BE #1 → Film and the Fear of Audience Numbification

Note: I am aware numbification is not a word. It is a statement.

Benjamin, Adorno and Horkheimer, and Bazin all held different views on film, but a common view they shared was that film is altering the way people think. More than that, they all seemed to fear and question if film was making the audience become numb to new thought. There is no debate that film is a powerful tool. Even Benjamin believed that film held a positive social significance. However, the way film has been used has turned this positive tool into a negative controlling machine. By that, I mean that film has altered the way we think, and not in a good way.

Benjamin argued that the advancement of photography and film was actually preventing the viewer from thinking original thoughts. He believed that the “meaning of each single picture appears to be prescribed by the sequence of all preceding ones” (226). He furthered this idea by saying that with film, by the time one is able to process what they were seeing, the image had already changed. This rapid succession forces the audience to relate one image to the next rather than allowing the viewer to process and think about what each individual image is saying.

Adorno and Horkheimer also hold negative views of film. They believe that there is an exclusion of the new in Hollywood (i.e., Hollywood rejects films that are not based on previous works) and that for the modern man, pleasure is equivalent to not thinking. Unlike Benjamin, they believe that the viewer does not want to think, but they agree that film is a cause or an effect of that. In order for a film to be enjoyable, “no independent thinking must be expected from the audience” and “any logical connection calling for mental effort” must be avoided (137). Simplicity, then, becomes the ideal as pleasure has become the idea of doing nothing (due to capitalism, which promotes amusement as the prolongation of work).

Bazin is different from the other theorists as he actually viewed film and adaptations as something positive. However, Bazin is still aware of the ideal of simplicity that dominates society. He claims that the purpose of film adaptations is to “simplify and condense” a novel to make it more consumable for the viewers (25). He even states that one novel would have been so difficult for the viewers that “the reality of the book would have ignited the screen” (25). In this instance, Bazin is admitting to the simplification of film and the lack of thinking required by the audience. If the book is able to deal with such issues, or morals, or values, or events, then why is the film unable to? Because the film is easily distributed to the masses; the film must be dumbed down (or simplified) so that all that remains is the characters and events, all significance and meaning removed.

Essentially, film is preventing us from thinking, or encouraging us not to, due to the simplicity and repetitiveness of its plots. Now what demonstrates these ideas clearly in today’s modern society? Why, the remake of course!

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Hollywood is obsessed with the remake. Perfectly good films are being remade for no apparent reason. The real reason is that remakes allow filmmakers (i.e. the money-makers) to control what we are thinking by selecting from a pool of pre-existing stories (the exclusion of the new). Another reason is that through remakes, one is being prevented from thinking as they already know the story. Take all the recent Sherlock Holmes remakes/adaptations.

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With these remakes, one is already aware of who the villain is, or what the plot-twist is, therefore, the audience does not need to think about the clues as they already know where Sherlock will end up. In order to keep these remakes entertaining, however, the filmmakers add slight variations (such as setting Sherlock in the 21st century) in order to prevent audience boredom, as Adorno and Horkheimer suggest.

What is the point of preventing the audience from thinking, or of simplifying plots? Control. If the audience cannot think, then the audience cannot rebel. If the audience cannot rebel, then those who make the movies, and therefore the money, remain in control.

Our society holds a value for “mindless entertainment” (who doesn’t have a film or TV show guilty pleasure?) but then we have films like Inception, where half the people who see it proclaim that “they don’t get it.” Inception is a thinking film; it has a plot that one has to follow in order to understand. This appears contradictory to the theorists above. Does this mean that society is beginning to move away from thoughtless plots and entertainment? I don’t think so. I believe that what’s happened is that society is being divided up into “upper” and “lower” classes, but this time the division is not necessarily formed by wealth, but by knowledge and thought (but of course those with money tend to have better educations and therefore better thinking processes). We believe that film has made culture accessible to all, anyone can go see a film, but I believe there is a film division. Those who are able to think, to create, to produce, are the ones who see these “thinking” films. They are the ones who understand, and they are the ones society uses for change. They become the money-makers. Those who can’t are reduced to nameless consumers in the mass of mindless entertainment.

My big question is has this divide always existed? Will it ever not exist?

I came up with the idea that the whole point of art is about brainwashing” – Mr Brainwash


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