Monday, August 28, 2006

Top Gun

Cruise Control

This Tom Cruise business has me thinking, Bush. Let's agree at the start that he's a pretty darn good actor. I've liked his performance in some of his movies--most notably "Risky Business" and "Jerry McGuire." I'll even confess to having gotten a kick out his swagger in "Top Gun"--though looking back on it some twenty years later in the light of America's parading of its shock-and-awe air power in the Middle East and my own philosophical turn toward a more Buddhist world-view, I'd probably find it not a little distasteful today. Not to mention the unavoidable association with your own recent performance, Bush, in flight-suit costume on the deck of that aircraft carrier!

As far as the couch-leaping episode on the Oprah Winfrey show... well, I guess that a movie star is entitled to his antic moments once in a while. Less appealing, to me, was Cruise's appearance with Matt Lauer on the Today show, and his presumptuous castigation of an entertainment industry colleague for her use of anti-depressant medication to control the post-partum blues. The "Psychiatry Kills" bumper-sticker dogma of Scientology is one of its scarier manifestations; and that self-proclaimed religion, frankly, aside from its often bizarre tenets, carries with it the suspicious odor of sanctimony and intolerance. I'll cop to a healthy surge of Schadenfreude, Bush, when I read about Paramount's abrupt cancellation of Tom Cruise's contract.

More interesting, though, to me, was the sidelight on this incident in the form of a chart of the "Top 20" box office stars which was published in yesterday's "Week in Review" in the New York Times. Working forward since 1965, they were rated "by total film grosses" in "billions of 2006 dollars." Top of the list was Harrison Ford, followed at some billions of dollars' distance by Tom Hanks, Eddie Murphy and Sean Connery, before reaching Tom Cruise in 5th place. Then another nine male entries before reaching Julia Roberts at 14, the first of only two women in the bunch.

So I wonder, Bush, what does this have to say about our culture, in the days since the love generation of the 1960s? Is this despite, or because of the women's liberation movement? I'd be interested to know what a comparable list might look like for the '30s, '40s and '50s. Would it be dominated so completely by the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Erroll Flynn, James Stewart, Cary Grant? Or would some of the great women stars' names appear on the big dollar box office grossing list? Marlene Dietrich? Jane Russell? Olivia de Haviland? Judy Garland? June Allison? Elizabeth Taylor? Doris Day? Marilyn Monroe?

A curious speculation, when you think of it. I mean, I've heard complaints about the paucity of great parts for women (most recently, Helen Mirren at last night's Emmys.) But only two women out of twenty?

What I'm reading from this, of course, is that the biggest-grossing pictures are the male-dominated action movies--though in this light it's interesting to see Tom Hanks and Eddy Murphy in the top three. What the list in general suggests about our culture, though, is that as a society we have been obsessed in the recent past with the swagger of the macho action hero, the hair-trigger reaction, the illusion of power and decisiveness, the thrill of competitive aggression, and of course the big win, the "victory."

All of which may be the result of male insecurity in the face of the ascending power of women. It may have to do with the accelerated pace and the increasing challenge to compete in a shrinking world. But any way you explain it, Bush, it's not a pretty picture. Particularly distressing is the realization that this is all chillingly reflected in the reality of the nation's politics. You were elected to the most powerful office in the world not despite, but because of the tough-talking cowboy image you chose to project. The American electorate bought into it.

What seems clear from the mess in which we find ourselves today is that the world can no longer afford these easily accepted attitudes. Our culture thrives on obliviously, somewhere below consciousness in our collective lives (witness the triumph of "24" at the Emmys last night!) but the reality it generates is not just mal-functioning, it's obsolete. Unless we all wake up and make some serious changes in this America we claim to love, we will surely go the way of other dominant, domineering, empire-building cultures of the past. Into the trash heap of history.

Forget about Rambo. Forget about Top Gun, James Bond, Indiana Jones. Let's relegate them to the universe of fantasy, where they belong. Pay heed to "Brokeback Mountain," Bush. Even Hollywood seems to have a glimmer of awareness, an admittedly still tentative finger to the winds of change.


dennis said...

P: The guys like,,,,well we know what they like. And the girls will watch the same crap just to watch the leading male. (thier boyfriends won't go to what they want to watch for content, which is Crap 2).

Hanks is my pick for the best compromise.

And that's the demographic of the formula.
Which will not change.

PK said...

Yeah, it's all back into the John Wayne thing again. But in reality, there aren't many good parts for women these days, it's all about war and killing right now. Patriotism you know... I'd like to see the Lady's get some great parts like Betty Davis did, but then there are very few like her working in show biz today. Kathrine Hepburn was another of my favorites, not many like her either. It goes in spurts, let's hope that some happy day will come along soon where we can see some good old fashioned mystery movies. Always did like little Asta running around;D!