Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why People Prefer New Films

A good question came up Sunday asking why audiences prefer new films to older films. For the vast majority of people, if a film isn't truly fresh, then they aren't interested, even if they haven't seen the older movie. Why are people like this? Let's discuss some possible answers.

Let me start with the setup. General audiences love new movies, but they actually seem turned off by older movies, and the older the movie, the harder it is to get them to watch. For example, you would have no problem convincing people to watch a movie from 2012. A movie from 1992, however, would be a different matter. And forget a movie from 1962 or 1952. In fact, if you took a room full of people and you asked them which movie they would like to watch, even if you told them the 1962 and 1952 movies were the best, they would still overwhelmingly choose the 2012 movie. Fascinating.

So what is going on?

Well, tryanmax came up with some excellent ideas, which I will address as they arise, but let me start with this. Choosing a newer movie is the rational choice. Why? Quality assurance. Seriously. Humans can minimize their chances of making a wrong decision by going for the newest possible product that is available. I think similar logic applies to their selection of films. Consider the following three reasons why people view "new" as an indication of quality.

(1) Depreciation: Think about cars. People prefer new cars to older cars. We know this because new cars cost more. In fact, take the extreme example. You have a brand new 2013 Ford POS with less than 10 miles on it. By happenstance, the dealer just happens to have an identical unsold 2012 Ford POS with less than 10 miles on it. The 2012 will be worth significantly less than the 2013 even if it has the same body, color and options. Why is that? Because people assume the new car is of a higher quality, even if they are identical. Does this make sense? Well, yeah. The 2012 has a year's worth of corrosion on it. Its rubber is a little more brittle. Its paint is a little more oxidized. And if you try to sell it down the road, the buyer won't care that you bought it new in 2013, they'll only see that it was made in 2012. This is the same reason you pick out milk or fruit with the newest date on it, even though you plan to eat it long before the date passes: products depreciate over time.

But do films suffer from depreciation? Yes, they do. Like cars, films "age." And by age, what we mean is that everything about the film becomes less relatable in the present. The clothing, the dialog, the slang, the types of cars and homes, the things that matter to the characters. Tryanmax called this "creating a temporal distance," and I think that's very accurate. And the further back in time you go, the greater the temporal distance and the harder it becomes for modern audiences to relate. Thus, for example, if you don't own a leisure suit (or even know what one is) or if gas is plentiful, then a film set against the fuel shortages of the 1970s have a hard time feeling real to you. In the modern world of the US's dominance, a 1960s thriller about the Soviets taking over the world might be hard to care about. A 1930s film about a floozy in a speakeasy might seem like utter nonsense to you.

Films age because society changes, and the more society changes the harder it will be for most people to put themselves into the world they are watching, and that means they will enjoy those films less. By picking a new film over an old film, the average person all but guarantees they won't encounter this problem.

(2) Innovation/Improvement: People also prefer new things because new things are more innovative and tend to be technologically superior. Consider medical books or science books. Those depreciate in value very quickly as human knowledge grows and these books become outdated. Products experience this too. Older sports gear is heavier and less protective. Older computers have less power. Older houses don't have all the modern features. Older dogs are harder to train, as are older foster kids. Everywhere you look, older is lower quality, and our society reinforces this idea in our idioms, in how we sell things to each other, and in what we value.

A related point is that the newest products generally have their kinks worked out. Always skip the first model year of a new model. Why? Because they haven't worked out the kinks yet. Wait until they fix the problems they discover. Similarly, most people are slow to jump on new products until the early adapters have helped work out all the glitches. This may be behind an issue I've noted with books too. If you are selling five books and they came out one per year from 2009 to 2013, you would be amazed how many people will happily grab the 2012/2013 books, but will flat out ignore the "old" 2009/2010 books. Why? Well, I suspect they realize that most authors need time to hit their stride. So if you want to get the highest value for your buck, you pick up the books that are likely to be the highest quality, and that would be the most recent because logic suggests that you need time to refine your craft. Practice makes perfect, after all.

Is the same true of films? Absolutely. Knowledge is cumulative. And over time, film techniques, special effects and story telling techniques have improved. The reason for this should be obvious: each generation of filmmakers essentially can take the best of the past and recreate it while adding their own innovations. For example, while it may have taken a real breakthrough for Orson Wells to decide to put ceilings on his sets, every filmmaker knows to do this today. Steven Spielberg taught us in Jaws that delayed gratification can increase drama. Quentin Tarantino opened the door to strong nonlinear storytelling. And so on. Each innovation goes from unique risk to just another tool in the toolbox. So if an average person wants a film that is most likely to be based on the highest amount of quality engineering and is most likely to have the kinks worked out, then a more modern films is logically your better choice.

And just a few quick examples can show why this is reasonable. Which has better special effect? Harry Potter or a horror film from the 1960s? Which has more realistic dialog? A film from the 1980s or a film from the 1940s? Which has a stronger score? A film from the subtle 1970s or a film from the 1950s where bombastic was the word of the day? Even story telling has improved because there are so many more tools now. Again, by picking the newest films, the person improves their chance of getting the most value for their dollar.

(3) The Herd: Finally, there's another aspect of the human condition that gets us to buy new things: the herd instinct. In fact, this is the most common form of advertising pitch - "Don't you want to keep up with the Jones? Celebrity X owns one." What this does is play on the human instinct to not get too far from what the rest of the herd is doing. This instinct exists in all aspect of consumer behavior, so it's logical that it exists in the selection of entertainment too.

Tryanmax made this point: "everybody just wants to see what their friends are seeing." Said differently, people may see entertainment more as a form of "keeping up with the Jones." That would mean that people are drawn to current films not just because they think they might enjoy them but so they can maintain their place in society by talking intelligently about the latest films and thereby demonstrating their herd-savvy. Consequently, since the rest of the herd isn't racing out to see Risky Business, there is a low value placed on seeing that film, certainly a much lower value than seeing the current blockbuster. And since human activity time is limited, older films tend to lose out because the time allotted to watch films is being absorbed by herd-fare.

Now obviously, the above ideas don't apply to everyone. Some people are contrarians and will actively avoid herd-fare. Some people are nostalgic for an era. Some people are film buffs and like different films for different reasons. But for the vast majority of people, films are not something they want to develop as a hobby. So when they decide to see a film, they simply want the film that is most likely to provide them with the best value for their time. In that event, it is logical for them to assume that a modern film will likely be more relatable, will be made with higher quality techniques, and will deliver a bigger social payoff. So it makes sense that they would pick the more modern films.

Thoughts?

80 comments:

Kit said...

I can see that certain movies have not aged well or that some have acting styles that are hard to get into.

That said, some old movies are great "gateway movies". Movies that are old but easy to relate to today.
Examples include Casablanca, It's a Wonderful Life, Double Indemnity, Duck Soup, and some others.
Any great Three Stooges sketch works fine as well.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, I agree and those tend to be the ones that non-movie buffs will actually watch when they consciously set out to watch something classic.

And to repeat, I'm not saying that new movies are better... I don't personally believe that. I'm just saying that to average people, new movies will appear to be better.

Kit said...

I think you are right that new movies will appear better to most people.

Something you leave out: The movie Swing Time ranks among the best put out by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Unfortunately, for its big dance number, Fred Astaire looks like this: LINK

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Yeah, that's a problem. It's unfortunate that a lot of things like that film will be lost because they did something that is now considered offensive. Ironically, the way political correctness works, things that are PC today will be considered offensive within a decade or so.

Kit said...

I'll admit, I felt uncomfortable watching that scene. Granted, I was stifling laughter at how shocking it was to see it.

shawn said...

How about shrinking attention spans? Thanks to high speed internet and the quick-cut action movies from Micheal Bay and his ilk, things happen quickly. Older movies move at a slower pace as older movies tend to be more character oriented.

Tropes. Kids today have seen more movies than their grandparents did in yesteryear due to the ubiquity of movie theaters and VHS/DVD/Blu-Ray. What was new back then is old hat by now. Hookers with a heart of gold, gruff but misunderstood/lovable old folks, rich folks learning an important lesson from the poor, the list goes on and on.

Desensitization. Geuss Who's Coming to Dinner? was shocking back in 1967, but now? People have seen inter-racial marriage for decades. Heck, I can remember the very first time I heard the word "Ass" on network tv. It was back in the late 80s on Married with Children. My buddy and I looked at each other in shock and said, "Did she just say what I think she did?" Now course language is everywhere. Alien was rated R in 1979, I saw it the other day on SyFy and they had a slight cut at the chestburster scene, but otherwise showed everything.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, It takes a lot before a scene bothers me. That one doesn't. I get why people don't like it, but it doesn't bother me because there was no intent to be insulting at the time.

shawn said...

Oops, that should read "coarse language".

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, Shrinking atten... yeah, whatever. Just kidding. ;-)

In all seriousness, those are all good points.

I think the shrinking attention spans are part of why films don't relate. It's very hard to watch a film that takes place at a pace that you are unaccustomed to. Desensitization probably falls into this too category too. I have at various times run into old films that were basically filling time until the "shocking" reveal, only to discover that what shocked them is pretty common today. Twenty years ago, it might have had me talking, but today it feels like I just wasted my time.

As an aside on what gets cut on television, I've been amazed over the years how less and less gets cut out... but at the same time, other things now get cut out instead. I've noticed that a LOT of violence is now allowed, as is more swearing, but racial and anti-gay stuff gets cut.

On tropes, I wish I could say that we are getting away from tropes, but it seems that filmmakers still go back to those every chance they get.

ScottDS said...

I remember watching Ghostbusters on network TV and they had shot alternate TV-friendly takes without profanity. Nowadays, most of it's allowed. (I think they still bleep out something like "Dickless" but "We kicked its ass!" can stay in.)

Hell, even at the young age of 30 I have to watch my references. I work with people who are 20 and if I make a reference to something like Animal House, there's a big chance they won't get it. But not everyone has parents who are into movies and I'm lucky in that my parents introduced me to old movies at a young, impressionable age.

Tennessee Jed said...

It is a shame of course, since many a good or great film gets missed, but the reality is this. There are so many more choices today, and movies are just that ..... movies. In other words, it is primarily a visual medium. If it is great dialog one wants, there are books and plays. If it is just music that excites, listen to the soundtrack album. So, in my view, more than any other of those listed above (I am not discounting the others, btw) it is the better technology that drives people to the new over the old. When HD first came out, there was a relatively low percentage of HD programming available from most content providers. I kept hearing people say (including myself) they were watching HDNet travelogue shows, just to catch the HD. People tend to prefer widescreen visually stunning programs to view.

PikeBishop said...

Shrinking attention span? Shorter shelf life? I teach seniors in highs school, this year born around 95-96. I made an "Austin Powers" reference and got blank stares from half the class. What was the last movie? 2004? 2005?

ScottDS said...

^Pike -

That's so sad! My dad made a Tommy Boy reference to his students only to realize that none of them would know who Chris Farley is.

I've talked to Andrew about this... none of this bodes well for things like film preservation. What good are old movies if no one at the studio knows enough about them!

tryanmax said...

On shrinking attention spans, I have to push back a little.

I've found that I generally enjoy anything from the black-and-white era when I'm not sure what I'm in the mood for. Part of the reason is that movies from that period move at a break-neck speed. I think early filmmakers were convinced that a picture had to be under 90 minutes, period. Quite a few of them would actually benefit from an additional 10 min or so. (And maybe a denouement. Seriously, a lot of those movies just end.)

Most of the early "burn-your-retinas" color films moved quickly, too, but that's also the time when filmmakers started doing sprawling epics. I'm sure at that point, slowing down was a relief. But by the 70s, slow, meandering pacing was so standard, it was even used for action flicks. I love me some Charles Bronson, but you can watch most of his work on fast-forward and not miss a thing.

As an aside, I think the appeal of exploitation cinema had as much to do with the pacing as the raw subject matter. It was just different from what "proper" moviemaking was at that time. And if you really consider it, several of the B&W era classics would have been considered exploitation had they been made 20-30 years later. I'm eyeballing Double Indemnity as I make that claim.

Kristina said...

Speaking as a classic movie junkie and someone who always goes for the older movie when faced with a choice, I mostly agree with your points (though I'm not a snob who thinks new movies suck.) When I try to introduce oldies to my friends who aren't into them, it feels like I'm asking them to try a new trade or speak a new language, I think it's just plain overwhelming to someone who has zero familiarity with the actors, the feel, the eras, etc. i.e. the relatability factor. The car comparison has relevance in another way, because some people probably feel like getting into old movies they either have to approach it like a film student or have to get involved in a new hobby or something, which I admit it is for me.

Of course you're right on the improvement as it applies to technical form, technique. But storytelling I believe was way better in the classics. Not only did they have to be creative when working around what they couldn't say, they had the advantage of creating the cliches we're sick of nowadays, were more compact and efficient in writing, and less PC, and in many cases had more adult mature plots and themes than movies today. It's ironic that now, when we have such short attention spans, the movies often take 2 1/2-3 hrs to tell a story when a 60-70 minute oldie often did it better, even in the action/thriller/horror genre, not just talky drama.

Another thing is that the stories you used to see in classics are now more the domain of TV/ episodic, and cinemas are more for the spectacle. So if you look at it that way the appetite for what I love and find in old movies is still there and being consumed by viewers. Thus endeth ramble.

ScottDS said...

...or have to get involved in a new hobby or something

Interesting. People have often (okay, not that often) asked me about this when it comes to Star Trek. I have to assure them, "There are a handful of TV shows, in chronological order. And there are 10 movies, all in chronological order, plus the two new ones. That's it! The rest - novels, comics, games, etc. - is icing on the cake."

But the "normals" find it so intimidating. I confess I'm that way with Dr. Who but I guess that's why they do reboots.

AndrewPrice said...

Kristina and tryanmax, I agree. I'll respond more later. I'm on my phone at the moment.

AndrewPrice said...

By on my phone, I mean out and about. .. roaming the city.

AndrewPrice said...

Kristina and tryanmax, I agree. I'll respond more later. I'm on my phone at the moment.

djskit said...

I always find my self going back to "John Carter". New movie, newest, most expensive special effects, but the story depreciated terribly for several of the reasons mentioned. The sensibilities of the time, the perspecitive of the story, the numerous tropes that have made it into many earlier movies. A big reason for its failure.

Kit said...

Tyranmax, I remember watching Ben hur and thinking "Get on with it!"

EricP said...

Interesting you brought up Risky Business, which I think still plays as well as it did in the 80s, even if part of my opinion assuredly lends itself to my initially seeing it shortly after it was released, as well as being able to relate to the movie’s teen angst and taboos. Flash forward to earlier this century with The Girl Next Door. Similar premise, but updated to the technology and new taboos, Timothy Olyphant kicking ass in a Guido the Killer Pimp mode, too. Mean Girls always reminded me of a cool Heathers vibe as well.

Now to the kids in Jay & Silent Bob Strikes who referred to Purple Rain as a gay movie with Prince, well, they’re just idiots. Bad acting in that one was as timeless to its release, just the as the stellar soundtrack will always rock and/or groove.

tryanmax said...

djskit, good call on John Carter. Nothing about that film felt new. Add in a passive hero, and it really had nothing going for it.

Koshcat said...

What I find interesting is that there are certain old movies that just wouldn't fly as a remake. Imagine remaking Gone with the Wind or Casablanca? (i threw up a little in my mouth) There is something about a really good movie that doesn't need a remake.

John Carter wasn't great but it wasn't all bad. My kids like it but it was too long. If they would have kept it at 90 minutes it would have been better. We recently watch Escape to Witch Mountain. For a short movie, it felt slow and long. It wasn't awful but I'm not interested in seeing it again.

Tennessee Jed said...

maybe the film industry should take a lesson from Coke. They came up with a "new and improved" formula that sucked and was resoundly rejected by the public. Re-name old Coke "classic" and ..... voila!

AndrewPrice said...

I is back... and not at all happy about the cost of prescription drugs without a generic equivalent. Grrrr.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, As much as I am a fan of Animal House, it too seems to be fading from the landscape.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, It is a shame, but that's life. I think you really need to keep pushing something if you want it to survive from generation to generation.

Good point about movies. They do seem to be our dominant form of entertainment, but they might not be in reality. Between sports, games, books, music, television, films, outdoor activities, work as leisure, and now surfing the net, films really are just one of many activities. And they require a big investment of time.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, It's hard to tell what young people will or won't know these days. I've been surprised in each direction at times.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax and Kristina, I am a big fan of older films and I can absolute say that you are right. Those stories move fast and the plots are solid. There are no gaping holes, no dead ends, and no periods that drag. And the stereotype of them being slow and simplistic is really false. And in many ways, while modern films do have an "experience advantage" over older films, a great many modern films fail to do the right things with that experience. So while I do think something like Pulp Fiction or The Usual Suspects simply couldn't have been made in the 1950s because of a lack of technique, a great many films in the 1950s are better than their modern equivalents despite the advantages modern films have.

In any event, on the attention span issue, I think that issue really has more to do with motion than scene length. People are getting used to quick cuts, shaky cams, and lots of things spinning in the background. Old films don't provide that. In fact, to the contrary, they are remarkably distraction free so you knew exactly what you were meant to be watching. I think that is the real attention span issue, that people now nee constant stimulation rather than people needing crazier plots.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That can be a problem too. You even see that with modern series. By the time something gets a reputation for being worthwhile, you've missed the first or second season and a lot of people don't want to go back and start over, so they skip it.

AndrewPrice said...

djskit, John Carter is a mess. It's neither fish nor fowl in the sense that it wasn't sure if it wanted to be a big stupid blockbuster or a throwback. So they ended up creating a hollow throwback blockbuster. What a mess!

I also wonder if the problem wasn't that the character and story just couldn't relate to us anymore? A civil war veteran who seems grumpy and like he's kind of a jerk, zapped to a planet we know to be barren today, to fight in a high tech world where everyone uses swords. No doubt that sounded like high adventure when the story was written, but today, I don't think anyone would start with any of those choices if writing a story from scratch.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Try Lawrence of Arabia. Beautiful movie, great acting... vast moments of sloooooooooow.

tryanmax said...

This isn't really an argument, just something to consider. Is it possible that the preference for constant motion in film has less to do with shorter attention spans and more to do with it being a closer approximation to real life? Think about it, even when you're in a seated conversation, you don't just pick a wide vantage point and stare at the whole scene, you turn your head from person to person, your eyes flit about faces for reactions, sometimes you shift and fidget or look around the room. I'm pretty sure people have always done these things.

AndrewPrice said...

Eric, It seems that a lot of ideas get remade for each generation. I'll bet that if we look hard enough, there's a 1960s and 1940s version of Risky Business. I think some ideas are just timeless and only need to be updated to fit modern sensibilities to score a hit.

I've only seen Purple Rain once, but I do have the soundtrack.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, I find that interesting too. It's like some films simply became lightening in a bottle and that was that... thou shalt not mess with it. Interestingly, films like that often can't be copied either. Normally, Hollywood rips off whatever is popular. But these special films seem immune from that. I'm not sure why.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, LOL! Nice thinking. "New Film... so much like the old film you won't miss the old one... bet you can't even tell the difference!"

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Yes and no. When I was in tenth grade, we went on a field trip to a seminar about perception. They showed us a two minute video with tons of jump cuts. Everyone had to turn their heads. Half the kids got headaches, some got sick. (interestingly, the jump cuts took place every 8 seconds, today music videos often jump at 2 seconds).

What the guy explained was that we simply weren't used to that pace, but that we could get used to that pace. Then he showed us how commercials had gone from being three minutes long to 30 seconds and "they might one day be as little as 20 seconds." Well, they've hit 15 seconds in some places and apparently our on-screen attention is less than 2 seconds online.

What has happened is that as we've been exposed to people pushing the perception envelop to try to get our attention, our attention has gotten shorter. In response, everyone sped up to be in the new range we find acceptable. But in so doing, they drove our attention down even further. So you end up with this chicken egg problem where decreasing attention leads to a response that further decreases attention.

Then, somewhere around the time the internet took hold, we began multitasking. Then triple-tasking. And the result is both a decrease in attention length and a lowered of the intensity of focus as we spread our perception out among different activities.

This has resulted in people like the sports broadcasters cluttering the screen to keep your brain focused on the screen so you don't go find something else to keep you busy.

Film will find it really hard to compete in that world unless they add lots of shiny things to keep you focused... like Lucas did in his Star Wars Remake: The Abomination.

tryanmax said...

Hmm, I'll have to think about that some. Something in my gut just really rails against the idea of shrinking attention spans. I really think people are just as flighty as they ever were.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, People are wrongly conflating many different issues with "attention span." They are confusing interest, knowledge, length of attention, strength of attention, and intelligence with "attention span." Attention span in this case shouldn't mean flighty.

Think of it this way. You have:

1. Interest -- whether or not people care about certain things.
2. Knowledge -- what people do or don't know.
3. Curiosity -- willingness to learn.
4. Ability to learn -- ability to grasp what you have been told.
5. Length of attention -- how long you will watch before losing focus.
6. Focus -- how strongly you will pay attention.
7. Thoughtfulness/Care -- how hard you will work to analyze what you have seen and remember it.
8. Memory -- how well you can recall what you have been told or learned.
9. Intelligence -- ability to use all of the above to analyze events.

In that regard, I definitively think that you can affect each of these through various processes. And I do think you can train "length of attention" by exposing people to slower or quicker inputs.

T-Rav said...

Hm, I thought it was just because movies with black-and-white or grainy-looking pictures are boring and not fun. :-/

AndrewPrice said...

LOL! Well, yeah, that too!

tryanmax said...

That makes sense. Keep in mind I come from a marketing background. In my industry "short attention span" is often used as an excuse for "why our message isn't connecting with audiences." This same attitude carries over to other media industries but the whitewash is the same. "The content isn't bad! The audience just won't/can't pay attention!" B.S. Because the media can't blame the media for brainwashing its desired audience, this is what they use.

AndrewPrice said...

Yep.

kristina said...

really interesting points about attention span, because look how short average movies were in the beginning and until tv came along. Dickens wrote in installments. Regular people had far less free fun time than we do. Going back to the point of this post, what does it say then that tcm says their demo is really young ( i think teens- 30 y.o.) & that surprises even them.

tryanmax said...

Ugh! I don't know if this relates to attention spans or not, but I'm watching Revollution and at a really tense moment, they threw up this gigantic graphic promo for football. Talk about spoiling the moment. I almost don't want to finish the episode now.

AndrewPrice said...

kristina, I think that if you traced out how movies have evolved, you would probably see them responding to changes in television. The two seems to have been (and remain) in constant competition, with movies trying to find a way to separate themselves from television and television generally trying to copy movies. Only in the past decade or so, has television actually become the leader... and the result is that movies are struggling to remain relevant.

Connecting this to attention spans, what you get is that movies became longer to stand out compared to television, which generally broadcast shorter shows -- 30 minutes or an hour. If you look at a lot of the films of the 1940s, you'll see a lot of films that are only an hour long. That creeps up to 90 minutes in response to television creating hour-long shows. I think they also changed their pacing because television adopted the fast early film pacing for sitcoms. Suddenly, films became long and drawn out. And the actors in them mocked television actors by saying that only "true" actors (i.e. film actors) did the long, drawn out stuff, and only the hacks did the short and fast stuff on television. Soon a false stereotype was born.

So when we think of attention spans having shrunk, we are actually making a false comparison of what was really 1960s/1970s film PR compared to what had always been "natural."

That said, however, television kept adding more commercials and making them shorter to raise profits. The result was that people's length of attention shortened, i.e. their attention spans. Films responded by drifting away from contemplative and started doing things like inserting music videos into the boring parts of films, as you see in almost any 80s film.

Then in the 1990s, films became truly experimental with independent films in response to further improvements in television, particularly related to television quality compared to the movie-going experience. The result was an amazing number of great films. Interestingly, these returned to the pacing that was popular in the 1940s and 1950s -- fast pacing, quick moving plots.

TV responded by doing the same and The Sopranos was born. Soon television got more interesting and films tried to distinguish themselves by becoming CGI blockbusters.

And that's where we are today.

That's how I see it.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I avoid network television for many reasons, and that's one big one. The ruin the flow of everything and its utterly obnoxious to see those ads in the middle of the show.

Kit said...

Andrew,

In the UK a banner appeared during the climactic scene of the Series 5 episode "The Time of Angels". Many were angry.

Link is 23sec. Major spoilers for the episode.
LINK

EricP said...

>>Scott, As much as I am a fan of Animal House, it too seems to be fading from the landscape. >>

Granted, it's been 10 years since I saw Animal House on the big-screen for the first time after too many HBO, VHS and DVD viewings to count, but there were more than a few dads (and some moms) who brought their kids to see it. A couple of the kids even joined me doing the gator during the toga scene. It may (or may not) be fading, but DTX will never die completely.

Backthrow said...

I forget if I (or someone else here) linked to the first two of these videos before on the blog, but here's an interesting three-part piece that touches on some of the points discussed in this topic, and is interesting food for thought:

Chaos Cinema, Part 1

Chaos Cinema, Part 2

Chaos Cinema, Part 3 (rebuttal to critical reaction to Parts 1 & 2)

Warning to non-film-buffs: these were produced 2 years ago (and Part 3 a year ago), so might not be as relate-able than if they were just made and uploaded this morning... so you have my sympathies, poor things. ;)

AndrewPrice said...

Eric, I don't think it will die completely and I will definitely show it to my kids. But just as Scott is finding, I get a lot of blank stares when I mention it.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, That would be very annoying. It's annoying when they do it here... for every stinking program.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, Sorry, I can't relate. ;-)

John Jameson said...

Great analysis - and many insightful comments. Another issue, touched upon in the Greatest 100 thread, is that critics tend to overrate older films (from the perspective of modern movie goers) by crediting them for things that most viewers don't care about: how innovative the movie was, how influential, or (more broadly) how good it was "for its time". In that thread it was striking that "Citizen Kane", a movie almost universally held up by critics for its greatness, was all-but-condemned as a tedious piece of self-indulgence. (I exaggerate a little for effect.) Modern movies routinely use the techniques pioneered in older films like Citizen Kane, but when I watch a movie, I don't care about how pioneering it was: I want to be entertained. And not just in a superficial way: I love subtexts, twists, artful cinematography, references to other films and so on. But it really doesn't matter so much whether the movie "did it first".

AndrewPrice said...

John, Thanks!

I agree with you. Being first has a certain power to it which is deserving of mention. But when it comes down to choosing what to watch, being first doesn't really count. All that matters then is being better. And in that regard, modern films have the advantage of hindsight to help them refine what older films did. That doesn't mean they will always do it better, but it is a key advantage.

And I agree about "Citizen Kane." It's an innovative film and interesting on that level. But it's not a particularly entertaining film. I think critics tend to over-emphasize films like that because they think it's expected of them to show off "film knowledge".

John Jameson said...

Exactly. It is interesting to know about the innovations and the influences, but some critics just seem to forget the bottom line. I like it that esteemed critical views are not worshipped on a pedestal here. Critics often see a movie only once before their review, and can be as fallible as any of us would be in such a situation.

AndrewPrice said...

Yeah, we definitely don't worship the critics. I can respect their opinions when they are insightful, but insight is kind of rare from the major critics. To the contrary, you tend to get a generic outline of the plot combined with some pronouncement about the technical aspects of the film followed by a conclusion you could have guessed before you even read the article, e.g. this is critic bait and they will gush about.

I've also noticed that the critics more often than not have no ability to grasp subtleties. This seems to lead them to completely misunderstanding all the cult films and it causes many of them to struggle with complex films... they just dismiss those as "muddled" rather than trying to understand them. Some are politically biased too, which is why Roger Ebert always panned films with conservative views by distorting the message and then calling the film "confused" based on his straw man message. On the other hand, some conservative reviewers see communist plots in everything. Others... others, I'm not even sure they watch the films they review.

Interestingly, I think the highest quality analysis can be found online by movie lovers -- like the guys at Red Letter Media.

John Jameson said...

I agree: critics often miss subtleties because they have preconceptions (political or otherwise), are trying to prove themselves, and often only watch a movie once. Another thing I like about this site is that you don't generally let the politics spoil a good movie. As a non-American, I don't really get this conservative/liberal divide. Classical (19th C) liberalism has an enduring appeal: government should not interfere unduly in peoples lives, but should provide infrastructure that enables people to achieve their potential. I don't see any difference between moderate Democrats/Liberals and Republicans/Conservatives here. The nutters (as always) are at the extremes.

Among the many reviews here, only the one of "Source Code" (an imperfect movie but with substantial content) has seemed to me colored by political bias. That's pretty good going for an explicitly "conservative" site!

Anonymous said...

I don't necessary think that new films are better, but I do watch more modern movies and movies made while I was growing up then movies made before I was born.

And for me, the older movies I watch fit into four categories, war movies, westerns, crime movies and comedies. Mostly because they are the types of movies I enjoy now, I also like gross out comedies and straight up action flicks that I think of as more modern movies.

I can understand why younger people today don't watch older movies, they don't understand them. I was at my nephews birthday party and I was explaining to a 10 years old boy who had an IPhone that we didn't have mobile phones when I grew up, or the internet (I didn't get into VHS or cassettes or even CDs). He will see a movie from the 80s and not recogonise that world, he cannot relate, let alone to something even older or God forbid, something in black and white.

Scott.

John Jameson said...

I used to joke with my grandmother: "what was it like in the days when everything was in black and white?"

AndrewPrice said...

John, Thanks! I try not to let politics ruin a good movie. I will discuss the politics, but unless it's really obnoxious then I try to look past the politics when deciding the merits of the movie. Sometimes though, it is just too obnoxious to ignore. And as we've discussed on Source Code, that one just rubs me wrong on so many levels... but we can agree to disagree. :)

On our political system, I think what foreigners don't understand is that our political parties totally lie about what they stand for. If you listened to Obama and Romney when they ran for president, for example, they probably sounded like clones to you. In fact, they probably both sounded like classical liberals because that is what about 80% of Americans believe in and that is what both parties what you to believe they are.

But they were lying.

If you watch what happens when they take office and the kinds of laws they pass, you will see something very different. For example, you will see a Democratic Party that is run by people who are essentially unreformed socialists when it comes to economic policy. They believe in “quiet” nationalizations, massive subsidies to preferred industries, and economic redistribution on a pretty massive scale – they’ve just learned to lie about what they are doing and to hide it behind free market rhetoric. They similarly believe in group rights trumping individual rights, particularly when it comes to gender and race, even as they talk about protecting individuals.

To give you an example of how boldly they lie, recall that Obama ran in 2008 by vehemently attacking Bush for Guantanamo Bay and for using drones. His whole first term he kept up this line of attack and told the world he would change things. So that’s what the world thought... “Thank God Bush is gone, Obama is undoing all his evil!” Only, that’s not what Obama was doing. When he took over, rather than ending either program, he actually pushed them further. First, he eliminate the restrictions Bush put on drone use and he stepped up the programs dramatically and started using them in other countries. Then he tried to get a court to declare the Gitmo inmates “non-persons” so they wouldn’t have basic human rights (even Bush wouldn’t go that far). So while you’re hearing him talk about how horrible these practices are, he’s actually doing the same things he’s attacking only worse. But that’s just par for the course these days for our political class.

On the other side, the Republicans talk about free markets, but they support oligopolies and they open the Treasury to their biggest contributors to take what they want. They talk about individual freedoms and rights, but then they try to criminalize being gay, ban abortion, and censor the internet to help Big Business and to stop pornography. They talk about religious freedom, but try to stop the religions they don’t like – like Islam.

What you have in our system right now is two parties who claim to be classical liberals in the press, but behind the scenes are something very different and much more extreme. And if you don’t look at what they do rather than what they say, then you won’t see that and you won’t understand the nature of our elections and how Americans choose their sides. That’s why I think foreigners are having such a hard time understanding what is going on here, because you only hear what the politicians are saying rather than seeing what they are doing.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I think that is absolutely right. Things like the internet and cell phones have fundamentally changed the world in ways that dramatically affect films. And for people who never lived in a world without cell phones and the internet, they can't relate to a world in which people waited for newspapers to inform them or had to physically ride over to a friend's house to see what they were doing. And the harder it is to relate, the harder it is to get into a movie.

AndrewPrice said...

John, I always ask my father what dinosaur tasted like. :)

tryanmax said...

RE: Chaos Cinema essays - I just watched them once through, so I certainly can't recall every point made. However, a few problems with his analysis stick in my mind.

1) The author asserts at least once, if not several times, that visceral is not emotional. I suppose if one were to be extremely parsing with the vocabulary, it could be true. But for the most part, it's a distinction without a difference. In other words, he's wrong.

2) The rebuttal to the video-game comparison missed a crucial point. To me it seems incredibly clear that what chaos cinema aims to do is not to emulate video games, but to distinguish itself from them. To wit, video games, esp. first person shooter, maintain a somewhat fixed point of reference and, as the narrator pointed out, an uninterrupted, linear narrative. Within those constraints, they are absolutely as chaotic as can be. In order to differentiate from both FPSs and prior forms of cinema, chaos must break gaming's constraints while adopting it's identifying characteristics. In other words, cinema is running out of ways to innovate. This is not to say there is an end to innovation period, but within the constraints of a single medium, yes, there is.

3) The narrator repeatedly passes personal experience as general absolute. When he says chaos cinema is not engaging, he means he is not engaged. It is not emotional = he had no emotional response. The audience cannot focus = he cannot focus. Et cetera ad nauseam. In other words, while he is certainly eloquent in his criticism, he's really in no position to make it, at least not in the terms he uses.

tryanmax said...

4) The narrator unwittingly undermines one of his primary arguments, that chaos cinema promotes audience passivity. However, his argument to the contrary is that classic cinema frames each shot to direct the viewer's attention and inform them of character, time and place. This is backwards. If chaos cinema is the opposite, or at least a wide deviation from classic cinema, then by definition it is demanding more of the viewer by not arranging convenient markers for character, time and place. Perhaps in the instance that once is unable to engage the cinema at that level (and pace) the natural response is to just sit back and endure, but it is disingenuous to demand a movie spoon-feed you then complain that it fed you too much, too fast while simultaneous claiming it didn't feed you at all.

If I could sum up the critique with an analogy, it's like a scathing auto review of a sports car written by a guy who can't drive a stick and who crashed the vehicle during the test drive.

John Jameson said...

Andrew, many thanks for your very insightful take on American politics, and explanations of the ways both parties have departed from classical liberalism. However, they are clearly distinguishable, even from a distance. From a European perspective, Democrats and Republicans look like the right and the far right (respectively). Anything remotely socialist has been tainted, it seems, by an irrational fear of communism, even though socialism incorporates classically liberal ideas. While Democrats try to pretend their ideas have no socialist origins, Republicans seem to be driven by a corporate and religious right agenda. This is surprising, because historically it was Republicans who championed individual freedoms and civil liberties, whereas now (as you point out) they do not. Somewhere on the journey through the 20th Century, both parties seem to have lost their way.

Getting back to Source Code, we can of course agree to disagree. Movies rub me up the wrong way too (Skyfall is an obvious analogue, in case you hadn't noticed!). However, I do think that the failings of Source Code are in the delivery of its ideas, rather than their underlying politics.

El Gordo said...

"From a European perspective, Democrats and Republicans look like the right and the far right (respectively)."

I keep reading that and Europeans no doubt still believe it. But it has nothing to do with reality. They also believe America has NO welfare and health care system - I have heard that more than once - and if you ask them, what DO we spend our trillion dollar deficits on, they´ll say the military because that is what they have been told.

The Democrats today are as far left as Labour or any main French party. Their follies are at least of equal size. Hollande or Milliband could easily be elected Senator in New York or Massachusetts. If there is a difference, it is that no French leader would smear his own nation in front of foreigners - only American leaders do that. The Dems are probably to the left of the German Christian Democrats (whose energy policy is the counterpart of Obamacare). And if the US joined the EU, the Dems would feel right at home.

AndrewPrice said...

El Gordo, I think that's true. I've spoken with a lot of Europeans and they simply have the facts wrong. It's amazing frankly.

Consider this: the Democrats are pushing labor ideas which the German SDP has repudiated and which even British Labour won't endorse. They have pushed unemployment benefits to 99 weeks and want to extend them further, they have pushed to remove the requirement that those people seek work, they similarly want to remove the requirement that people on welfare who are able-bodied seek work. They are pushing a $15 minimum wage. They have spent about a trillion dollars in subsidies in various industries. In exchange for these subsidies, Uncle Sam typically gets a non-controlling (but actually controlling) interest on the boards of directors. They have tired to forcibly unionize companies like Boeing. They gave GM to the unions. They are heavily protectionist. They have tried to force right-to-work states to change their laws to give unions power. Our free healthcare program for poor people (something Europeans seem to think doesn't exist) covers 58 million people and is being expanded by 15 million to 73 million. Our free healthcare for the elderly covers 50.7 million. They are massive deficit spenders. They have pushed the highest tax rate to 40% plus the non-tax taxes like FICA, which is 7.5% for workers or 15% for self-employed. They keep trying to raise the tax rates and impose a "millionaire tax" on incomes above $250,000.

On social issues, they push a ban on guns, they push for gay marriage, they push for unregulated abortion, they want open-borders immigrations, they pass speech code laws to let government dictate what you can say, they push for hiring quotas for race and gender and reparations for slavery, they oppose capital punishment, they want to dramatically weaken criminal sentencing, and a vast array of nanny-state issues like banning transfat, requiring helmets for bicycle riders, banning sugary drinks, etc.

On environmental policies, they oppose nuclear power, want to regulate carbon, want to shutdown the coal industry, have blocked most oil and gas drilling, have totally subsidized the "clean energy industry," and pass laws allowing the government to confiscate private land for environmental purposes (e.g. wetlands).

The one area where they are to the right of Europeans is on the use of the military. And even there, they oppose the military when the Republicans are in charge, but then change their minds when they are in charge.

In terms of placing them in Europe, Bill Clinton was nearly identical to Tony Blair's New Labour, but Clinton was an outlier. The rest of the Democrats fit in with the old left of Labour. They would be too far left for the modern SDP. In France, they would probably fit in well with the Socialists.

John Jameson said...

I'm glad I chose my words carefully: "From a European perspective... look like..."

I agree that these perceptions are out of date, but still linger, partly because of issues like abortion and capital punishment, which are uncontroversial in non-Catholic parts of northern Europe at least! There is also the influence of the religious right, and religion in general. The first amendment is an awesome piece of legislation, yet every President seems obliged to say "God bless America" on a regular basis.

These Euro-perceptions date back to the 1970s and 80s, I suppose, but since then, many European parties have shifted to the right (and there are quite a few influential far-right parties, for example in Austra and France). Tony Blair shifted "New Labour" to the right of the Liberal Democrats (who inherit the classical liberal tradition in the UK) so that the Liberal Democrats became the most left-wing party in the UK for a while.

Clinton was an outlier because a further left president would have been unelectable at that time. I omitted to note why I thought the Democrats had lost their way: they were originally the party of small (Federal) government, but have now become the opposite.

I agree with much of your criticism of the Democrats. However, some of the policies you criticize are liberal in the classical sense: gay marriage, abortion, immigration, capital punishment.

Decent healthcare, education and transport/energy infrastructures are also liberal "must haves". Regarding health, all political parties have my sympathy, as they have to deal with one of the most inefficient health systems in the world. In education, opposition to mainstream science is nutcase, as is opposition to nuclear power as an energy option.

John Jameson said...

PS. to El Gordo: The Christian Democrats (CDU) are the German center-right wing party :)

AndrewPrice said...

John, You're right that this is the perception. There's no disputing that as I hear it from all the Europeans I know. Unfortunately, it's not an accurate perception and that gets to be frustrating when my German relatives call up and say things like "Why do you let poor people die without healthcare?" Grr.

I agree with you that gay marriage, abortion, immigration and ending capital punishment are things classical liberals would embrace. And let me point out that a huge number of conservatives and libertarians actually take the classical liberal position on those issues. This may surprise you, but a slight majority of conservatives (and a massive majority of young conservatives) embrace gay marriage -- I'm personally in favor of it. There is a clear consensus in the public (including conservatives) that abortion should be legal, but regulated. Almost all Americans are pro-immigration. The issue right now is illegal immigration, and even there a majority of conservatives (about 6 in 10) favor some form of amnesty for the 11 million who are already here illegally. Capital punish, however, is favored by about 8 in 10 Americans and that won't change.

Here the problem is this: The Republican Party leadership is dominated by the Religious Right who go the other way on each of these issues. They want to stop gay marriage, totally ban abortion, and deport all the illegal aliens. They are only about 20% of the party (6% of the public), but they have taken control of the party and its instruments. And they push these things even as average Republicans don't want this and even as what they are pushing is impossible in our system. So in that regard, the Republicans are what you hear in Europe, even if average Republicans are actually the opposite. That's kind of a mess at the moment, but I think you'll see a dramatic change over the next 5-10 years.

The First Amendment is pretty cool. It's one of those things that makes America so welcoming. But there does seem to be a desire in the public that the President be seen as religious, even though it's pretty obvious that we've had several who aren't.

On Clinton, that's absolutely right. The American public is center-right, so both sides appeal to that rhetorically, and Clinton ran to the right of Bush Sr. Clinton lurched to the left from his rhetoric after the election, but that cost the Democrats the Congress and after that, Clinton was held in check by the Republican Congress -- so he moved right and became a pretty successful president. Obama too ran as center-right. He just hasn't governed that way. Like Clinton, he lost the Congress when he overreached to the left, but unlike Clinton who worked with the Republicans, Obama has fought them. So his administration has stalled.

Totally agree about opposition to mainstream science. Right now there are a lot of lunatics who are upset about things like vaccines, which really drives me nuts.

On healthcare, the reason our system is inefficient is actually our use of insurance. Unfortunately, Obamacare tries to increase the amount of insurance. That's going the wrong way. Even worse, the Republican response is to give more power to insurance carriers. It's frustrating to see both sides competing to race down the dead end at higher speeds.

El Gordo said...

"PS. to El Gordo: The Christian Democrats (CDU) are the German center-right wing party :)"

John, I know. I meant to say that the CDU is no longer center-right, Merkel having adopted many SPD/Green positions, but the Democrats are still closer to the Social Democrats or the Greens. Andrew has given lots of examples.

It is also important to note that the European right and American conservatism are different. The European center-right is more statist/collectivist and anti-market. Both the far right and the left worship the state. It seems to me parties like UKIP (or the Tories under Thatcher) are called "rightwing" in the European sense but are better described as conservative in the American sense. American liberals are not "liberal" but left wing (at least nowadays). European liberals are closest to American conservatives on many issues but they oppose the social-religious wing of conservatism and they don´t get many votes.

Only the left is the same everywhere.

El Gordo said...

"I agree that these perceptions are out of date, but still linger, partly because of issues like abortion and capital punishment, which are uncontroversial in non-Catholic parts of northern Europe at least!"

John, that is certainly the case but for different reasons than most people believe. Abortion is uncontroversial because the European left is not on a crusade for total abortion rights.

Abortion rates per population are higher in the US than in Western Europe. Obviously, despite perceptions, nothing stops you from getting an abortion in the US. In many European countries abortion is available but basically a crime, with exceptions being made for the first 12 to 14 weeks and "exceptional circumstances", requiring mandatory counseling and waiting periods and so on.

This would be unacceptable for an opponent of abortion but also for the American left, which wants no restrictions whatsoever.

If there is no significant anti-abortion movement in Europe, there are no pro-abortion absolutists either. In the US, the differences and even extremes are out, loud and clear. That is where the perceptions come from. The American reality is actually more liberal than conservative.

If Europeans don´t want to have a controversy about a serious and controversial issue, they should at least deal with the fact that Americans do.

John Jameson said...

Thanks again for the insightful comments both - I appreciate that this thread has gone somewhat off-topic, but I'm finding it interesting. It is certainly challenging to discuss abstractions like "left" and "right" when political realities are more complex, and words like "liberal" and "conservative" have different meanings in different contexts/places/times! I will try to focus on a few thoughts you raised, but may still appear scatter brained!

We may have to agree to disagree on the abortion issue. The reason there is no (northern European, non-Catholic) crusade for total abortion rights is that for practical purposes women can get abortions when they want them, and this is not under threat. In the UK they need the approval of two doctors, prior to 24 weeks, but many abortions happen earlier, often by medically induced miscarriage prior to 9 weeks, a process not radically different from post-conception contraception (IUDs, the morning after pill). Anti-abortionist movements exist, and take the same "life (and legal rights) begin at conception" stand as in the US, but they are not taken seriously: they have no mainstream political support, and their views run counter to what most people (especially women) want.

I would be reluctant to hold this up as a shining example of a serious debate about a controversial issue, as both sides have entrenched and absolutist moral positions and are simply shouting past each other. Even the labels are laughable: is anyone anti-choice or anti-life?

AndrewPrice said...

John, Don't worry about going off-topic, we do it all the time.

I wish I could say that this: they have no mainstream political support, was not true. But those 20% I mentioned who run the Republican Party obsess on the abortion issue because that is what got them into politics in the first place.

That said, here are two things to know.

1. The people who run the Republican Party keep pointing to a poll from Gallup in which 52% of Americans identify themselves as "pro-life" and only 40some% identify themselves as "pro-choice." They claim this shows that the public supports them. Only, they've misread the poll.

If you dig deeper, what you will find is that even among those calling themselves pro-life, about 60% think abortion should be legal in various circumstances. Similarly, most of the pro-choice people think there should be limits. So when you look at the population as a whole, what you find is this: 6% want it banned completely, 6% want it completely unfettered, and 80% want it legal with reasonable limits.

That's probably just like Europe, only in Europe you don't have the 6% having seized control of a mainstream political party.

2. And that brings us to the real irony. In pushing this issue, this 6% have made the Republican Party a pariah for women, which makes it almost impossible to win elections. Yet, the irony is that banning abortion in the US is legally impossibile. The courts had held abortion to be a right and will strike down any attempt to ban it or to restricted it to the point that it is basically banned. So the whole attempt to ban it is delusional... a politically self-destructive delusion.

Now, theoretically, they could change the law by changing the constitution, but that would require 2/3 of both Houses of Congress AND 2/3 of the states to approve it. And with the states split 50/50 left/right, that will never happen.

So ultimately, while abortion is something the GOP talks aboutobsessively and tries to ban all the time, it's ultimately pure fantasy and it just hurts the GOP.

John Jameson said...

Gay marriage and capital punishment are much more interesting issues, in my view.

What is right or left wing is constantly shifting, and is also partly conditioned by the middle-ground. There have been quite dramatic shifts in Europe: in the 80s and 90s, there was an inevitable move of left wing parties to the centre, conceding the defeat of communism and the triumph of privatisation. This resulted in a problem for right wing parties, as most votes come from the centre. Consequently, center-right parties like the CDU have moved to the left, and it sometimes hard to tell the difference between the center-right and the center-left. That can be a potentially unstable situation, as protest votes then go to more extreme parties, which can be communist, nationalist, racist... it varies from place to place.

Nevertheless, the CDU is still the most right wing mainstream party in Germany, so comparison with the most left wing mainstream party in the US illustrates the perception. Andrew suggests the same perception when he refers to most US voters as "center right". I would not describe European voters as "center right". If anything, in many countries, they are "center left".
Fear of fascism and nazism is dominant, rather than fear of communism.

However, this may be missing the point. In my view, (classical) liberalism/libertarianism runs transverse to the modern left-right divide. Liberal causes are often unpopular because they are contrary to vested interests (eliminate that agricultural or industrial subsidy at your peril), so parties pick and choose a few. There aren't political parties in either Europe or America which consistently champion liberalism.

I am not surprised to hear that a majority of (especially young) conservatives are in favor of gay marriage. A similar example would be asking people in the 1920s whether they are in favor of votes for women. These are trends in society which shift the middle ground. My criticism of conservatism is inherent in the name: as far as liberal values are concerned, conservatives are following the trend, not leading it. A radical liberal view of gay marriage would be: what business does society and government have to say what is a family? A small government or secularist would deregulate marriage, leaving religious groups to do as they please. A case could be made for maintaining state recognised civil partnerships, perhaps with tax breaks, but isn't this kind of societal engineering leftist? Politicians are endlessly going on about "working families". What about those who pursue careers instead? Are infertile? Are full time family carers? Are disabled and unable to work?

Regarding capital punishment, there was an interesting investigation into the most "humane" way to kill someone. The conclusion was that nitrogen induced hypoxia was the most humane, as the victim becomes more and more intoxicated by the low oxygen levels until they pass out and die. This approach was suggested to a state governer, who objected on the grounds that there was no suffering.

Liberals should be championing the abolition of capital punishment, despite the 80% opposition, in the same way that Lincoln championed the abolition of slavery. But the Republican Party is not doing that. For reasons that Andrew explains, they are focussed instead on anti-libertarian issues, and are in danger of making themselves unelectable. I hope that young conservatives will rejuvenate the Republican Party in the next 5-10 years, and that we will see a radical change. America is the birthplace of liberal ideals as an underlying principle of governance. It would be a tragedy to see them lost.

AndrewPrice said...

John, Your last comment highlights one of the difficulties of talking about this issue because you use "liberal" in a way that is the exact opposite that we use "liberal," so it takes a moment to decipher it.

That said, I agree with you:

European voters are center-left, Americans are center-right. There are historic reasons for this, which I think relate primarily to immigration and culture, and then got cemented by WWII. But that said, the key word is "center." I see very little taste in either region for extreme policies.

And that, I think is the big misconception. Americans see Europeans as much more socialist than they are and Europeans see Americans as much more laissez-faire than they are. Contrary to what you hear, we do have a strong safety net and Americans like it. And contrary to what a lot of Americans believe, Europeans have a lot more private enterprise than Americans think.

A small government or secularist would deregulate marriage, leaving religious groups to do as they please.

That is actually something that a lot of libertarians promote and an increasing number of conservatives accept. But it won't happen because both Republicans and Democrats want to engage in social engineering, and putting the government in charge of defining family is key to that. So I think people are going for the easy answer, which is just to expand marriage to include gay marriage.

I hope that young conservatives will rejuvenate the Republican Party in the next 5-10 years, and that we will see a radical change.

I hope so too. There are a lot of young conservatives pushing for change because they've come to realize that the current approach only makes the party unelectable, but they need to oust the entire party establishment and they need to get better at identifying the crazies who are trying to creep into the party right now as well.

If the Republicans pass an immigration bill that grants citizenship to our illegals, then I think you'll see real change.

John Jameson said...

Oops, I tried to be clear in my classical use of "liberal/libertarian", but am glad you deciphered it okay in the end.

I think you have touched on the basic problem, which is that political leaders want power and control. The idealized unit of the "working family", with two parents, 2.2 kids and a substantial mortgage, is ideally suited to this purpose. That is what makes interest rates such an effective economic control. Plus parents who want the best for their kids behave in a very predictable manner.

So, as you say, the social engineering will go on unabated.

AndrewPrice said...

John, I figured it out. :)

I agree with you. That is the basic problem. It is simply to tempting for politicians to manipulate the public rather than serving the public good.

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