Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Action Blockbusters as Sleeping Pills

For me, the best way to fall asleep, when I can’t sleep, is to put on an action blockbuster, like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” or “Die Hard With a Vengeance” or “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

At first, this seems strange. How, you may ask, can I fall asleep while watching things blowing up or robot battles or machine gun fights? The reason, I think, is that these movies allow me to turn my brain off almost completely.

While watching an action blockbuster, unlike in real life, I am operating on a purely sensory level, which is helpful for sleeping. I become like a character in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, at one of the “feelies.” A “feelie” is like a movie, except it is a total sensory experience that artificially elevates the senses over thought.

Some people read books to fall asleep. For me, this usually doesn’t work because, when I read a book, my mind is wide awake. I am imagining and thinking. But an action blockbuster requires little thought or imagination, so it usually knocks me right out.

While this is kind of funny, it also suggests something pretty disturbing about mass entertainment in America. Popular movies, and a lot of popular television, require little thought or imagination. In essence, they allow us to turn our brains off. This, of course, has some pretty devastating consequences, as it actually trains peoples’ brains not to think.

Yesterday, after a long day of teaching and writing, I came home and put on one of my favorite action blockbusters, “Total Recall” starring Arnold Schwarteznegger. I was expecting, as usual, a brainless sensory experience of violence, special effects, and explosions.

But then, dammit, I started analyzing the movie. I started thinking! Noooo! Beneath its orgy of violence and effects, “Total Recall” is actually about how peoples’ brains are manipulated by society and government to make them more compliant and to discourage them from thinking about real-world problems. The hero, Schwatzenegger, is fighting to remember who he really is and what is really going on in the world. When he does learn the truth, he changes the world. He frees the people of Mars from an oppressive, corporatized government.

And then I got thinking about America and the Occupy Wall Street movement and how that is all about changing the shady relationship between corporations and government. And it seemed like “Total Recall” was actually a pretty spot-on parable for our times.

Damn you, director Paul Verhoeven, for making me think!

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