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!
I 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.
It’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.