One of the ideas Nietzsche kept returning to was decadence. In contrast to all those around him, he insisted that not only was man not getting progressively better, he and society had patently degenerated.
You only had to look at the dearth of great thinkers in his day and compare that to the abundance of brilliance in ancient Greece to see that. Clearly, man and society had sunk into a state of moral, spiritual and intellectual decay.
Amusingly of course, that was exactly what 5th century Athenians thought about their day. And, in a further layer of irony, it is how we regard ourselves when we look back in wonder at the intellectual and creative giants who lit up the 19th century Germany that Nietzsche lived in.
Well forget the obscene bonuses that bankers earn for failing to do their jobs, or the Olympian quantity of drugs required to succeed in the world of sport. The clearest evidence that the West has sunk irretrievably into intellectual and spiritual decline is the sight of hordes of people heading into the cinema every summer to dutifully sit through that month’s summer blockbuster.
Naturally we none of us want to spend our every waking hour watching, say, Mikhalkov’s tragic masterpiece Burnt By The Sun (reviewed earlier here), or reading Greg Whitlock’s indispensable translation of Nietzsche’s The Pre-Platonic Philosophers.
(Those by the way are the lectures he prepared just before the more famous ones he gave on Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks in 1873. And both Nietzsche’s notes, and Whitlock’s notes on the notes are brilliantly illuminating (see here).)
Much of the time, we just want to veg in front of our screens or televisions and watch re-runs of old sitcoms. Or skim the headlines in the tabloids as we hop on and off the city centre bus and trains.
But going to the cinema takes effort, and time, and money. It’s a tenner a head, and there are invariably at least two of you. Then there’s the transport, and parking, and babysitters, and the novelty-sized snacks you’re encouraged to increase your cholesterol with. That’s a minimum of 30 quid a pop, and an entire evening of your justly precious time.
Putting all that time, effort and money into going to the cinema has to result in a memorable experience. And yet every summer, millions of people use the cinema to veg out in front of films designed by committees and built by robots more interested in fuelling franchises than they are in producing anything approximating an actual story.
Digitally enhanced vehicles do U turns at 120 mph in the centre of the city, and thousands of CGI figures do battle with thousands of others. Nothing is ever at stake. You’re asked to spend three hours watching somebody else playing their video game.
Last month it was Spider-Man, this month it’s Batman, and next up it’s The Hobbit, which is Lord of the Rings by another name. But it could just as easily have been Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, Thor, Iron Man or any one of the endless Avengers spin-offs (see earlier review here), Transformers, Men In Black, Mission Impossible, 007 etc etc etc.
You know the plots, you’ve heard what passes for their best lines in the trailers you’ve already seen, repeatedly. By the time they arrive, you’ll have seen, read and heard all about every aspect of them. Because they’re designed not to surprise, but to placate.
They don’t even bother to make actual sequels to any of them. They simply remake them. All that changes is the name and colour of the evil antagonist, and the cast needed to accompany all that CGI and the visual pyrotechnics that they’re all so loudly drowned in.
Forget the economy, stupid. If you want to see the evidence for the decline and fall of the West into decay and decadence, it’s there at a multiplex near you. Not in the title above the door, but in the queues of people beneath.
Well if I’m going to spend 30 quid on escaping into a mind-numbing. soporific stupor, I want to use it to wash down my Class A drugs with a nice bottle of Puligny-Montrachet. But when I go to the cinema, I demand to be surprised.
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