by Ellsee (nickname)
The Academy Award for Best Picture, the coveted award that is only given to the very best of films each year, has been the subject of increasing controversy. While the award is supposed to reflect the overall success of a movie (including its popularity), past winners like A Beautiful Mind (2001), No Country for Old Men (2007) and The Hurt Locker (2009) have baffled countless onlookers, so much so that various groups have begun to question the integrity and motives of the Academy itself because these films, while having received rave reviews from critics, admittedly did not do particularly well in the box office and were nowhere near the public’s favorite to win.
A deeper look at this extraordinary phenomenon reveals a telling trend that has been silently creeping into modern society. For decades, the differences of interest between the intellectuals and the lay-people have been widening and is continuing to widen.
To the film scholars and critics, the definition of a ‘good movie’ is one that places significant emphasis on the artistic aspect of the film, whereas the general public’s notion is that a ‘good movie’ should be one that is engaging and entertaining.
This ages-old debate between art and entertainment is not merely confined to the movie industry. Literature students the world over groan at having to plow through such morbid volumes as To Kill a Mockingbird and Brave New World, bitterly commenting to themselves that were it not for the sake of scholarly study, these books would have long been phased out of bookstore shelves.
Indeed, today’s bestsellers consist of modern fiction that is easy-reading and not emotionally taxing, on par with the likes of the Twilight saga and chic-lit by Sophie Kinsella and Meg Cabot. All this hardly comes as a surprise, because in this modern and hectic world, people are simply too busy and burnt out to fork out the time and energy to digest any amount of deep, solid literature.
Because whether we like it or not, art by nature pokes and prods at our conscience in an attempt to make us a better person. Literature is in essence a social commentary meant to draw our attentions beyond our pitiful selves to the world at large and the issues that plague it. And for that, art requires the onlooker to be emotionally involved and above all, to think and understand. Yet, after a nerve-wrecking 8-hour day at work or school, the last thing people want when they finally get to stumble back home is to get entangled with a lengthy storybook not-very-subtly discussing the fate of humanity and the evils of colonialism.
What the modern person wants and needs the most is entertainment, something to get their mind off current troubles; an emotional catharsis that will make them feel good and not be left facing even deeper concerns than their own. Hence the huge successes of a slew of feel-good movies that inundate today’s movie industry (which is, aptly, slowly being referred to more and more as a part of the ‘entertainment industry’).
Incidentally, no word harbors greater promises of entertainment and fun than the word ‘swashbuckling’. When this word appears, one can be assured that the story up ahead will be filled with delightful romance, thrilling adventures, and exciting fight scenes, all coupled with a nice, happy fairy-tale ending to round it all up.
Such is pure entertainment, with a few family values and lessons on self-esteem and hard work thrown in for good measure in order to satisfy the minimal demands for upholding social morals and values. However, the repercussions of this unbalanced shift towards entertainment among the masses are, to say the least, worrying.
It is no coincidence that the newly unveiled syllabus for the KBSM Literature Component has experienced a significant degradation in terms of literary quality and pedigree. The last vestiges of mainstream classic literature have all but dissipated, indeed Shakespeare has completely vanished. PMR-level novels (so-called) are really adaptations into what can only be labeled as comics, with full-color illustrations and fun activities to do after each chapter. Yet it is hard to blame the Education Ministry for all this.
I know for a fact that less than 30% of my fellow students in the (top) class actually read and finished Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde back in Form 3, most of them with marked difficulties. Because literature is not just about the grammar and vocabulary, plot and themes. Most of them probably knew the story like the back of their hand, but it is an entirely different story to be able to understand and relate to it. “Yes, I know what’s going on. But I don’t get the point of the whole damn thing.” Why write an improbable story about some doctor who could turn himself into his evil alter ego, and most importantly, why on earth study it? For someone who has had zero exposure to the whole world of classic literature (with all its grand nuances, symbolisms, subtleties and complexities), and whose universe had previously revolved solely around rote study, entertainment and relationships, it is understandably perplexing.
The cold, hard truth is that people, especially the younger generation, are losing their ability to appreciate artistry and hence, their ability to ponder on issues that surpass their own private sphere of existence. It is a vicious cycle. The more we focus on entertainment instead of art, the less inclined we become to think intellectually and philosophically; and the less inclined we are to think deep thoughts, the more we shun artistic expression for simple entertainment.
That’s why many people’s lives come across as shallow.
That’s why it’s so hard to discuss theology or philosophy with the people around you.
That’s probably why there will be people who don’t get the title of this article.
That’s also probably why Fidzi finds it so hard to find people to write for his blog.
*Ellsee is an oddball in many ways. She is an SPM Straight-A student who is studying for STPM as a private candidate and plans to major in Linguistics. A self-described hermit, she spends most of her time at home, where she gleefully delves into her books, her stories, and of course, her studies