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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Overture and Mission Statement

Like just about everyone I know, I have decided to start reviewing B movies on the internet. I've loved film as long as I can remember (especially, say, the kind of things that Svengoolie has been showing in Chicago since I was five years old). I'm also interested in pop culture and fads, and in the way that entertainment intended for a mass audience will reflect the concerns of that mass audience.

And what could be more interesting than seeing--with the benefit of hindsight and perspective--what was going on in the mass culture during the Cold War? Certainly there's a reason people were terrified of even the possibility of nuclear war. But seeing how that fear was expressed in the popular culture of the time and how it changed with the passing of time? Well, at least I'm interested in it and I hope I'm able to articulate some of the ways art, commerce and culture intersected from roughly 1946 to 1993. And if that's going to be my niche, it's a comfortably big niche. I'm hoping to primarily concentrate on the cheaper and more obscure cultural artifacts, partly because the movies with less conscious thought put into them are closer to the sociopolitical id than ones that the filmmakers spent years polishing and perfecting and partly because cheap monster movies are a lot of fun to watch. For similar reasons I'll try to concentrate on science fiction and other fantasy genres (Chuck Norris re-winning the Vietnam war by himself can only be considered fantasy by any viewer not in a permanent vegetative state); it's a look at the wishes, dreams and nightmares of American culture during a decades-long stretch of doubt, crisis and opportunity.

"Art is anything that communicates," according to Professor Geoffrey Hammill in the media studies department at Eastern Michigan University. Half his students hated him because he was the evil genius of the EMU communications department; the other half loved him for the exact same reason. "It is impossible for a work of art to be made that does not reflect the cultural times in which it was made," he also told us. "Either it agrees with the culture of the time or it's opposed to it, but it still invariably reflects the time and place in which it was made." If you like the insights that I try to supply in my reviews, please think kind thoughts of Prof. Hammill and Doctor Henry Aldridge, both of whom helped immeasurably as I tried to develop my critical faculties when I was working towards the B.S. in Electronic Media and Film Studies that I hold. If you think that my B.S. is just BS, that's entirely a reflection on my inability to communicate instead of a knock on either of them. They were trying to teach and they've been doing it for decades; it isn't their fault if someone failed to learn.

It wasn't all nuclear doom and Stepford smiles during the Cold War, incidentally. That's why this blog is called Checkpoint Telstar. The "Checkpoint" symbolizes the negative aspects of culture during the half-century or so after the second world war. But "Telstar" is the opposite side of that metaphorical coin. There was always more than just a Leave it to Beaver world during the not-so-recent past (it took until 1964 for America to not be an officially white supremacist society, even on paper). Firehoses and attack dogs turned on children during the civil rights movement and the House Un-American Activities Committee used as a cudgel against the culture industry, but also the Berlin Airlift feeding a blockaded city and the total eradication of smallpox worldwide. Repression and progress. Deliberate ignorance and world-redefining discoveries. Fear and freedom. Star Trek telling us mankind would work together in the future and The Day After suspecting that there wasn't going to be one.

So. Let's pass through Checkpoint Telstar together and see what we find.

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