09 June 2009

Transformers: This rant has been a long time coming.

I've been mentally revisiting my UC Berkeley days a lot lately.

In class, we were encouraged to question everything, even our own perceptions and beliefs. If I believed something to be true, that perceived truth was challenged by my professors. I was asked to disassemble my belief, to champion for the other side, to rearrange, reconstruct, pull apart--you get the point. There were times when the process was tedious and seemed like the professors were flexing their power, but at the end of it all- it helped me to form a concrete understanding of an issue and the way I felt about it.

This process of deconstructing and evaluating information has become a favorite skill of mine. I am grateful that I (perhaps one of very few) left the theatre feeling insulted that Michael Bay didn't attempt to hide his "Buy American Cars" message in the Transformers film. Instead he flew the GM flag so brightly, it was like a night time road crew telling me to switch lanes. And really now--how quickly we forget Transformer's Japanese origin. It was not all that long ago that Tranformers was being syndicated on American TV from Japan, complete with dubbed English. This is not immediate point though, the point is this: we are so accustomed to receiving media, that we wait for it to be given, we receive it without really looking and without questioning what we are given.

For many of my friends, they saw an action film, they saw the typical poor CG that showed up in today's action films, they saw great looking cars and a sexy leading young man and lady (Is Shia Labeouf sexy? Jury is still out on that one). And to an extent, yes- those were all there. But they were all catalysts for throwing this message of "buy American cars" at all of us. Maybe it's not Michael Bay's fault that his motion picture has been turned into an hour and a half GM commercial. Perhaps it's Universal Studios, or NBC, or one of those Big Wig champs up in their sky rise buildings making all the decisions.

We, as a consuming public-desperate for media and entertainment at such a rapid pace-are easily distracted. Like kids with keys jingling in front of our eyes, we are. Jingle the pretty Megan Fox before me and sure, I'll let you tell me to trade in my Honda Accord for a Ford Edge. (I said, "I'll let you tell me" not, "convince me.")

To me, social media is the great exception to mass media consumption. Even though we consume social media in astounding quantities, we exercise choice. We search for people who deliver insightful commentary, we subscribe to comically smart podcasts, we befriend authors for NY Times on Twitter or Facebook. Sure, there are the mindless YouTube videos and celebrity trash sites--and who doesn't love a sophomoric distraction once in a while? But that is exactly the point- we consume what we want when we feel we want it.

Last example to prove my point: If I want to watch an indie film, I have to go to an indie theatre. Thank goodness I live in a metropolitan area where I can watch most any film on the indie market from the dilapidated comfort of a semi-shoddy San Francisco picture house. But not everyone has that opportunity. They are stuck to the mainstream box office hits- they are stuck to the blatant "Buy Chevy!" messaging. Social media has no mainstream- there is no discrimination on individuals based on happenstance of one's geography. In a way, all websites are created equal.

I realize this post, like most of my posts, has been long. And if you are here-- thanks for sticking it out. This is a much larger topic, one that would be best discussed in a group, in a cafe, late at night. But for now-- feel free to comment back. Tell me if that movie convinced you to purchase a Camaro, and if it did... can I borrow it?

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