These are some observations about popular culture from a cranky old man (well, actually I’m only 57, but I am quite cranky at times.) I’ve been thinking a lot lately, which is always dangerous. While struggling with unemployment and …(oh, what is the use of going into it, I’ve given my sob story in earlier blogs, so enough already!), I have been spending my time checking out old movies and such on Youtube. This was inspired by my watching Metropolis (a DVD I actually purchased in an actual store, my bit to improve the American economy.), a movie that I had seen pictures from and clips from for a long time, but never saw the whole thing. Actually the whole thing was thought to be lost until recently, but anyway, it is fascinating. While I’m sure the concept of an artificial being had been explored before, dating back to the Jewish legend of the Golem (is that the right word?), and, of course, Frankenberry, excuse me, Frankenstein. Excuse my impertinence, I watched too much Steve Allen when I was a kid. But what made this version of creating a robot especially intriguing, was that it was created to distract the working class from recognizing their abject slavery. It took the form of a woman, the exact form of a woman the common people had revered, and who had protected their children. The robot would appear in a demonic ritual and whip all the men into a sexual frenzy. This idea of an artificial creation for the purpose of creating a sexual obsession in the masses is very, very modern, and resonates with all we know about the popular image of Madonna and Britney Spears. In fact, Christina Aguilera’s latest album is entitled Bionic and shows her as a robot. The appeal of these artists, and many others, consists primarily of sexual stimulation and little else, the music being quite robotic in nature. As a matter of fact, I’m sure some of my readers remember the colorized version of Metropolis which came out in the eighties (which I avoided seeing just on general principles). That version had a modern “new wave” soundtrack, which totally missed the point of the film, the popular culture of the eighties (and today, as well) glorified the sex goddess robot instead of recognizing it’s evil effect upon the audience. If you know your history, you know that the 1920’s were a time of hedonistic devil may care attitudes, especially in Weimar Germany, where Metropolis was made. This movie was quite prophetic in it’s message, describing a technocratic society masking an underground slave culture.
I decided to explore another silent film era icon, which I hadn’t investigated before. I had had many photos of Louise Brooks but had never actually seen one of her films. Her image haunted me, although the photos were from the twenties, they felt modern somehow. She seemed to hold a dark, sad, mystery. I have since discovered that a cult has developed around Louise Brooks and I am hardly alone in my fascination. I found two of her best films, also made in Weimar Germany, Pandora’s Box, and Diary of a Lost Girl. Both are excellent, especially Diary. They are also disturbing. Louise Brooks is totally different from the acting conventions of the time. She is natural, and seems as modern as any of today’s actresses. She is even more hypnotic and mesmerizing in the films than in the photos. I can see some connection between Metropolis and these Brooks’ films. I hope I don’t stretch that connection too far, however. She is like the robot in Metropolis, especially in Pandora’s Box as Lulu, in that she has an evil effect on the men around her, while she appears relatively unscathed, and uncaring, much like a robot. But while the character of Lulu bears resemblance to the inhuman creation in Metropolis, the character Louise plays in Diary of a Lost Girl is very different. This character bears a resemblance to the real woman in Metropolis that the robot is modeled after. Diary deals with how women can be abused to the point of being dehumanized (turned into sexual robots, isn’t that sort of what prostitutes are?), and yet, Brook’s character rebels against her dehumanization and the dehumanization of other women. In real life Brooks was quite contemptuous of popular culture and refused to continue to play Hollywood’s game, which cost her her career. She serves as an appropriate role model for modern women. My question to today’s icons, such as Lady Gaga, for instance, are whether they are a mindless product of popular culture, cashing in on the rebelliousness of today’s youth, or a genuine example of a woman who uses her sexuality to liberate rather than enslave, and is willing to be true to her ideals even at the cost of her career. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this matter. In the meantime I still need to find a job, and keep from (oh, here I am whining again!) In any case, if you are one of the unwashed millions living in caves, who haven’t seen any of these movies, they are all on youtube, check them out. I don’t think you will regret it.