You could say summer starts on Friday. That’s when Insurgent (the latest installment in popular dystopian young adult fiction) premiers. It follows up on the middling success of Divergent, as Tris, Four, and their gang of miscast young adults wage stylized war against “the man.”
You could say this semester has finally begun, as BC pounces on another hit song and readies itself to make another fun video of people dancing and being happy on campus. In the very near future, “Uptown Funk” will drop to the exclaim of parents and prospective students. It’s the third entry into the genre of filmed campus dancing to infectious pop hits. Maybe it’s the final entry in a grand trilogy. Maybe we’re still in the beginning. But people love dancing comedy groups, so let’s keep giving it to them.
You could say I’ve seen the second season of New Girl three times. And you’d be mostly right. I’d say I’ve seen each episode an average of three times. I’ve probably seen Lord of the Rings upward of 30 times. I watch the same stuff over and over again, so how can I fault Hollywood or BC for producing the same stuff over and over again?
It’s really easy to watch the same stuff over and over again. Sure, the original emotion I felt when I first watched it may become sedated or muted over time, but it becomes something I can count on. I know exactly when Merry says, “Buckleberry Ferry, follow me,” that the hobbits will go racing off in what is one of the only action scenes in the first half of the Fellowship. It’s just comforting to know exactly when to laugh or grit your teeth.
It’s something we all do. We’ve all read Harry Potter enough to batter innocent paperback bindings. We’ve all seen Superbad at least five times. We’re all really interested in the genealogy of the families of Westoros (right guys?). I think it’s important to have a few things that you know and a few things you can do really well.
My greatest weakness as a consumer of culture is fear of the unknown. What if Kanye’s album isn’t awesome (just listen to “Runaway” a few times). My time is so precious. Why spend the few hours a week I budget to consumption of culture on a risk like The Royal Tenenbaums (even though it’s a fiercely beloved movie) when I can watch that one Friday Night Lights when Riggins leaves college and tosses his books out of his truck (the dream).
So I get why we’re continuing down the road of “Happy” videos. The form is set. It’s now easy to conceptualize. All you need is a working camera and some students willing to make momentary fools of themselves. But like me and my Lord of the Rings, that original thrill we felt more than a year ago as Pharrell narrated a journey of exuberant dance across our picturesque campus will fade with each new video. We don’t have to obliterate the genre itself. Just try to think of something else.
As for you, my Insurgent friend assaulting theaters across America this weekend with a pixie haircut, tattooed triceps, quivering lips, and wide, teary eyes, I don’t blame you. The tweens aren’t going to come to Boyhood. But when folks talk about the death of originality in American film, they’re talking about you. Not because you’re a sequel, a young adult dystopian film, but because you’re blank, empty.
The best scene from any of the Harry Potter movies was when Harry and Hermione danced in Deathly Hallows Part One. It’s not in the books, but it was a moment of actual humanity. And humanity is unpredictable, sometimes uncomfortable. That’s what we’re afraid of when we avoid eye contact or a polite nod in the quad. It’s simple: acknowledge humanity. It’s what we’re missing if we keep recycling the same forms over and over again.
Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Graphics