Distortions in the Screen/Mirror (or, Half-baked Thoughts on the Screen-image as Knowledge.)

(This is from an early livejournal post I did last year. I thought this was interesting enough to share for further discussion, though I may be wrong. At least it's here in, what I feel is, its proper place. I apologize if you've read this twice, or are simply uninterested.) *NOTE: the method of typing without capitalizing is one I picked up years ago, and have often employed as both a stylistic/aesthetic preference and as a personal choice on my various personal websites and livejournal over those years. As such, this article appears in its original form, unaltered.

"-but because his [joe buck's] mirrors have perhaps too often been screens, instead of real people, he will find himself duped, thwarted, and overwhelmed by certain realities in new york city."

-robert lang, midnight cowboy's backstory, masculine interests

i often think that one day i will turn out like joe buck, with my ideas of what people should do and who they are blowing up in my face, simply because in my childhood and even now, so much of my time with them has been viewing them on film; trying to understand humanity through the ultimate microscope of sorts. film has always been an outlet for me. it is a place i can go to replenish my batteries, or a place i can go and take out frustration. an escape, maybe, just like for others, but more importantly, it is a place where i attempt to reach an understanding, of myself and of humans in general.

but, as robert lang suggests, this screen-world may be nothing more than a mirror that does not reflect an image so much as it makes the image out to be an instrument of false hope, or of false knowledge: a distortion of truth. and so what does this make the knowledge i have gained from watching hour upon hour of cinematic inquiry into the hearts of other human beings? i may not ever have an answer, but i will no doubt die still trying to figure out the riddle of what the screen actually is.

earlier today i was thinking about the difference between my viewing habits and those of the general american. why is it that exceptional movies like black snake moan, zodiac and grindhouse are left to the box office dregs while horrible dreck like wild hogs continues to flourish week after week? i just don't understand the disconnect. maybe i had some kind of unnatural childhood that made me disavow mediocrity in favor of something good. this is not to say that all of my tastes are for objectively 'good' things, for i realize that many of the movies i have a real place for in my heart are probably flawed and imperfect in many ways to which i am blind. but i think that my taste for bad movies is mostly lent to those that are marginalized in some way, or thought of as strange, bizarre or inappropriate by a great many americans. and so i return to my original musings about the possibility that the screen offers a distorted mirror-image of humanity. or, rather, that it potentially does so.

screen iconography, the cowboy as pick-up artist

if this distortion is offered up by films that i love, and which are by all other accounts strange or bizarre, is it not possible then that i will come to some truth by them? will that truth be discounted because it was gained by an un-redemptive narrative or character? is it possible that, by understanding or attempting to understand things that are not at all like reality, or which are distortions themselves (here i am thinking of horror films, or those of david lynch, for example) by their own avowed knowledge, one can understand that which is normative and 'real'?

this begs the question, of course, what have i learned from a lifetime of watching movies? this question is too simple, i think. the more appropriate question would be what hasn't the screen taught me that i could never learn by looking in a mirror? what hasn't been given me in the form of knowledge about myself that i could never have learned by simply reflecting on myself and my own life? the truth is that i have gained most of my knowledge from the screen; everything from humanism and compassion to hatred and acceptable behavior. and i must say that my definition of acceptable behavior is based on humanism, not on religion-based moralism. for years my only religion per se has been the screen, and so i am drawn periodically to a darkened room to meet with my clerics of sorts, much like the majority of people. and the screen lights up, and i am given knowledge, and in some form, i come out more of a whole.


Julia said...

Entirely agreed. Film is a distorted lens for reality, and one which functions as a mirror. Why is it that we identify so strongly with film? We cry, we laugh, we cringe, we are awed. My religion has always been film, and I too have memories and thought processes that revolve entirely around it. Good film cause us to reevaluate our lives, and to think more deeply about what we do. They function as a metaphorical mirror.

I liked this post. Thanks for the link, by the way! I'll link to you on my journal when I figure out a good way to do so.

matt said...

I think that one of the many things I find interesting is that I have almost entirely built even MY identity on things I have read or viewed. The creation of identity, specifically with media involvement, is something that most people never consider. But then I look at the proliferation of hip-hop/rap, or the popularity of modern country, and I see very explicitly how everything - every style, like/dislike...everything - is influenced only because of the images we take in daily and the way in which we attach those images to ourselves.

It sort of makes me wonder if I have "issues" because of all the films and books I've read and consider among my favorites have central characters whom I identify with and who have the same exact "issues" and/or characteristics I ascribe to myself. For instance, anything by Scorsese, or the man-children of Wes Anderson's pictures.