Perhaps the biggest complaint I hear about movies, especially in the current climate, is that “movies are too political nowadays”. This complaint really grinds my gears, and not just because movies have always been political, and they’re no more or less so now than they were once upon a time in the land of golden nostalgia. What really irks me about this complaint is that it’s so dumbfoundedly stupid – like, what are you actually trying to say to me? You don’t want movies to deal in the social and political contexts of the time in which they were made? Tough shit, matey! Welcome to…. y’know, like, art!
Look, I’ve written about this before, and anyone who knows me or reads this blog (I’m assuming members of both groups exist, here) will know where I stand on this one. For the newbies (if there are any) let’s just say that it’s my belief that to divorce art from the social and political contexts of the time in which they were made – and the time in which the viewer is watching it, for that matter – is next to, if not entirely, impossible. Nor should you try to.
Films are a reaction to stuff. They’re made by people, and people, well… they live in a society. And that society has politics. Did you not see Joker!?
All kidding aside, though, the fact remains that everyone is merely reacting to their surroundings, and for pretty much every single person those surroundings include sociological and political stuff. To demand that movies shouldn’t deal in that would be like telling a fish off for swimming in water. Not only does it need the water to live but it can’t really swim in anything else anyway.
When we look at films from all time periods we can see, oftentimes quite obviously and clearly, how political and sociological events of the time influenced or directly impacted their production. Whether you’re looking at a really clear cut example, like John Carpenter’s They Live and it’s attack on capitalism, or a less obvious one, like Sam Mendes’ recent Oscar baiter 1917, which, let’s be honest, only really exists at all because… well, British pride and all that shite, but even then goes out of its way to make the point that, like, war is bad, man.
Even the flipping Avengers are at it. And not just with the racists favourite Marvel piñata, Black Panther, either. We see it in Captain Marvel, we see it in Captain America. Hell, we even see it in Guardians of the Galaxy (vol.1 and 2) where several times toxic masculinity comes under the microscope and is explored.
The truth is, when people say “movies are too political these days” they’re just talking absolute rubbish. Movies have always been and will always be political. That’s it. There’s nothing you can do about it. Get over it and go watch old episodes of Top Gear or something.
However, and this is really the point I want to get to, there is a certain aspect of modern cinema that has become overtly politicised, and yes, it is more so than it once was.
That’s right, people, welcome to the wonderful world of movie marketing; where all news is good news, and nothing sells tickets like a forced controversy or a sociological or political slant. It’s where you sell your horror movie not on its scares but on the fact that it’s a post-Me Too story, or you make sure your reboot is known as a gender-switch movie before it’s known as a good one.
There’s something to be said about the way in which movies are marketed these days. I suspect the Black Christmas reboot, for example, wouldn’t have had half the discussion and views it got (and that’s saying something) if it wasn’t for the fact that everyone knew it was pissing off misogynistic wanks by being – dun, dun, dunnnn – feminist!
Thing is, the studios are always going to want to drum up conversation, hype and awareness of their film, and politicising movies in the marketing seems to be doing a pretty damn good job of it. Whereas in the past – before the dark times, before the Empire – movies got by on word of mouth, spectacle, and by being literally the only thing you could watch at the cinema, the modern cinematic landscape is totally different. Streaming means there are more options available, and that people simply don’t need to go to a multiplex or to a rental store to watch stuff.
Studios are going to try and draw you in somehow, but when every single f**king film is a giant blockbuster with millions of dollars pumped into it, it’s not like they can rely on the spectacle angle to get bums in seats. And, unless you’re Marvel, the event movie doesn’t seem to be doing all that well either.
And, let’s be honest, it only works for Marvel because they spent years making it work.
So, trying to tap into whatever movement seems to be gaining the most traction, the most sympathy, or the most controversy is as good a marketing tool as any. And we all fall right into that trap. You really think the guys at Warner cared you though Joker was an incel calling card? Of course they bloody didn’t, and you know why? Because it got you into the cinema to see for yourself.
Movies haven’t become more political. They just haven’t. But the marketing of movies sure as hell has. At least, when it comes to mainstream cinema. This sort of controversy was the kind of thing we sued to reserve for Video Nasties and genre movies – where being banned was an odd badge of honor. Remember when Fight Club put bad reviews on its poster? Same thing, just then it wasn’t the norm.
But look, it works. It works like a treat. That sort of cult film thinking has become the mainstream. Controversy gets results. So, while we’re all arguing over whether or not Star Wars has gone “too liberal” or some bollocks, the folks at movie marketing are quickly searching for the next thing that’ll help them sell tickets.