Whether we admit it or not, most of us will spend our adult lives trying to unlearn the shit pop culture taught us when we were growing up. As regular readers know, said shit ranges from the little things (no, you aren't guaranteed "one phone call" in jail) to broad life principles (no, a few months of frantic training won't let you take on experts who've been doing it their whole lives). This is a long-running theme here at Cracked and while we can be pretty hard on Hollywood, really none of this is their fault.
See, there are some basic reasons why movies (and games, and TV, and songs, and comics ... ) are really terrible at delivering lessons on how to live your life, no matter how hard they try.
5 Movies Can't Help But Make Conflict Look Like Fun
New Line Cinema
To illustrate what I'm talking about here, just look for the cut on the bridge of the hero's nose.
When a handsome action star is at his lowest point -- when he's been beaten and wounded and you're supposed to really feel the terrible toll the conflict has taken on him, Hollywood conveys it with a very specific wound. That little cut on the bridge of the nose that only makes them sexier:
New Line Cinema
20th Century Fox
I've looked worse than that after yard work.
My favorite example of this comes from Game Of Thrones. In the books, Tyrion Lannister's facial wounds are described thusly:
"Three-quarters of his nose was gone, and a chunk of his lip. Someone had sewn the torn flesh together with catgut, and their clumsy stitches were still in place across the seam of raw, red, half-healed flesh."
And, of course, here's how the show interpreted that:
"Three one-hundredths of his nose was gone, but his lip was still strong and sensual. Aww yeah."
That, right there, symbolizes the just balls-out hilarious mixed message Hollywood sends about, well, everything. In this case, what they're saying about violence/conflict clashes spectacularly with what they're showing. "Avoid fighting at all costs, children, or else you'll get this badass, sexy, totally painless scar!"
Now, tell me how many times you've seen this: We're on the verge of a battle, and a thoughtful warrior bemoans the need for bloodshed:
William "Braveheart" Wallace: "I came back home to raise crops, and, God willing, a family. If I can live in peace, I will."
Faramir from The Lord Of The Rings (looking at a fallen enemy soldier): "His sense of duty was no less than yours ... war will make corpses of us all."
Yoda: "'A great warrior?' Wars not make one great, you cock."
Then, within a few minutes, comes the most beautifully choreographed, thrilling, badass, orgasmic action you've ever seen. At the end of which, the good guys stand victorious, as the battle has solved all of their problems.
New Line Cinema
"Hey, everybody! We're all gonna get laid!"
So, yeah, kind of a mixed message there. Actually, no -- it's not mixed at all. A famous filmmaker once said there is no such thing as an anti-war movie, because violence just looks too awesome on screen. Military hardware looks cool, guys look sexy in uniform, and explosions are pretty. The camera captures the most flattering, noble angles, and the editor cuts it together in a way that gets your heart pumping. When the good guys die, they die courageous, meaningful deaths.
New Line Cinema
Seventeen percent of which are done by Sean Bean.
Yes, this is even true when the movie is openly anti-war. At the end of Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks still gets his powerful, dying monologue.
" -- and that's all I have to say about that."
In real life, those final moments are full of screaming and retching, grizzled men begging for their mothers and spraying shit into their pants. They're not kneeling in front of a gorgeous sunset and contemplating the nobility of their cause. They're clutching loops of intestine that have flopped out of the ragged hole in their gut and gurgling their own blood. But, who wants to watch that?
The most recent "anti-war" movie I saw was Fury, that Brad Pitt tank movie in which the good guys spend much of its running time talking about how war is a dehumanizing horror ("Wait until you see it ... What a man can do to another man.") Pitt's character (spoiler!) predictably meets his end in a climactic battle scene in which he mows down hundreds of faceless Nazis, finally succumbing to the many wounds he had heroically fought through up to that point. Now, go to Google and start to search for "Brad Pitt Fury," and see what it auto-completes to:
"Haircut." That's what we took away from it. "That dude who tragically died as a perfect symbol of man's inhumanity to man? How can I look as handsome as him?"
Clearly, it's the hair!
Yeah, that's the other thing. The whole time Brad Pitt was showing us how awful it would be to die in a war, he did it while looking like Brad Pitt. But, we'll come back to that in a moment. First, there's a corollary to the whole "conflict always looks like fun" problem ...
4 Dialogue Has To Be Entertaining, And That Means Lots Of Pointless Insults
Warner Bros. Television Distribution
For our next example, we'll pull a random scene from a random episode of Friends. Chandler needs a tailor who can make him a suit, and the following exchange occurs:
Joey: "Why don't you go see Frankie? My family's been going to him forever. He did my first suit when I was 15. No, wait, 16. No, excuse me, 15. All right, when was 1990?"
Chandler (angrily interrupting): "OK, you have to stop the Q-tip when there's resistance."
You know, implying that Joey has brain damage because he accidentally stabbed his brain through his ear canal.
Laugh track kicks in, Chandler walks away having delivered the sick burn, Joey turns around, and that's the end of the conversation. You've seen the equivalent literally 10 thousand times on-screen; Aaron Sorkin's movies usually involve characters spraying these dismissive insults at each other like machine-gun fire:
Now, in real life, Joey would have replied with something to the effect of, "I was trying to help you out and that's the way you talk to me, you ungrateful fuck?" Or, more realistically, they would never have become friends in the first place, because Chandler would have severed all of his friendships years earlier and, realizing he was alone, eaten his gun. But, even within the universe of that show, what was that insult meant to accomplish?
Communication is, after all, intended to deliver information to another person to accomplish some goal. Even if it's an insult, it's because you're communicating to them that they've made you angry, in order to correct future behavior ("Get your shoes off my sofa, you goddamned slob"). Note that this is not the same thing as banter, lighthearted barbs that signal familiarity, but never touch truly sensitive ground. When a dude says, "Yeah, that's what your mom said last night while I was banging her!" it's specifically because the listener knows he didn't actually bang his mom.
But, in the Friends exchange above, you don't have any of that. So, why did Chandler do it? The answer, of course, is Chandler knows he's on a TV show and that there is a third party to the conversation: us, the audience. What he said only makes sense in that context, and no other -- never in the history of real conversation has a "sick burn" like Chandler's made things better.
But we do it anyway.
In fact, we build entire fictional universes around it.
If you were raised on television like I was (and thus have more hours invested in listening to fictional arguments than real ones), you've been trained to talk that way. That is, to deliver quips crafted to be funny and biting at the expense of the person you're speaking to ... even if there is no one there to laugh at them. I bet if you went over a transcript of your last bad fight with a significant other, you would find tons of this shit:
Her: "Well, maybe it's time you finally got a job!"
You: "Oh, like you're soooo proud to work at Starbucks! Hey, maybe someday you can rise to the top of the field of misspelling names on cups! Twenty years from now, maybe you can be misspelling the names of cities on water towers! Reach for the stars, girl!"
Remember, the fictional sarcastic assholes we all love have inhuman amounts of money, knowledge, and talent.
That's not communication -- it's a performance. And we do it all the time; instead of trying to say the thing that makes the other person come around and actually do what you want him or her to do, you're trying to make it entertaining for a camera that isn't there. It's kind of like how the sexual positions in porn are only intended to look good for the camera, rather than give anyone any actual pleasure. It's fine to watch, but the moment you bring that shit into the bedroom, somebody's gonna wind up in the emergency room with crushed testicles.