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Posted by bzrd on March 27, 2000 12:50:56 UTC

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ACADEMY`S OSCAR NOMINATIONS SHOW HOLLYWOOD`S NIHILISM

News/Current Events Opinion (Published) Keywords: HOLLYWOOD, ACADEMY
Source: The Union Leader
Published: March 24, 2000 Author: Don Feder
Posted on 03/24/2000 04:10:36 PST by Penny

AT THE ACADEMY AWARDS ceremony on Sunday evening, Hollywood will do what it does best celebrate itself. "American Beauty," nominated for eight Oscars this year, shows Hollywood`s reigning ethos isn`t liberalism as much as a pervasive nihilism that transcends left and right.
Politically, "American Beauty" is predictable. Its most sensitive, sympathetic character is a teenage drug dealer. The least appealing is a retired Marine Corps colonel who beats his son (the pusher), turns his wife into a zombie, collects guns and Nazi memorabilia, raves about "fags" and has a secret crush on the lead character, played by Kevin Spacey. Now that`s original.

"Beauty" also indulges Hollywood`s passion for middle-class bashing portraying suburbia as a wasteland of soul-dead, sexually frustrated, status-obsessed losers.

Coming from a town whose more prominent citizens have homes that make the Taj Majal look like a hovel and have gone through rehab almost as many times as they`ve been married, such moralizing about spiritual impoverishment is rather droll.

But there`s more to the movie than its unremitting Motion Picture Academy correctness. "American Beauty" is the highest expression of the cynicism, hopelessness and death of ideals that the entertainment industry calls entertainment.

The syndrome is analyzed in a new book by Thomas Hibbs, a professor of medieval philosophy at Boston College, "Shows about Nothing Nihilism in Popular Culture from `The Exorcist` to `Seinfeld.`"

The author defines Nietzschean nihilism as "the moral state in which the highest values devalue themselves, human aspirations shrink and the great questions and elevating quests of previous ages no longer have any resonance in the human soul."

Hibbs observed that in "serious" films we increasingly encounter "an implacable and inexorable force, a malevolent power that prevents not only moral transformation and understanding but even escape."

"American Beauty" is a parable of the meaninglessness of existence. It opens with its anti-hero (Spacey) telling us he will be dead within a year, but that`s irrelevant because, in a sense, he`s dead already. In his closing monologue, he expresses gratitude for his "stupid, little life," which he`s come to appreciate by accepting its utter wretchedness.

At the outset, Spacey`s "stupid, little life" consists of a boring job, shrewish wife and sullen teenage daughter. He has an epiphany when he falls for the latter`s cheerleader friend.

Hibbs notes that Hollywood nihilism treats "traditional divisions of good and evil, and victims and assailants as mere conventions. Societal norms of right and wrong are obstacles to self-knowledge, obstacles that render us timid conformists. By contrast, anyone who breaks through the conventions attains a kind of clarity and resolve that most lack."

For Spacey`s character, this clarity and resolve leads him to quit his job, devote himself to bodybuilding (to court his Lolita), get high as often as possible and buy the sports car of his dreams. Thus he achieves a salvation of sorts by reverting to a youth where his highest ambitions were carnal and chemical.

Even this transcendence isn`t enough to save him from his inevitable fate to die violently at the end of the film. For "American Beauty," good is whim indulgence. Evil does not exist.

The dealer-next-door (who films dead birds because he finds them aesthetic) says the father who beats him is "a good man." In a universe without an ultimate source of values, there is no evil, only what is.

In the most popular book of the past year, "The Greatest Generation," Tom Brokaw speculates that the greatness of this generation was forged by the crucible of war and depression. Brokaw has it backward. It was the generation`s values that allowed it to overcome the century`s monumental challenges.

Today, many of Hollywood`s most successful films argue that happiness is an illusion, striving is futile and values are a myth.

Among other culprits, the recent spate of school shooting has been blamed on cinematic violence. That`s only part of the story.

When Hollywood continually tells impressionable adolescents that life is a hopeless, meaningless trap, is it so surprising that some choose to exit in a blaze of Wagnerian glory?
Don Feder is a Boston writer and commentator.
Copyright 2000 The Union Leader


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1 Posted on 03/24/2000 04:10:36 PST by Penny
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To: Penny
Don nails it, as usual.

2 Posted on 03/24/2000 04:20:41 PST by RightOnline
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To: Penny

Good analysis. Even from the preview trailers I found no reason to like this film (let alone go see it.) It says a lot about the Hollywood elite that they hold such films in high regard. Maybe it is a way for them to fultily justify their own depravity and moral abis.

The scarry thing is that many of the sheeple, epecially kids buy into this junk as the aura of peer pressure acceptance is spun by the various media outlets that have pimped themselves to promote stuff like this.

3 Posted on 03/24/2000 10:48:10 PST by anymouse
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To: Penny
"Sunset Boulevard", may have been the "American Beauty" of its day, but it had one famous line that rips Hollywood when Nora says, "I`ve alwas been big. It`s just the pictures that have become small."

4 Posted on 03/24/2000 11:05:32 PST by oyez
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To: Penny
I can`t believe people still watch Oscar shows. You can get a synopsis or results and the obligatory decolletage in People or on the internet the next day.

5 Posted on 03/24/2000 11:06:52 PST by hattend
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To: Penny
Saw the movie, hated it. It was like watching the product of an Ayn Rand doppleganger -- a celebration of anti-matter heroes. The movie was repugnant -- ergo, it`ll win best picture.

6 Posted on 03/24/2000 11:36:29 PST by jlogajan
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To: jlogajan
I loved the movie.

7 Posted on 03/24/2000 11:40:54 PST by Hildy
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To: Hildy
bump

8 Posted on 03/24/2000 15:55:13 PST by oyez
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To: jlogajan
You were right. What equally disgusts me is that Spacey is as spaced-out as Al Gore -- throwing $$$$ at him left and left, all the while criticizing conservatives. My gawd! What next?

9 Posted on 03/27/2000 04:31:38 PST by Penny
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To: jlogajan
The movie was repugnant--ergo, It`ll win best picture.

Pushing the envelope no doubt. Return to sender.

10 Posted on 03/27/2000 04:42:28 PST by patriot x
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