Saturday, June 21, 2014

Back in my day?

Am I that old? Is it possible that I’ve reached the point of believing that the past had more to offer? It kind of starts with the movies and then moves on to nearly everything else. I don’t go to the movies very much anymore. It all looks the same. There aren’t any movies that stand out anymore. Surely that’s just me. I have my doubts about that though. I hear it too often from other people, and not all of my own generation. Older or younger, a common complaint is that there aren’t any good movies anymore. Maybe it isn’t just me. Maybe the quality of our movies has declined.
It’s not just cinema. I don’t pay too much attention to current music. There doesn’t seem to be too much on TV worth watching. The books on bestseller lists don’t look like they have a lot of heart. I’ve even managed to walk out of my favorite comic book shop empty handed a few times. That’s the one that bothers me the most, but I’ll come back to it.
Music? I’ve always been very discriminating in my musical tastes. Eclectic, but discriminating. Even when I was in junior high I wasn’t singing the songs that the other kids were. So that hasn’t changed. It may be that American Idol has done some damage to our expectations, but it’s no worse than the days of payola that were so long before my time. In fact, the commercialism of today isn’t anywhere near as bad as it could be and has been, and I know it. So I guess I can set that aside. I’ll leave music out of it.
The movies though. When I check to see what’s come out, it’s surprising how often I decide to stay home. Sometimes it’s just that nothing at all looks interesting. Sometimes I see something that might do, since I can’t find anything else. I don’t want to settle for a movie though. I want to watch something that I can watch. It’s not that I won’t watch something that’s so bad it’s good. There are a lot of awful comedies and trite action films I’ve enjoyed. I guess that when I look now, even the films that are just light entertainment seem to lack any character. Take away the titles, and I wouldn’t know one from another. I’m not sure that it’s just me.
As I said, the worst of it is in the comic book shop. If you’re not a comic book person, bear with me for two paragraphs, because this is where I make a real point. I’ve always loved comics. I’m the kind of hard core true believer who knows that even if it isn’t real, that it damn well should be. That’s what makes it worthwhile. I know that there have always been a lot of terrible comic books written. That will never change. But I was always able to find something that sparked interest or at least curiosity. Lately, there have been times that I’ve walked away without a thing. There just doesn’t seem to be as much that I can believe in. How can that be? It’s obvious that comics haven’t changed. I have.
That’s the thing though. Comic books HAVE changed. That’s what makes this a question. I know it for a fact. Even if you’re someone who couldn’t name the members of the Fantastic Four, you probably still know that Marvel Comics and DC comics are the two big houses. I’ve given up on them both. When I do buy comic books any more it’s from the independents and smaller publishers. When I was asked recently why I don’t buy Marvel and DC anymore, I had an answer. “I tell you what. If either one of them can go six months without starting the next big cosmic-crossover, must-have miniseries event, then I’ll consider trying a few titles.” That’s what’s changed. There is always some huge story that requires you to pick up so many different titles that ordinarily, you might not. It’s a great marketing scheme, but the stories, and the art form as a whole, suffer for it. You see, they aren’t creating stories any more. They’re creating events. Big, overdone, unimaginative events that keep any ongoing series from telling its own story. These big stories are very marketable, but they don’t have the power that they should. Turning up the volume doesn’t make music better, it only makes it louder.
If that’s true, then the world has changed around me whether I’ve changed or not. I’ll admit that I’m not a modern man. I don’t use GPS. I don’t even carry a cell phone. Resisting those changes shouldn’t cause me to change my outlook on art and entertainment. And it hasn’t. Seeing what’s happened to my comic books, I know that at least one thing I have serious passion for has become something less. Could something similar have happened to the movies? To other art forms? Can it be that people are buying what’s being sold without caring about their former standards? I don’t honestly know if this is a real phenomenon or a bogeyman that I’ve conjured up. Certainly there is something to it, but is it as grand a threat as I’ve made it in my own mind?
Every generation has those who look back and bemoan the loss of their own time. I’m not doing that. I know that for certain. I was always an outsider, even then. It’s not that things were good and they’ve turned bad. It’s that things have become shallower, dimmer. Only if what I’m seeing is more true than untrue though.
It’s not that I believe the world has changed for the worse. In fact it’s the opposite. There are things that are new and terrible. Promiscuous texting might not be the original sin, but it is the latest one. Me, I’ve never texted in my life. But so much changes for the better. Most people don’t actually want to believe that, but I remember the kind of prejudices that existed twenty five years ago. We’ve progressed a great deal. Slowly, but it always happens that way. So many of our former preconceptions are losing ground. Even our technology has more to offer than to take from us. After all, I’m writing this for the internet right now. Living in the information age has changed our society for the better.

If there are some great changes though, there can easily be some that aren’t as welcome. I think that we might really be losing our stories, or at least diminishing them. That would be a tragedy. Our imagination and our dreams are precious. We can not afford to lose them or allow them to be devalued. I suppose that if there is any merit to my half hearted rant, it is to assure others. If, like me, you find fewer things worth watching, hearing, and reading, then you are not alone. Don’t buy what they’re selling. Let them earn our money and our trust by providing stories of worth or at least of character. There’s nothing wrong with living in that part of the past if there is more there for you to find.