Spider-Man, Batman, & Summer Blockbusters; More Opium for The Masses. Yawn.

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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