Culture | Year-in-Review

"Culture | Year-in-Review" Continued...

Issue: "Year in Review 2002," Dec. 28, 2002

And yet, the first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring, from AOL Time Warner's New Line studio, turned out to have been one of the few successes enjoyed by the multimedia conglomerate. This first movie has earned $860 million from ticket sales alone. This does not count sales of either the first DVD or the DVD with the extra 30 minutes that were cut from the theatrical release (a half hour that does much to flesh out both the characters and the storyline). The one movie has covered the costs of the whole project three times over. And the rest-there are two more movies!-will be pure gravy.

The next installment, The Two Towers, released on Dec. 18, continues the saga of moral heroism, battles against evil, and wonder-filled fantasy grounded in its author's Christian worldview.

The Lord of the Rings movies have clearly resonated with today's cultural mood in ways that the Hollywood establishment is just beginning to understand. A number of the same-old, same-old sex comedies and angst-ridden dramas were spectacular failures, while relatively wholesome, Christian-friendly fare-such as Spider-Man and Signs-were huge hits.

There seems to be a hunger in the culture for epics. Filmmakers are currently working on projects that, with the new special effects technology, promise to rival those of Cecil B. DeMille. Upcoming films will feature the Trojan war, the exploits of Alexander the Great, the invasion of Hannibal, and the last stand at Thermopylae. These are not only accounts of heroism in the face of war, but they depict the titanic clash of cultures. As such, these may prove particularly relevant to our new cultural situation.

Going to the classics of ancient Greece and Rome for subject matter is significant, not just because of the unaccountably ignored treasury of great material, but because it reflects the time-honored tendency in Western civilization in times of crisis and need for cultural renewal to go back to its sources. Maybe in the process this could include going back to the Bible. Mel Gibson is working on a new film version of the life of Jesus, in Latin and Aramaic.

Pop goes the economy

If movies are showing some signs of responding to a new cultural mood-and are having a good year financially-other legs of the pop culture are struggling.

Television embraced "family" values. But the problem was, the families were the Osbournes and the Sopranos. Ironically, while these hit shows exploited the celebrity of the heavy-metal rock star and the sex, violence, and lawlessness of the mafiosi, the specific nature of their appeal, arguably, was that they really were about families.

The drug-addled Ozzy Osbourne turns out to have problems with his own rebellious teenagers. Tony Soprano may whack his enemies, but his issues with his own wife and kids are not so easily dealt with. The family relationships in both shows become strangely absorbing. The appeal of the Osbournes was not merely voyeurism-an attempt at imitation based on single-girl gold-digger Anna Nicole Smith was a failure-but rather a twisted recognition in the culture of the centrality of family. Even the successful reality shows-such as The Bachelor-while being unspeakably vulgar and tasteless often pointed to the true fantasy that has not died out in American culture, despite all of the efforts to kill it: getting married and living happily ever after.

Faced with the competition of cable and satellite technology, broadcast television suffered greatly from the slumping economy. Like the Democrats who resolved to deal with their failure in the midterm election by going even further to the left, broadcast TV decided to deal with their reduced audience by going even further in depicting sex, violence, and bad language-as if those "solutions" were not what caused them to alienate their audiences in the first place.

Another technological blow to the television industry was TiVo, and other programmable DVD recording systems. These enable viewers to record all of the shows they want to watch-not just single programs as with old-style VCRs but the whole week of TV-watching-so that they can be viewed at their leisure. The ability to watch programs commercial free has panicked advertisers, but the best use of this technology has been to allow families once and for all to control exactly what shows their kids are watching.

The music industry too has been in a slump. Again, the industry is blaming technology. Though the industry has killed Napster, as in fighting the Hydra-cut off one head and two more appear-music-sharing over the Internet persists. But could the real problem be with their product? Is there anything more to be done that has not already been done in the genres of rock 'n' roll, rap, and their derivatives? Can't they come up with a fresh sound?


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