If film is art it must serve the common good through envisioning a creative world that challenges our assumptions and allows us to act in more imaginative ways than what is mediocre and the status quo.
– Greg Veltman
It’s always encouraging when you find other people who are saying the things you’ve been trying to put into words for so long! The above quotation is from this great article from Q Ideas, who are putting out some really great, thought-provoking stuff.
In this article, Veltman looks at some recent popular movies and considers how they address concepts of the common good.
As a form of mass communication, [he says,] film connects and draws our society together into important dialogues and decision-making practices. This influence that film has on the broader culture cannot be overlooked, and ignoring it is unwise.
There’s a radio programme I occasionally listen to called I’ve Never Seen Star Wars. The presenter takes a different celebrity each week and introduces him or her to a series of common experiences that they have never before engaged with. They range from innocuous things like eating Marmite to more significant (and morally questionable) ones like going to the horse races and placing a bet. The premiss is that these are all common experiences within our culture, that you ought to try at least once in your life (I don’t listen often because I do object to some of the things they make people do under that premiss, like betting).
The title is the part that interests me today, though. Star Wars is such a popular film series and has been seen and loved by so many people, that it has formed part of our collective cultural consciousness. To not be familiar with concepts such as The Force, Princess Leia’s hairdo or Lightsabers is to be in some way impoverished (just as so many argued last year about familiarity with the language of the King James Bible). It is part of us and has shaped, to a greater or lesser degree, the way we see the world.
None of the movies Greg Veltman considers are the next Star Wars. None are going to be seen by as many people or remain popular for as many decades, but they are the things people are watching and engaging with now.
The article talks about relationships and individualism, about justice and revenge and, in the bits that most spoke to me, about creativity. I particularly liked this section about Midnight in Paris – although that is partly because I’m such a city-lover! He writes:
One of the key lines comes when Gil says:
“You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can’t. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights, I mean come on, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe.”
It is this idea, that a city, a community of people living together, might just be the best kind of art. It is an embodied form of art, one that humans are constantly creating and living daily, not an artefact stored away in a building or a commodity bought at an auction…. Rarely do we think of our everyday experience as the process of creating a piece of art, our common life together.
I love that. If a movie can make even 1% of its viewers think about how their interaction with the world can be seen as creative, and consider how to create something more beautiful through it, that’s an incredibly powerful thing.
The article ends with a couple of great questions, that are worth asking ourselves as we watch movies (and plays and TV programmes, and see art exhibitions, and read books and…whatever else you can think of). Don’t watch passively; watch with a view to understanding the message of the film, and with a view to letting that understanding inform the way you talk about it afterwards.
The next time you view a film, see if you can pick up on that story’s conception of the common good and how the film speaks to the social, political and economic elements of our society. Does the film show you an imaginative and redemptive vision of how we seek the good in our common life together?
How is the film industry shaping our society’s narrative?
What other films serve the common good?
What have you watched recently? What was its conception of the common good? Do you agree with it?
Let me know, I’d love to hear your thoughts – and do come back sometime as you start to watch things with this extra antenna up – I’d love to hear how it shapes your experience.