Tuesday, September 7, 2010

September Q & A: Educating ourselves with movies

Continuing with the fine theme of hostility from yesterday, my friend Jasmine asks, “What are the educational merits of Cannibal Holocaust and Executive Koala?”

Well, there’s a few answers I could give. Cannibal Holocaust is quite educational in the realm of what life is like deep within the rainforest (something, I should add, that comes in handy if you ever decide to go on vacation within the rainforest like I did earlier this year), and why you shouldn’t abuse cannibal tribes (*SPOILER* they’ll eat you). Executive Koala, on the other hand, teaches its audiences about just how the business world works, and how prejudicial it can be when you’re just a simple koala trying to get ahead in the world today, and you possibly sometimes kill people.

I kid, of course. I don’t know that either of them really has much in the way of actual educational value, unless you consider figuring out how to get your movie banned in dozens of countries and investigated as a snuff film (Cannibal Holocaust) or how to make a movie that leads to angry texts at night after unwittingly pissing off an entire roomful of people (Executive Koala) to be educational. That said, it’s rare for a movie to be educational in the traditional sense. Whatever its overall merit, it’s not like you’re actually going to learn how to fix up a car (or, for that matter, how to steal one) from watching Gone in 60 Seconds. As for learning anything scientific from a movie, you can just put that thought out of your head right now. I would conservatively estimate that about 99.999999999% of science facts that you encounter in a movie are completely inaccurate and were just tossed in to try and justify whatever ridiculous plot the writers came up with (for a lovely recent example, just watch the trailer for the A-Team movie, where they use the physics of cannon fire to slow the descent of the tank they’re in that’s falling out of the sky). Even documentaries aren’t safe, as a great deal of the time the filmmakers are bringing their own personal beliefs into whatever they’re discussing, and selectively choose what facts to use (or in some cases outright make up their facts) to try to prove their view point is the correct one, leaving them at the same general level as a cable news pundit. I wouldn’t even recommend using movies to try to learn how to spell words, unless you’re specifically watching a movie about a spelling bee, and then you might want to keep a dictionary by your side just to play it safe.

No, movies (and art in general) have educational value only in what they teach us about ourselves and other people. The arts belong more to the realm of philosophy than the realm of hard sciences, except that I would take even a mediocre movie over any philosophy book I’ve ever read (sorry, college philosophy professor whose name, face, and gender I can’t remember because your class was so boring). This is not to say that films should all be deep, meaningful treatises about the human condition (though there’s certainly nothing wrong with adding a few Bergman films to your collection), as we can learn things even in the most unexpected places. To use one of your examples, Cannibal Holocaust did show me that, while I am endlessly entertained by watching people getting dismembered, I do indeed have a problem with watching animals being killed for added shock value. Of course, for a more present day example, we can use the people who go to see the films of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, who were responsible for such films as Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, and the recent Vampires Suck. All of their films made several times their budgets, so it’s quite obvious that quite a few people out there enjoy their films. I don’t think I personally know anyone that actually does, but if I do meet one, then I’ll already know a couple things about them: 1) I cannot trust their taste in movies at all, and 2) if they should laugh at a joke I tell, I need to seriously examine that joke to determine if it is terrible enough to make me millions of dollars.

So yes, there is indeed educational value to such films as Cannibal Holocaust and Executive Koala, though it’s certainly not the kind of education that you’d get from the public school system. No, this is the type of education that only comes from life. Fo’ real.

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