A Hunger for Normalcy?

Stephen Marche, writing about the Oscars, asserts that:

The aesthetic criteria are pure cover, of course. The Oscars actually register which films the Hollywood elite think they ought to like. This is much more useful than a prize for merit. It provides a sense of the approved story lines of mass culture.

…and goes on to say that what he sees projected in the front-runners and in many other recent films is a hunger for normalcy:

This narrative is a marked change from previous years. Hollywood, and American moviegoers generally, likes the win. The common wisdom is that it wants not just a happy ending, but a triumph. Up! not down. Think Rocky. Think Gladiator, and Slumdog Millionaire, and Argo, and The King’s Speech….Obviously we can no longer stomach such victories. The story of overcoming and making a better world simply won’t fly anymore. Our version of winning, at this point, is simply being a human being, having your feet in the tall grass, having a family, being able to talk to a person in the flesh. Those are the “big wins” in America in 2013, at least by the lights of the nominees for best picture. 

You can’t say it doesn’t fit the mood. We want everything to get back to normal. We want employment to return at the end of a recession. We want the American government to work again. None of it seems too much to ask, but obviously it is.


I’m reminded of a passage in C S Lewis’s fantasy novel That Hideous Strength. The protagonist, Mark Studdock, is being held captive by a sinister cult. The room in which he is being held is intended, via both its structure and its artistic decorations, to create a maximum sense of disorientation in the prisoner. But:

...the built and painted perversity of this room had the effect of making him aware, as he had never been aware before, of this room’s opposite. As the desert first teaches men to love water, or as absence first reveals affection, there rose up against this background of the sour and the crooked some kind of vision of the sweet and the straight. Something else – something he vaguely called the “Normal” – apparently existed. He had never thought about it before. But there it was solid, massive, with a shape of its own, almost like something you could touch, or eat, or fall in love with. It was all mixed up with Jane and fried eggs and soap and sunlight and the rooks cawing at Cure Hardy and the thought that, somewhere outside, daylight was going on at that moment. He was not thinking in moral terms at all; or else (what is much the same thing) he was having his first deeply moral experience.

(Oscars link via Newmark’s Door)


9 thoughts on “A Hunger for Normalcy?”

  1. Off topic, but I couldn’t resist reading the article on how Rahm is saving Chicago. This from the comments:

    Chicago is on the verge of a civil war, and you produce this banality about how fastidious the top warlord is about his diet. This is why I stopped buying Esquire years ago, and why I have no intention of resuming.

    That’s how I feel about magazines in general anymore. Anything aimed at pop culture or the lighter side of life seem to all be propaganda outlets for the Left. I feel like I’m living in the USSR. Maybe it was always this way but now I’m old enough to notice.

    BTW, this desire for a return to normalcy he talks about is yet another example of Leftists not connecting the things they vote for and the results they get.

  2. This is the big reason why “Forrest Gump” was so popular. It was made as a satire on the stupid “normal people” and it hit a chord with the American people that Hollywood still doesn’t understand.

    I was astonished when “Shakespeare in Love” won over “Last of the Mohicans.” I haven’t watched the Oscars since. Mohican was exquisitely authentic, even to using all real Indian actors playing the Indians.

  3. Well, Shakespeare in Love was very funny. By the by, what’s the meaning of “having your feet in the tall grass”?

  4. I liked both Last of the Mohicans and Shakespeare in Love very, very much, and I’d be pretty torn at having to judge one to be better than the other. They were two very different movies, and engaging in their own way.

  5. Dearieme…I think the “tall grass” bit is about the protagonist in Gravity (which I have not seen) walking about a lake after returning from space.

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