Friday, October 25, 2013

The Pardox of "Royals": A push for anti-consumerism in a mainstream music industry

Blood stains. Ball gowns. Trashin’ the hotel room. We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
“Royals”, the indie-pop single of the moment that has managed to knock Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” from the top spot, plants an ironic anti-consumerist flag in the entertainment industry. 
Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O'Connor, better known by her stage name as Lorde, manages to break into mainstream pop with a message that challenges its obsession with wealth — a decidedly anti-mainstream meaning. 
In a materialistic culture that thrives on selling products, implicitly telling consumers that they are never enough, Lorde reminds us that, contrary to this belief, we’re actually okay without all that. 
Without worrying about keeping up with the latest, not only are we free to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, but we can rest in that it’s okay to be normal. 
We’ll never be royals/ it don’t run in our blood/ that kind of luxe just ain’t for us/ we crave a different kind of buzz,” she sings. “And everyone that knows us knows that we’re fine with this/ we didn’t come for money [… ] Life is great without a care/ we aren’t caught up in your love affair.”
And while Lorde specifically sings about money and the music industry, this can be applied to anything: feeling pressure to conform to standard ideas of beauty or to be so accomplished in the professional world by the time we reach 25. 
These things aren’t bad in themselves, but becoming too wrapped up in them, we forget what’s really important. “Royals” is a good reminder to stay out of it, and the non-conformist in me loves that idea. 
Despite her youth, Lorde’s communicated a deep truth that many people beyond her years fail to grasp. If we want to be truly happy, we have to shift our mentality of greedy pursuit of royalty — in whatever form it takes in our lives — to a simplistic contentment in who we are and what we already have. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Film Industry Heroes: You're Doin' It Wrong

America loves heroes. I mean, it's in human nature to love a hero because, as Neil Gaiman put it, they "don't show us dragons exist, they show us dragons can be beaten."

In other words, heroes are proof that we can overcome the hardships life throws our way. Their stories show us we are more than our littleness and weakness. We can be strong.

But America is especially obsessed with them. Half the movies coming out nowadays are superhero blockbusters or remakes of favorite heroes of old.

However, I’ve been noticing a growing trend in the way modern heroes are portrayed. 

There's a line from this summer's "The Lone Ranger" that, I think, sums it up: "There comes a time, Kimosabe, when good man must wear mask."

Reminiscent of the story of Robin Hood, the hero of the film, The Lone Ranger, is forced to become a bandit because men, who were supposed to be good, such as sheriffs, were evil. 

Good had to be disguised because the society he lived in no longer recognized good.

The fact that movies like this one are being produced speaks volumes about our culture.

See, our culture has a fascination with anti-heroes, or villians. In disastrous events like Sandy Hook, Aurora Colorado or the Boston Marathon Bombings, our focus is on the killers and why they would commit something so horrible. We hardly glance at the victims, or the emergency response teams that show up to save the day. We're more fascinated by what lunatic is on the loose now. 

G.K. Chesterton said, "The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal. But in the modern psychological novel the hero is abnormal; the center is not central. Hence the fiercest adventures fail to affect him adequately, and the book is monotonous. You can make a story out of a hero among dragons; but not out of a dragon among dragons. The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. The sober realistic novel of today discusses what an essential lunatic will do in a dull world.”

Chesterton's onto something. My whole life, I've wondered why, generally, the stories produced during my lifetime were so forgettable; sure, they were fun initially, but that was it. And on the other hand, old stories like The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, or older stories of King Arthur and Robin Hood, were so memorable. 

It's because now, as a culture, our focus has shifted to the villain; we don't glorify virtue anymore. What was once taboo is celebrated and traditional virtue is mocked and called “outdated”. We went from portraying the normal, every day hero beating the dragons. Now, we focus on the dragon among dragons. 

“The Lone Ranger” was a dud because the hero wasn't actually a hero. (Also the plot was boring.) He didn't sacrifice himself in any way, he didn’t have any "save the day" moments or stunts. He was almost a sidekick to Johnny Depp's anti-hero, Tonto. Tonto wasn't a hero at all, he was incredibly selfish, but he was still the focus of the film.

Even in many superhero movies, there is a growing trend in the "hero" being the guy that's really messed up. Take Robert Downey Jr.'s Ironman, for example. I'll admit, he's as entertaining as heck, but is he a real hero? I don't think so.

 And maybe we like that because we can relate to it, or we're entertained by it. But it doesn't give us anything to look up to. The stories that stay with us are transcendent; they remind us who we were made to be. We were made for more. We were made for greatness. We were made to rise above ourselves, not to be complacent in our weakness. 

I’m not saying that movies like this are wrong to watch; still, it’s good to pay attention to what we’re subliminally being fed in media. They tell us what is worthy of being admired, and if we pay to enjoy that media, we send a message back to the producers that this is the kind of media we want to see.

I’ll pay for the media that praises real virtue and gives me something to hope for, even if the culture I live in no longer recognizes the good.