Friday, April 02, 2010

The Blind Side

I watched the movie The Blind Side recently. I enjoyed it. It was a feel good, rags to riches, happy ending movie. Sandra Bullock was entertaining and likable as usual. But ...

I used to hate it when people would dissect movies and books and talk about cultural meaning. I just wanted the entertainment, don't give me deep meaning! That probably had something to do with hating school and how "studying" a book was pretty much a sure fire way to destroy any enjoyment you might have gotten from it.

It also probably doesn't help that I'm in the middle of reading Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle which has only deepened my disillusionment over our culture.

So I couldn't help myself from looking at this movie from a cultural viewpoint.

Rich white family takes poor black boy off the street and he becomes a football star. It's based on real people and events.

The father owns a bunch of fast food outlets. Great, he gets rich while destroying the health of a whole generation. At one point, he is asked what happens to the leftover food from the restaurants and whether they could give it to the needy. He halfheartedly supposes they could look into it, but it's never mentioned again.

The mother (Sandra Bullock) is an interior decorator/designer - someone who helps people spend money on stuff they didn't know they needed. There's a productive, valuable role in society.

They live in a huge ostentatious mansion, which, of course, is what we're all supposed to aspire to. They sit around and watch TV and drink soda pop.

When Michael (the poor black boy) moves in with them, what is the first thing the mother teaches him? Family values? No, she asks him if he knows how to shop and tells him she's going to teach him. Shopping - the number one pastime in our culture. Buying stuff you don't need, 99% of which ends up in the trash, which of course is necessary so you can buy more stuff you don't need. The loser is the environment - destroyed by the extraction of resources necessary to make the stuff, and destroyed by the pollution from all the discarded stuff.

Michael ends up in a rich white private christian school. He gets in because the coach manipulatively uses "christian" arguments in a thinly veiled cover over wanting to get a big black guy on his football team. They make this obvious in the movie, like it's a good thing to manipulate this way.

Michael only manages to get good enough marks to get a football scholarship because the rich family hires a private tutor for him.

And what is the moral of the story? That if you're incredibly win the lottery lucky, you can get picked up off the street, taken to live in a huge mansion with rich folks who will teach you to shop and buy you a big "red-neck" truck (their words) and become a rich, famous, football celebrity. (and presumably get your own mansion). A modern day Cinderella story I guess.

But it's what kids have been brainwashed to want these days - to be "discovered", to get on American Idol or Survivor, or to win the lottery. More than twice as many people apply to MTV's Real World show than to Harvard. (from Empire of Illusion)

There's not much redeeming value here. There's no message about working hard to succeed. Michael is portrayed as passive, basically just going along with these miraculous events. (Presumably the real life character had to work hard at school and at football, but that's not shown in the movie.) He's not even following a dream of playing football. At the end he's asked if he enjoys it. He evades the question and just says he guesses he's good at it.

It wouldn't be so bad if the message was "work hard and dream of striking it rich", or "do what you love and make the most of your talents". But in our culture it has become "sit around and watch TV and go shopping, and pin your hopes on being discovered". Is it any surprise that most people aren't very happy?


  1. Excellent analysis. Thanks for this. (I was tempted to say, "Who are you and what have you done with Andrew." Oops. I guess I have.)

  2. Very depressing. In Britain the culture among most boys is to hope to become a star and a 'celebrity'. It is only the middle classes who have any ethos of effort and that perpetuates social divides. And also the immigrants who do menial jobs but are determined their children shall not.

    Girls have slipped backwards - stories written eighty years ago for girls were about their achievements - winning hockey matches, catching burglars, chasing spies and so on. Not so now. Perhaps though it was always the middle classes who read those stories.

    We scorn what we see as the American desire to make money and enjoy ostentatious luxury but is that not better tha thelabsence of any aspiration beyond 'being a star'?

  3. Excellent points. Thanks for the review - I think I'll give that movie a pass. I don't need to see more of that kind of stuff. Instead, I think I'll go outside and split some firewood. ;-)