Despite mediocre reviews from the critical ranks, Snow White & The Huntsman dominated this weekend's box office. Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron and dynamite special effects are apparently all it requires to put paying butts in seats. When one steps back and takes a broader view of television programming and recent box office blockbusters, there seems to be a land office business underway in fantasy. It may have all started with Harry Potter and his witches-in-training classmates, but the popular appetite for mystic worlds appears insatiable. Both the tube and our movie screens are ablaze with titanic struggles betwixt the forces of good and evil.
There has to be some correspondence between the tenor of 21st century American life and this public fascination with entirely fictional worlds. Blood and sex have always sold well, yet Hollywood has also exhibited a special knack for anticipating emerging public sentiment. During the '60s, when the nation seemed to be bursting with possibility (Viet Nam excepted), the boob tube was dominated by Westerns. Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Rawhide and Maverick, to name a few, all served up rapturous paeans to the possibilities of free enterprise and personal initiative. Work hard enough, tame those barbarous Indians, rape their lands and the ensuing riches would snuff out any lingering sense of shame. An industrial strength Protestant ethic promised to produce profits for most, if not for all.
The Denver Post recently reported that almost 1,500 readers, presumably 99.9 percent of them female, have formed a restive queue at city libraries for an opportunity to peruse 50 Shades of Grey and its pair of sequels. Isn't that curious? Why are these three, rather poorly-written tracts flying off the shelves? It's no compliment to the men in women's lives. Nor, presumably, do these wives and lovers really long to be bound, cuffed, spanked or otherwise humiliated by the men sharing their beds. I suspect this is about romance at a time when couples are struggling to pay their bills. The American Dream is currently obscured by every day hardships with little relief in sight. The frogs in women's lives aren't likely to turn into Princes anytime soon, so: an eternally youthful, independently wealthy vampire Lord, who murmurs of his adoration, provides a pleasant refuge from the economic stresses of the here and now.
Of course, in these tales, the forces of corruption always buckle before the powers of righteousness. The succubus in Lost Girl courageously defends us against the dark fey, while the Grimm regularly bests an entire taxonomy of hidden beasts, gremlins and devils. The good guys also seem likely to prevail in Once Upon A Time. It's just like real life, where banksters on Wall Street are placed in tumbrels by enraged mobs and delivered to citizen juries that confiscate their ill begotten riches and then sentence them to decades delivering Meals on Wheels to seniors whose pensions they were looting. Whoops, there I go again, fantasizing about our criminal justice system!
Fortunately, reality has a way of inexorably elbowing fantasy out of its way. The Beatles and the tsunami of musical innovation they triggered in the '60s rapidly eclipsed the feel good rhythms of doo-wop and Motown. Admittedly, disco and anthem rock constitute forgettable detours. As it becomes increasingly evident that the middle class will continue to shrink under economic pressures from the universal 'race to the bottom' that is intrinsic to the global marketplace, I expect to discover the re-emergence of anger in popular culture. Listening to a lot of emerging music on Colorado Public Radio's Open Air, I detect echoes of the folk/country harmonies and puerile ditties of the late '50s. Another rock rebellion can't be far behind.
Wishful thinking always leads to a dead end, no matter how entertaining the exercise may be. Even much of our news today seems to have tumbled into a fantasy land, where FOX reporters and MSNBC anchors report to us of preposterous realms built from fake facts and partisan prejudices. It may well be time to wake up and recognize that while Snow White can prove victorious on the big screen, our evil kings and queens still possess trunks full of youthful hearts they plan to consume tomorrow and in the days that follow. I nearly forgot to mention that True Blood returns this weekend. Perhaps HBO's werewolves can protect us for another season, or not?