits, though frequently romantic in nature, were not intended as sentimental vicariousness. It was the eighties. If you were to see yourself in anything on Dynasty, it was that house, the money, those dresses. Your lust for John Forsythe (if you were an housewife or a teenager suffering from a serious Elektra complex) was just that, lust. He was never someone you actually became emotionally involved in. He was too crooked to be empathetic. The same is true for Linda Evans and certainly the vilified Joan Collins. Dynasty was all trashy extremism, not emotional supremacy. It removed the emotive investment of the viewer from the day-time soap opera and replaced it with a glutinously trashy sensationalism. You still cared what happened to Krystal, you still kept coming back, but in terms of being as emotionally invested in these characters, the projection stopped there.

The same can very easily be said for Footballers Wive$. Every character is so deliciously trashy that there is no way of actually relating to a single one of them. What could have made for some potentially vicarious reality television became a sensational monster-fest as these characters, derived from actual women, mutate into choice generalizations of their factual manifestations. Without the humanistic/performative element of reality TV, the viewer is absolved of all voyeuristic guilt while watching our fictitious protags revel in their excesses. Tanya(above, left) is the Joan Collins and Linda Evans all rolled up in one, and though we become interested in her impending divorce with the captain of the team, the uber-tool, Jason (Jase), we never become emotionally invested in it. They are just too tanned, drunk, blinged out, morally-corrupt, in a word - contemptible to allow ourselves be get amorous for these people. Neither do we relate to the more idyllic figures. Suffice to say, with indelible characters like Tanya, there morally based plot lines are about as exciting as a amateur golf tournament. Because of this, those stories that you might expect to empathize with shrink in the shadows of the more fantastic ones. Thwarted murder attempts and hermaphroditic babies abound, the plot is too sensational to be humanistic and therefore emotionally inaccessible.

Early next month, CBS will air the "Dynasty Reunion: Catfights and Caviar." Original cast members John Forsythe, Linda Evans and Joan Collins will be joined by other cast members (including both Fallons) in the original Fioli mansion. Collins has claimed it will be all "clips, kissing, hugging reminiscences!" The reunion is surely timed to coincide with the rights transfer of the show from Fox (who made considerably less money than they were expecting when they released the show's first - Collins free - season on DVD last summer) over to Universal in November of this year. And though the Dynasty novice in me is thrilled, I wonder if the reunion is just a stab at imposing a more contemporary, thus emotionally invested light on the (initial, merely) trashy content of the show. This dishonest, emotionally manipulative approach towards entertainment is, in my opinion, the crime century. It is a way to ensure repeat viewers but at the expense of the viewer's owning of their own emotions. TV today - which has, in effect, changed film production - is a new type of exploitation. Emotional exploitation, or emotional pornography (as I most typically refer to it) is now the greatest manipulative device in entertainment. All of a sudden, a hermaphroditic baby is sounding really appealing.


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