Monday, September 26, 2011

The Way We Were

Lion King 3-D is the number one movie in the country for the second week in the row. Today, several articles hailed its showing as the surprise hit of the year. Disney is even considering extending dates. A traditional pre-computer animation cartoon released more than a decade ago (1994) re-released in 3-D format, how did it gain such speed?

Well, if you're a 20-30-something American, the most surprising aspect of this story is the fact that industry insiders didn't anticipate this audience reaction. To Generation Me Lion King represents Disney's golden age: Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Lion King. With its identifiable archetypal characters, the theme of a hero's journey, an Academy-Award winning Elton John/Tim Rice soundtrack and characters voiced by James Earl Jones and JTT/Jason Weaver, Lion King taught us about life and death and redemption in a fun, sing-along way.

It makes perfect sense that kids, especially grown-up kids, flocked to the theater the past two weekends. While new audiences discovered the movie, friends of mine attended screenings where the audience sang along and shouted out dialogue. Call me quick to label, but I find Millennials to be the most nostalgic group I know.

Here's an (condensed) exchange I had with one of my best friends the other day:
S: I'm excited, I never got to see Lion King on the big screen.
D: Really? It's the second movie I saw in a theater, after Aladdin.
S: I love Aladdin! I saw it too, and we stayed after in the theater to watch it again. Aladdin was hot.
D: Especially as the prince.
S: What was his name? Ali Ababwa?
D: Yep. The song went: Prince Ali, fabulous he, Ali Ababwa.
S: Strong as 10 regular men, definitely.

... And then we realized, we - two grown-ass 25 year-olds - know all the lyrics to that song. In fact, I'd venture to guess we know all the lyrics to every song in that movie.

Why are we so obsessed with our childhood fascinations? I've observed with some curiosity that the average age of writers has to be 25. Lately, the PopWatch blog has dedicated several posts to JTT, SNICK programming and Saved by the Bell, just to name a few.

With the 10th anniversary of 9-11 behind us, I am often told that my generation lost its innocence on the tragic day. Is that the reason we yearn to be reunited with our childhood TV buddies? Ten years ago, there was no YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, social or new media. My family had dial-up Internet and I did not have a cell phone, even though I would soon be driving. Perhaps we are seeking to recapture the feeling we got when we rushed home to catch our favorite shows afterschool, something that seems quaint in the days of On-Demand, Tivo and Internet streaming.

Why do you think Millenials are so nostalgic? Or, maybe I'm being short-sighted. Have humans always been this nostalgic?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Period Dramas: Stylishly Glossing Over Grit

This summer, I had an averse reaction to Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. "Why?" my film-studying friends asked. Because I don't idealize the past. Much as I love classic '50s and '60s cinema, I would never wish to live in another time. The modern age may be rife with digital age issues and economic depression, but we are also living in a time (at least in the US) of the most equality thus far.

Now, I've only watched one episode of Mad Men, so that's really not enough to judge the content of the show. What I do know is the drama has garnered much praise for bringing back the '60s vibe. I will agree, vintage fashion is cute (minus those weird cone bras), but '60s attitude is anything but. I guess as viewers we're all supposed to root for Peggy, the first female copywriter in her agency, a wide-eyed young woman making her way in a man's world. But, all I can help but think is how misogynist the show, and the '60s were. And Mad Men, for all its exposure of the advertising underbelly, seems to underplay the social issues of the time.

Premiering next week are two more TV shows playing up the alleged fabulousity of the Civil Rights Era. So far, all the praise for Pan Am and Playboy Club has revolved around their plays on nostalgia. I see nothing nostalgic about a time in which women had to meet certain beauty standards to be selected as stewardesses. And as a modern, intellectual, freethinking woman, when I think Bunny Club, I think blantant mistreatment of women, not those women knew how to put themselves together. I thought Gloria Steinem had established just how skeevy conditions there were.

Think of all the strives we have made since the '60s. Women's lib. Civil rights. Better immigration laws (prior to 1965, there was an Asian Exclusion Act in place). Gay rights. We might not have progressed to where we ought to be - Cukoo Michele Bachmann announced the other day that she wished the the Exclusion Act had never been lifted! But, my gosh, why would I ever want to go back?

Seeing these new shows on TV does make me wonder if there's a certain anxiety in our culture that has lead to their development. Are people yearning for "simpler times?" When men couldn't marry men in New York? And white was right? Don't feed me a high-gloss fantastical whitewash of history. Show me what was really going on.