Disorganized Thoughts on the Consumption of Cinema

My brother and I recently purchased Civilization V. What is your moneys worth in such a game, in which there is no single player campaign to mark completion? It's absurd to measure the duration of gaming you get out of Civilzation, because the transaction works the other way around: Civilization is a vessel into which you pour time. It has an incredible capacity, even a kind of suction. Play for eight hours and force yourself to stop, wanting only to continue playing. There's something monstrous about being taken, held, and never released. Isn't the most optimistic point of games to renew our sense of freedom, to be drawn in enough that being ejected feels like a beginning? Nearing the end of a movie, I feel a great excitement for leaving the theater. What I pay for is that exit.

There's another reason I wanted to play Civilization V, a reason I haven't quite used up yet, even though my brother is understandably fed up with the incredible time commitment a game of Civ requires, and refuses to play any more. (The game is on his computer and won't run on any other in the house.) Still hungering for more Civ, I searched the internet for free alternatives that would run on my dated computer. One of the clones, c-evo, has an ambitious mission statement. They contend that the problem with computer games is that they're not designed to be crystaline like chess, but instead are designed as baubles to be consumed for their novelty value and then discarded out of boredom with an imperfect game. I think they're overestimating the genre's potential, but the observation that computer games are played for their novelty is one I find irrefutable. Why, for instance, play Diablo III? New weapons, new items, new characters, new graphics. The game itself is still as blindingly dull and addictive as before. In fact, I'm not sure games have changed that much since the release of Quake, but novelty has eternally sprung.

And novelty has another draw: Before the game is ever finished, press releases hint at everything that's new and in so doing give it a utopian glint on the horizon. You begin thinking "if I could play it..." Like many other products, you buy them to fix your life. It can almost be better not to buy them at all, to never be disappointed or face reality, and instead to let the wished-for products sprout whole imagined kingdoms of better life. Almost.

Movie hype is not new, but its intensity has been able to ramp enormously with the many mediums the Internet has availed. And as updates of older films are made closer and closer to the last iteration's release date, movies are starting to be consumed a lot like video games.

A new Spider Man movie is made not even a decade after the previous, and we itch for its revitalizing potential. "Prometheus" is essentially "Alien", but with more glitz (both pseudophilosophical and visual). "Avatar" is just a rehash of every James Cameron trope, but with a shiny technology called 3D (yes, I am one of those grumpy old people who think 3D is a lame fad to sell tickets at a higher price).

People pay for that moment of hope, the ticket in their hand, the film not yet begun, full of anticipation, and they pay for afterwards, when the film becomes a conversational token. Watching the film gets happily syncopated away, leaving only desire and signification. "The Avengers" is, I hear, a wildly successful film, but does it bubble up into your life? Do you dream of Captain America gripping a trash can lid?

I don't know about you, but I take a perverse pleasure in not being surprised by a film. Walking in with an asernal of reviews to agree and disagree with, steeled with several lines of analysis to keep the film at bay. I may as well; I can't not read about it before going.

It's funny, I want to see "Prometheus", but the thought of actually sitting through it is unpallatable. This huge gap between the fantasy it promises to deliver and my imagination of how it would actually be to watch.

Which is to say our relationship to the cinema is essentially lust. Aroused by hype, our desire has nothing to do with spending time with or having ourselves in any way complicated by a movie. We simply have found a fresh locus for hope. We gape and think "if only I could have that, everything would be good again." Its contours become the articulations of our future. And we don't have to give anything to get it, we just have to pay for it. Wow, I've been watching too much "Mad Men".

Who is us and why is lust bad, again? I'm bad at sustaining a polemic (or even merely a line of thought) because I hardly begin articulating passion before I no longer believe it. It all rings false. A good polemic is neither a liar nor faithful, but simply does not see things as either true or untrue. You can push belief because you've given up. Yup, there's a romanticization of advertising if I ever heard one.

11 June 2012