A tale told by an idiot

Note: When I originally posted this, I hadn’t made it clear that my issue with this film is not the film’s premise itself, but rather that the filmmakers are selling it by claiming this fiction to be fact. After very several thoughtful comments by readers — particularly by Phil H — I’m adding this note, and am clarifying the distinction.

Yesterday I obliquely criticized the forthcoming film “Anonymous”, which is based on the inane so-called “Oxford” theory that Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets were written not by him, but rather by the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere. This is one of those nutty fringe theories that falls apart like tissue paper as soon as you look at the facts. “Keeping the faith” requires the theory’s small but fanatical band of adherents to carefully and pointedly avoid looking at the vast body of evidence that confirms Shakespeare’s authorship. Effectively, subscribing to this particular conspiracy theory is the scholarly equivalent of repeatedly slapping your hands against your ears while loudly shouting “Wah wah wah!”

By claiming their film to be fact, the filmmakers effectively ask the audience to act like idiots. Of course lot of politicians do essentially the same thing, making false statements that are easily verifiable as such. Yet we’re not talking here about politics — which, after all, merely asks citizens to place their liberty, their safety and the fate of their children into the hands of total strangers. No, when we talk about big-budget Hollywood films, we’re talking about something far more powerful — money.

Is it possible that peddling a movie as fact that is based on the silliest possible premise is a deliberate economic decision? Perhaps deep down most people actually enjoy being insulted, and are drawn to movies as a way to be talked down to and patronized. Maybe, behind the scenes, Orloff and Emmerich and their producers actually had design meetings to figure out the most insulting way to sell a movie, knowing that potential viewers would be drawn to a film that offends their intelligence, spits them in the eye, gives them a big slap upside the head, and essentially shouts “You are an idiot” to their collective face.

I guess we’ll find out soon. The film officially opens on October 28, and the box office doesn’t lie.

8 Responses to “A tale told by an idiot”

  1. Sharon says:

    This would not be the first movie to come out of Hollywood that insults the viewers’ intelligence (an understatement). Why the strong, visceral reacton to this one in particular? It seems to be hitting a hot button.

  2. admin says:

    When Spielberg made “Taken”, which was about UFO conspiracies, he cheerfully explained that the entire enterprise was a work of fiction. In contrast, Emmerich and Orloff have been giving lots of interviews trying to convince the world that this nonsense premise has some relationship to reality.

    I supposed I’m reacting not so much to the film itself, as to the filmmakers. I don’t have any problem with fiction. I do have a problem with people making fiction and then loudly labeling it as fact. In my view, that’s when things start to become insulting to audiences.

    I was also experimenting, by writing two different takes on the same subject, with the second post providing back-story to the first.

  3. Sharon says:

    The first post was like a puzzle. I read it and thought “huh?” (not having heard of the movie or the filmmakers). I looked up (okay, “googled”) the filmmakers, saw the title “Anonymous” with its description, went back and reread the post, and it all suddenly made sense. :-) Actually, I’m still not sure what the last sentence about Bernoulli was referring to, but I did learn from Wikipedia that there were multiple, related, mathematically talented Bernoullis, which I didn’t know.

  4. admin says:

    The 18th century mathematician Daniel Bernoulli’s principle is one way to describe the lifting force of an airplane wing.

  5. Phil H says:

    To reuse the bard’s form: “A tale told by an idiot is still a tale”

    Films are about meaning and narrative, and are in fact usually a way for people to ascribe meaning and overarching narrative to a world full of random chance and no objective meaning. So film is actually about the meta, the meaning, not reality. Just like sci-fi is about humanity, not about science.

    So, just as scientists have to do when watching most disaster movies, you must realise that we must leave disbelief at the doors of the theatre. Leave reality behind, and enter fairyland, enter the magical world where everything has a reason.

    It probably will do well at the box office, because it has a strong enough premise for you to rail against. Most people won’t really care whether that premise is objectively true or not, because they already have too much objective reality to deal with. All they want is a story. That’s why films do well about dinosaurs roaming the earth, or aliens, or supernatural things.

    There is usually a loose connection to reality in order to set the scene, to begin from a common narrative understanding; that there is a bard, that he is famous for writing some of the greatest works in literature. From there, the tale can construct its own world. Ignore the assertions of the nutters, and immerse yourself in the story.

  6. admin says:

    Phil, I completely agree with you, and your point is very well taken. My annoyance was not so much with the film itself, as with the strategy Emmerich and Orloff have employed of drumming up interest by selling it as fact.

    I’ve gone back and added a note to the top of the post, and made sure that this distinction is now clear.

  7. Phil H says:

    Cheers, I understand the annoyance at people who ignore reality in favour of their own pet theory. I suspect we are all guilty of it at times.

    I think this is part of a concerning trend outside the world of storytelling, where whatever hokum story you can invent is eagerly consumed by those who are either paranoid (it’s all this enormous conspiracy!) or looking for a narrative that permits them to feel superior to all those clever people.

    I tend to think that denying reality is not an evolutionarily favourable move, and not one that people can be easily talked out of.

  8. Sharon says:

    It is interesting that they are trying to sell their fantasy by suggesting that it is reality, while it is usually the other way around: ads try to sell you real things by creating an appealing fantasy around them.

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