Friday, September 29, 2006

"Jane, stop this crazy thing."

I thought I’d uncovered a new conspiracy, then I learned it wasn’t something new, but something that had been going on for a long damn time.

Jennifer Lopez pushed me over the edge. That is to say a Jennifer Lopez movie pushed me over the edge. That is to say the poster for a Jennifer Lopez movie pushed me over the edge. Monster-in-law in which Jane Fonda returned to the screen as an evil mother-in-law, playing second fiddle to JLo. That’s when the vague feeling of paranoia clicked into conspiratorial focus.

Jane Fonda in Monster-in-law, Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro in Meet the Fockers, Jack Nicholson in an Adam Sandler movie, Christopher Walken in anything...there was a conspiracy at work. A dark agenda to take the powerful actors I grew up watching and turn them into buffoons. To erase their powerful work from the communal memory and replace it with sophomoric psuedo-humor. To continue the dismantling of American movies until nobody remembers how potent and important they once were. How they made you angry, how they moved you. How they made you think. Now the capper: Jane Fonda. They took the woman who was in Klute and made her a second banana to Jennifer Lopez.

I mentioned my theory to one of the few younger people who are still permitted to communicate with me. He wasn’t startled by my revelation. He told me it was a generational phenomenon. Happens all the time. And I realized in that instant, damn it, he was right.

Back in the sixties, my first exposure to Bette Davis was Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? How are you supposed to take her seriously in Mrs. Skeffington after you’ve seen that slice of custard pie? The Boris Karloff of moody Val Lewton films had to be filtered through The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. Basil Rathbone’s towering presence in The Adventures of Robin Hood and the Universal Sherlock Holmes movies will always be in the context of his work in Hillbillys in a Haunted House where he stands shoulder to shoulder with John Carradine who’s on hand to erase his work in Grapes of Wrath.

So this cultural cannibalism has been going on for several generations. All I’m experiencing is what it’s like to be the target group, the ones who are having their memories invalidated, having the art that shaped us tossed on the heap with all that other old junk, headed for the furnance in the basement at Xanadu...and if you don’t get that reference, you just proved my point.

I can’t claim any objectivity here, but this particular destruction does seem more perniciously efficient than previous ones. As if the forces of banality had taken a page from the Republican play-book, really gotten their act together and are gleefully eradicating anything that ever made a difference in popular culture. I’m all in favor of art moving on, but it should be moving on to greater sophistication. Going from The Price is Right to Deal or No Deal is not a step forward. Going from Taxi Driver to Analyze That is not evolution.

But taking Jane Fonda, who was the dark, dangerous, wounded heart of Klute and They Shoot Horses Don’t They? and turning her into a sit-com mother-in-law joke, this is tampering with the balance of the universe. This is cultural blasphemy. And we’re not even talking about how hot she was in Barbarella.

There’s nothing I can do about it. Except lament and complain and seem terribly out of date and nostalgic. Nos-tal-gic. The word itself sounds like a medical condition.

“You’re suffering from chronic nostalgia in its most virulent form. I’m afraid it’s hopeless. We can manage the symptoms by applying powerful dismissive and condescending agents, but you’ll eventually transition into a terminal state of euphoric irrelevance. By then we’ll have forgotten all about you, and about how things once had richness and dimension, how there was a time when movies had a texture other than the Teflon sheen of computer generated vistas, views that lack a molecule of the verisimilitude you get from looking at hundred-year-old stereopticon slides. But don’t worry, we’re working hard to make sure nobody knows they’re missing anything. Hey, they won’t even miss you.”

“Thanks, Doc.”

And so we retreat, falling backwards into memories that seem so much richer than current reality...because they are.


Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

I suspect the other on your list, even De Niro, were just waiting for the right moment to unleash the their inner buffoon .. I always thought Jane, however, was on a whole other plane of class, but I guess Hollywood just can't be stopped!

3:34 AM  

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