In the interest of performing a public service, we present here a list of words whose use has become so tiresome and offensive in film and entertainment circles that we thought it best to enumerate them for your personal avoidance and possible violence against their users. Being free-thinkers, we leave it up to you how you might wish to deal with those critics and reviewers who continue to employ such words. We would remind you that if you see one of these phrases in your local newspaper or film magazine, remember that any act you perpetrate against the sayer, however seemingly justified or desirable or admirable, could also affect that person’s ancillaries and minions — family, lovers, friends. On the other hand, if you can live with the possibly prolonged, agonizing dispatch of an aggravating film critic, then who are we to say nay?
Having no wish ourselves to harm the often innocent relatives and friends of these critics (we are usually too busy watching Mario Bava movies), we must decline to identify the authors of the offending quotes that follow. We feel we will have accomplished much in simply alerting you to the existence of these gut-wrenching phrases. We hope you understand our reluctance to reveal the authors’ identity, and would caution you that monetary bribes, especially in the sums typically parlayed in such circumstances, will have little impact on our decision. And again, we say, any act you perform against a windbag-critic must be something you can live with. If your personal moral code permits the beheading or otherwise hacking-up of an offending blowhard critic; if it allows the dipping of a human body into a tub of sulfuric acid, or a face rammed into a quietly glowing gas burner; if it gives the nod to tying someone to a tree, painting a lurid bullseye design on his or her face, then target-practicing with arrows wrapped in flaming rags; if it says yea to the time-tested limb-ripping of a body each of whose extremities is tied to a nervous, powerful, ready-to-bolt horse; well, one mark of a democratic society is respect for each others’ moral codes.
We encourage readers to clip the following list for handy reference. You might lay it alongside the review or article and systematically check for the presence of these phrases; or you could pin it to a public bulletin board (say, in your local laundromat) or other clearly visible place so that it can be seen at all times. Feel free to break our stringently observed copyright laws and photocopy this item, pass it around to friends, mail it to appropriate target-critics (with a warning, perhaps?), and create discussion groups — all these strategies will help us in eradicating these phrases from our cultural vocabulary.
Cross-referenced term: SURVIVOR, n. This term has been trounced too often to discuss it extensively here. Suffice it to say that, while intended to describe a person who has suffered some unusual travail and come out of it relatively whole, it is almost always applied, in the national media, to wealthy public figures (actors, politicians) who have had the same alcohol, drug, family, and relationship problems that characterize the lives of 98% of the disaffected American population. Fortunately, there is a campaign afoot to recapture (did I mean reinvent? no, I didn’t) this word and reassert its original, true meaning: a person who is alive, i.e., breathing, period.
DISTANCIATION, n. This term, commonly associated with Brecht, and a serviceable, lucid concept in Brecht’s time, became invariably attached in the 1960s to the commercial cinema (Universal Studios) of Douglas Sirk. Sirk himself took up the cause of shifting the term from Brecht and other historic “distanciators” to himself in the film-world consciousness, by endlessly harping on it in interviews. “Yes, I distanciated that scene,” “Oh yes, that movie of mine sure is distanciated,” “You know how deeply I believe in distanciation,” etc. (We will not dwell on the highly questionable syntax of a word like “distanciated.”) Of course, since Sirk’s films do consistently bear double readings — as conformist women’s pictures parading every feature of capitalist success (Lana Turner’s jewelry and clothes in Imitation of Life) and as irony-drenched critiques of the same consumer-capitalist culture (Turner is completely unsympathetic) — there is certainly some basis for applying the term to him. But for God’s sake, enough! It’s the 1990s and we are sick of hearing it, in any of its forms. It is now so grossly overfamiliar that it no longer has any meaning. We would be willing to participate in any official or unofficial ceremony expunging it from the dictionary and the popular unconscious.
MEDITATION, n. This is in some ways the most insidious of these terms. It is the most sentimental, pretentious, fanciful, and misleading of this group. Example: “Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch is a meditation on violence.” Translation: “Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch is an extremely violent movie, filled with bullet-riddled bodies, women beaten to the ground by grunge-faced old cowpokes, Mexicans massacred in churchyards,” etc. This concept of meditation is a way of disingenuously stating a concept — most often, violence — while sidestepping its implications and of course the authors’ (both critic of the piece and director of the film) involvement, even complicity in it. It isn’t a hacked-up body, it’s a meditation on a hacked-up body, so the furtive pleasure that critic and director receive from this imagery is “intellectual” and not, heaven forbid, visceral. The audience is also let off the hook; it can imagine it’s watching some kind of detached, fussy study, a “meditation” on a hacked-up body rather than the bloody corpse itself. In addition to rating high on the annoying-cliche meter, “meditation” is simultaneously pretentious and actually devoid of meaning and marks the writer as a hopeless fool.
Cross-referenced terms: BALLETIC, CHOREOGRAPHED, adj. (applied to violence). These words, acceptable in discussions of dance, have attached themselves like leeches to the word violence. So violence that is protracted is “balletic,” particularly if it contains crypto-sadistic elements. “Choreographed” is another deceptive term often used when there is nothing particularly “dancelike” about a violent scene, but simply a tableau in which a group of actors go at each other. These disingenuous terms beg to be banned, and we hereby declare our intention to support this effort.
In summary, we encourage our readers to send in their own lists of annoying, alarming, offensive words that circulate in the entertainment circles of our pathetic collapsing capitalist culture. Together perhaps we can create a common cultural vocabulary free of rank stupidities and gross, faux “insights.”
Next time: “Deconstruction,” the “male gaze,” and that old warhorse, “the Other”