Michael Bay, the True Artist

MCMTuesday, July 23, 2013

Since the accident, my wife hasn't been able to look at TV screens for more than a few minutes at a time. Of all the changes that happened around the house, that was maybe the most jarring. We can't go out to dinner anymore, but an absence of an action is fairly easy to digest. It took me almost a year to realize I was paying for cable I didn't need anymore. And so when watching TV became part of her rehab program — we only just made it to 44 minutes with 50% eyes-on-screen time — it was like learning to walk again... you really appreciate the subtleties of the process, in ways you didn't before.

Due to restrictions linked to brain injuries, our outlet of choice has been Netflix. It's easy to play off a laptop at a comfortable distance and brightness, and we can stop at any time and come back the next day right where we left off. And with it brings a type of show we didn't usually watch, because we never subscribed to premium channels: the True Art shows.

Now, in the literary world, I can wrap my head around what makes art, art, and pulp, pulp. Art is the stuff with complexities beyond simple plot, where the characters have knots in them that can't be resolved or even explored in the space of a story. It's the stuff where the quiet moments breathe, and there's craft in the language that just can't fit in a tighter novel. Art is the stuff that can be painfully self-indulgent, because it's the language that counts.

Literary art, I get.

Some of these TV shows, they're held up as high art, but I just don't see a resemblance. The TV equivalent of pulp is "network show", which means flimsy pandering storyline, and easy melodrama. True Art shows are contrasted to that, but while SOME have stories and character development I'd called complex, the vast majority seem to be done by people who have a shaky grasp of storytelling, and try to cover it all up with blood, boobs and swearing.

Yes, I know it's not on regular TV, so you can say the F-word, slice open throats, and have women walk around wearing no tops for absolutely no reason if you want to. And I can appreciate why you'd want to take advantage of that, as a creator: because it's still relatively shocking, and shocking things draw eyeballs. But to pretend that it's somehow a higher form of art is dishonest. These techniques are crass tricks, on par with big explosions in blockbuster movies. And you know what you call movies that have big explosions for absolutely no logical reason, other than to excite? Michael Bay movies.

In art, everything should have a purpose. You can write a story where characters are indiscriminately killed in brutal ways, but it should be in the service of atmosphere: nobody's safe, never let down your guard. You can have endless sex scenes between all kinds of people, because there's emotion there that's being explored — or a lack of emotion, even. You can have characters speak like real people and curse their fucking mouths off, because there's an honesty to it. But exploring the forbidden fruit is not the same as throwing it at the audience for kicks. And we, as an audience, should stop being suckered into applauding it.

That's what TV is becoming. We are gradually becoming a society of people who turn up their noses at less "risky" fare, usually with stronger characters and better writing, to chase after flimsy stuff held together with the intellectual's version of pyrotechnics. Gratuitous ANYTHING is gratuitous, and it does not equate to quality. If it does, Michael Bay is the greatest auteur of our time.

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