We Can’t Handle the Truth (Sometimes)

Listening to “Broken,” I’m torn. Part of me thinks inspirational music is David’s sweet spot, but the other part of me really wants David to branch out to other genres and surprise us. But mostly, I want him to surprise us in a different genre where he can still maintain that deep-seated heartache I hear in this song and especially in his Voice, simply because (for me at least), it stands in sharp contrast to the cookie-cutter sentimentality so many people (fans included) expect when they think David Archuleta.  

In other words, when David sings, there’s a certain honesty, a certain “truth” that just packs a punch and which things like auto-tune forces you to tune out.  Is David too real for his cookie-cutter image? Is that part of the problem when trying to market him? Will this be an even more difficult issue when he returns to music next year? Or is it just a matter of him needing to do more growing up?

I say all this because I’m pondering something else in the culture – movies, entertainment, violence, Americana. That sort of stuff. And it never ceases to amaze me how, so much of our imagery is tied up in contradictions. We celebrate brutal violence, yet we love the simplistic world of Disney.  We celebrate guns, guns, guns, yet continue to be horrified by the violence that comes in the form of Newtown or terror attacks overseas.

So, this is my awkward yet very David-centric preamble to what I really want to talk about: two movies that I recently saw (Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty) and what they say about us and American culture.

I’m astounded by the lovefest that a movie like Django Unchained has received, yet the same movie-going audience that can stomach shoot-em-ups and torture devices used during the slave past are hand-wringing and pearl-clutching over the violent depiction of “enhanced interrogation” used by CIA agents. Go figure!

What, pray tell, is the difference here? Why is a filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino called brilliant, yet Kathryn Bigelow is being compared to a Nazi fascist?

django-unchained-fan-poster-foxx-waltzI think it’s the difference between sentimentality and realism, to be honest. The only reason why Tarantino could even portray the subject of slavery the way he did – through a kind of pastiche, post-modern mash-up between “spaghetti Western” and “Blaxploitation” – and get folks to eat up the violence during such a despicable episode in American history is precisely because of what was NOT shown: yes, Tarantino showed a slave getting mauled to death by dogs, he depicted a slaveowner threatening to smash open the head of one of his slaves with a hammer. Yes, he showed whippings and said slave (played by Kerry Washington) being tortured in a hot box.  But what he doesn’t show are the rapes she is subjected to, or the real despicable evil acts, carried out – to be sure – to ensure that those held in bondage would produce a healthy and thriving cotton economy.  But we can handle this violence because the hero Django (Jamie Foxx) gets to seek revenge and rescue his lady love, all while emptying bullets in our cruel villains in over-the-top, downright cartoonish fashion.

zerodarkthirty_620x350It’s a pity Bigelow didn’t do the same slow-motion, set to a hip-hop/heavy-metal soundtrack depiction of our NAVY Seals taking out Osama Bin Laden. Because I guarantee you: no one would be carrying on about how her film “glorifies” torture (which it does not).  Too bad she didn’t focus on the soldiers on the front lines of Afghanistan or Iraq killing our “enemies,” instead of highlighting the intense and rather uncomfortable work of our CIA agents doing all manner of torture against detainees.  In other words: Bigelow was being “too real,” and as a culture, we’re known for not being able to “handle the truth.”

I found both films entertaining, but I’m more annoyed with Tarantino for not being “real enough” about his subject matter, while I’m disappointed that someone like Bigelow seems to be getting backlash for being too real.  She’s uncompromising in her vision in Zero Dark Thirty: our “heroes” do less than heroic things, and the raid to capture and kill Bin Laden seemed more routine than a “greatest manhunt in history.” It is what it is.

In the end, Bigelow expected a grown-up audience to show up to her movie and draw our own conclusions instead of expecting our filmmaker to make the moral arguments for us.  By contrast, Tarantino expected a juvenile audience to show up to his (and in part got the juvenile response of shoot-em-up revenge fantasy payoff).

I’m glad these different filmmakers can offer us different styles and stories, but just like David needs more growing up in his image and sound, I’d rather we as a culture did more growing up in the way we watch and respond to violence.


Posted on January 13, 2013, in current trends. Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. Wow an absolutely fabulous thought provoking arcticle. You are so right about inspirational music being David’s sweet spot, but, like you, I too want him to branch out and surprise us and keep that deep-seated heartache in his voice.

  2. Perhaps I should actually see the movie before I comment, but I believe the argument about torture depicted in Zero Dark Thirty isn’t that it’s “too real”, but that it wasn’t real–that is, that it didn’t actually lead to locating Bin Ladin, but was used for dramatic purposes. In reality, I hear, they already had the information. The film leads to the conclusion that torture works, when it very much doesn’t work.

    • CC halo, that’s what the critics contend, but what I’m contending about those who saw the film and balk at what they think the movie suggests is, had Bigelow chosen to not depict the scenes in such a realist fashion (indeed, did some over-the-top portrayal of violence), we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

      The critics complaining about the film’s message are reading way too much in the realist image of violence, hence why they can’t distinguish between a movie thriller (which is what this is) and a documentary-style report.

      From what I saw, the movie doesn’t conclude that “torture works” but that, since the Bush administration gave them permission to use it, they were going to use it as part of their routine. (If we all remember our country’s foreign policy from the previous administration, that’s part of what happened.) I really think it’s because the torture scenes are depicted so much as “part of the job” what has people horrified. And in typical simplistic expectations, we want an unequivocal condemnation when Bigelow refuses to come down one way or the other. That doesn’t mean the film “glorifies torture,” at least IMO it doesn’t.

  3. Thanks for another thought provoking post, HG. Now actors are telling the members of the Academy not to vote for Zero Dark Thirty for awards.

    It will be interesting to see what direction David’s music will take when he returns. He usually surprises me so my guess is that he will sing more than just inspirational songs. What his sound will be, I don’t know, but I’m hoping he will record some songs that use that deep seated heartache in his voice.

  4. GlambertGate has been entertaining.

    Lyndsey Parker, Shirley Halperin and the charts guy from Billboard were all quick to explain via multiple channels that Glambert is still with RCA, even though he decided to “part ways” with 19R following a “mutual decision.”

    Then again, it seems that 19R was actually his label, and they used RCA for distribution.

    Glambert’s PR person tweeted that there will be a third album with RCA, but has since deleted the tweet.

    The plot thickens.

  5. so shirley is being nice to adam and was less than nice to david. what’s that all about?

    • Shirley has been nice to pretty much all the Idols that parted ways with their record label except David who she said was dropped. David got the most media attention when he left Jive as opposed to when other Idols were dropped. It does point out how hard it is to keep a major label for Idols especially after the second album.

  6. Very thought provoking post hg. I really want to see Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained. You raise some great points on both films. So many good movies out there to see. I just love the attempts to spin Adam’s leaving RCA. It is all highly entertaining. lol. Don’t forgot Peter this all about Adam’s “evolution” as a music artist. lol. Shirley has always been less than nice to David since his AI days. She was a big Cook and then Lambert fan.

    • Oh, yeah. The “evolution.” LOL.

      • There is also this: Adam tweeted that along with being “evolved” together that album #3 will be a brand new “exploration.” lol.

    • Marie, my wish is that David surpasses everyone of these other idols (ok is as big as Kelly, lol) and really put this Shirley chick in her place, lol.
      I’m still optimist that there is something big brewing for David when he returns, he just can’t imagine that someone in the instrustry can’t see that he could be a money maker.

  7. I agree with you cq.

  8. thanks marie. was just wondering cuz david made that comment about the people “who hate his guts” so was curious if shirley was one of them. can’t imagine she has that much power or influence though.

  9. A thought about the heartache in David’s voice: am I the only one that thinks that there is an underlining of sadness in David’s lifet to evoke that kind of heartache? I might be reading to much into it, but it seems that his always happy demeanor might be somewhat of a cover…

  10. cq – i agree, i’ve always thought there was an underlying sadness. we hear it clearly in his voice.

  11. As much as I’d LOVE to see David become the HUGE star that he deserves to be, David has pretty much shown us that he does music to bring joy, hope, and inspiration to those who appreciate his voice and personna. I don’t know if that will translate into media stardom, but that makes him a SUPERSTAR in my eyes !!!!

    • oliveoil, yes, to his fans he is a star and will always have enough people that want to listen to him sing.
      Yes, mainstream stardom, hmm. A lot of fans seem to view that he might not want that kind of career. I for one, don’t think he would go on AI, make sure that he pleases his fans and record music for his fans after leaving Jive, if he didn’t want a mainstream successful music career after he returns. The way I look at it, he could of easily had a singing career in Utah and never gotten out of that bubble. I’m so glad he did get out of that bubble and, to me anyway, is going for a worldwide music career. I didn’t include his gig in Star Search because I think that was more his parents doing, but he probably had more free will when he went on AI. I just don’t think he would put on a pretense that he wants a music career, if indeed he would be satisfied to be a lounge singer.

      • CQ#DA2014 I certainly hope you”re right. His talent and charisma definitely appeal to people all over the world. He could be an international star. Hope he finds a great promoter who believes in him

  12. Of all the people in the world, or even the Idol world, to hate, for someone to single David out makes me really wonder at that person’s motivations. Haven’t been able to take Ms. Halperin or Lyndsey Parker or anyone at EW seriously for quite some time.

    Wondering if this will post. My posts have been eaten regularly lately. Not sure why.

  13. HG, thanks for sharing your movie reviews; I enjoy reading them. Spike Lee’s comments re. Django have me curious but from what I’ve read, both Django and Dark 30 have lots of violence. I’m the type that can’t handle violence on the big screen.

    As for David, I’m hoping for ongoing surprises from him. Re. Shirley H., M. Slezak and Lyndsey P. , I wonder how much their careers have evolved since 2008.

    • They are still stuck with AI and The X Factor and are honing their artistry in brown-nosing Simon Cowell.

      Mr. Slezak has “parted ways” with EW and his now working for… sorry, evolving as a writer at a meaningless media outlet on the outskirts of the Internet. “In the process, he has become one of the nation’s leading Idol experts.”

    • with the mega journalistic talent each has, i would have thought that by now justin timberlake and destiny’s child would have asked them to break the news on their new singles. 😉

  14. Hi everyone! Was out of the country for the past couple weeks and only got back recently. Saw Les Miz right away and loved it. I could imagine David doing something like this in the future. Went to see Zero Dark last night because of the nominations and could not handle it. The loud screen effects of bombings, torture and shootings affected me. I even walked out right after the Bin Laden event. I did not get the movie and really did not see the point of it all. With all the descriptions of Django Unchained I will probably leave it to its own devices as well.

  15. I remember this very funny fanboy video that was re-posted on FOD recently:

    But I don’t remember seeing this other clever video, lol:

  16. I was out of town this weekend, HG, hope it’s ok that I’m commenting on this late.

    You always make such thought-provoking posts. I really do think that David is like a microcosm of what we see in America — that complex set of contradictions that make up our culture. As you’ve mentioned before, I do see him as innocent by choice. Not that he’s never known of worldly things but that he consciously chooses not to focus on them, to see himself and his world in a way that focuses on the good and the innocent.

    I don’t really know what to make of this, tbh. On one hand I love that about him because when I hear the way he sees things, it helps me to look at them that way too. But then part of me wonders if that’s denial he’s living in. But then another part of me says, no, it’s not denial, it’s just a mindset to focus on the good he can do rather than dwelling things he can’t. I still don’t know what the correct answer is though.

    I think the biggest challenge of David is that he’s so adept at music as a whole, that it’s hard to tie him into a genre. He IS music. And when he’s singing, you do see that he feels all those emotions that he might not want to talk about. I am not sure what would be the best direction for him to take going forward and, frankly, I’m glad it’s not up to me to decide. This is gonna sound super SUPER corny but as I’m typing this paragraph I keep hearing that song from The Sound of Music in my head: How do you solve a problem like Maria? (Ahem, David). How do you catch a cloud and pin it down? How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

    (LOL ok you guys can go ahead and laugh at me for making the nun song about David, ha!) Seriously, though. That’s David. How do you pin him down to one type of music? He has so much to give. I just hope people will recognize that magic that he holds in him.

    P.S. I haven’t seen Django Unchained or Zero Dark Thirty yet. I will be intrigued to see how I feel about them if I ever get around to it. Maybe when they come out on dvd.

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