Regular Americans head off to the multiplex for a night out at the movies.
Quick note before I get started on today’s installment. The coverage of the sudden fight over the President’s now several months’ old decision that employers receiving federal money must comply with federal law and offer medical insurance plans that cover contraception is one of the reasons I’m bothering with this silly quiz.
At the Washington Post, Greg Sargent has a post that asks “Is media getting politics of contraception all wrong?” It’s a rhetorical question because Sargent has an answer ready. “Yes.” Polls show most Catholics want birth control covered by their insurance. But the media is covering the issue as if most Catholics are lined up with the bishops. Sargent doesn’t get into it, but the reason the media is saying it is that Washington insiders think all Catholics are conservatives. The media doesn’t read polls, except for the latest ones out of the Presidential horseraces and they read those shallowly, looking for evidence that what the boys and girls and the bus are telling each other on the bus, which is usually some version of The Democrats are doomed, is true. The media believes that all Americans except black Americans are conservative, which is why they keep turning out stories predicting that Jews and Hispanics are about to turn on Democrats en masse.
Generally, the political press corps has no idea who Catholics are or what they think or believe. They seem to know that a lot of Catholics are Irish, Italian, and Polish, but that only figures into their thinking when there’s a parade. They don’t seem to know that a lot of Hispanics are Catholic. On the whole, they lump Catholics in with “Christians” whom they also think are all conservatives, and treat them all as “regular Americans.”
And as it turns out their idea of who count as regular Americans is pretty close to the who the quiz treats as the regular Americans with whom “the elite” is out of touch: Mostly Southern and Midwestern, suburban-dwelling, middle-aged white men who vote Republican.
The Political Press Corps covers Catholics as if they’re not mostly to be found in cities run by Democrats and in blue states and in the bluer parts of purple states like Ohio and red states like Texas and Arizona because that’s how they cover “Americans.”
At any rate, it’s not that I don’t think there’s a “regular America.” It’s that I think the quiz---which is to say the assumptions behind it---is reductive and offers a very limited picture of the American experience. It’s not a good thing that political journalists accept the same basic assumptions.
The difference is that the quiz is deliberately reductive and the political press’s assumptions are just the result of intellectual laziness and, yes, elitist condescension.
So, on to dissecting today’s question.
3. Have you seen last year’s mega-hit movie, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”?
At first I didn’t get this one at all. Seemed to me that all a yes answer did here was increase the probability you’re a twelve year old boy.
With lousy tastes in movies.
Also, a yes answer might just mean you’re a film critic and your editor wouldn’t let you get out of it.
I was scratching my head, wondering if the movie had a coded conservative agenda or if one of the blockheaded philistines at Big Hollywood had read one into it. It filled the seats at multiplexes everywhere, but was it more popular in red states?
But, as loretta has pointed out in comments on my first two bubble bursters, the quiz I linked to is adapted from a slightly longer version that actually appears in Murray’s book and on that quiz the question is:
Which of the following movies have you seen (at a theater or on DVD)?
Iron Man 2, Inception, Despicable Me, Tron Legacy, True Grit, Clash of the Titans, Grown Ups, Little Fockers, The King’s Speech, Shutter Island?
Transformers: Dark of the Moon is not on the book version of the quiz and the question on the version I linked to actually distorts the book’s version as Murray describes those movies as the “ten top grossing movies not principally directed at children or teens.”
Ok, I enjoyed Despicable Me but “not principally directed at children”? Well, never mind. Let’s give it to him, for now.
When I read the book’s version I thought, “I get it. This is a gimme. It’s in there so that nobody scores a 0.”
Then I remembered that the quiz (in both versions) was designed with two political purposes. The first is to define Regular American-ness with Republican voter. But the second is to maneuver liberal elitists into revealing themselves as liberal elitists.
The assumption behind the question is that there are people who’d answer none of them, people like Murray’s intellectually pretentious colleagues at Harvard and neighbors in Cambridge, tweedy, white-wine sipping snobs who wouldn’t dream of seeing any movie that didn’t have subtitles or good buzz coming out of Sundance, toffs whose tastes are so refined they’d turn up their noses at Martin Scorsese and the Coen Brothers.
It’s not that regular Americans go to any particular movies it’s that they’re happy to go see whatever’s playing at the multiplex and willingly rub shoulders with the rest of the hoi polloi in line to buy popcorn.
The question is a locator too. If you like to go to the movies to see movies with subtitles you have to live in a big city or a university town and no regular Americans live in those places.
Ah, but here’s the thing. My parents have only seen two of these, True Grit and The King’s Speech, and they watched them both on DVD.
A none of the above answer on this question may indicate you’re a snobby elitist but it may also simply mean that you’re getting older and don’t get out as much as you used to and when you do you’re picky about what you go see because movie tickets have gotten expensive, movies have gotten worse---they don’t make ‘em like they used to---and, you know what, rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi in line for popcorn is a lot more annoying than it used to be.
Mom and Pop Mannion won’t go to a movie until they’re sure they’re both going to like it, and by the time they make up their minds it’s often the case that the movie has left the theaters. Then they have to remember to look out for it when it comes out on DVD. Which means it’s more or less an accident that they saw True Grit and The King’s Speech and they wouldn’t have to answer no if they took the quiz.
(Old Mother and Old Father Blonde, on the other hand, see everything. They don’t pay for everything. But, hey, if the multiplexes didn’t want them going to see two movies for the price of one, they’d hire more ushers to check tickets.)
But here’s another thing. The regular American movie going experience has been undergoing a sea change. More and more of us aren’t going to the multiplex and not because we’re heading off to the art houses instead. We’re staying home because…
Ticket prices are too high, movies are worse---and there’s a reason that undercuts Murray’s question---and standing in line with the hoi polloi for popcorn isn’t a whole lot of fun.
But we’re also staying home because high def, large screen, flat screen TVs are coming down in price and are really, really cool and more and more movies are streaming on Netflix and Amazon. Then there’s on demand. And then there’s the fact that while movies have gotten worse, television has gotten not just better but routinely terrific.
Now, here’s why movies have gotten worse and standing in line for popcorn less tolerable.
Well, the audience for Transformers.
Twelve to fifteen year old boys.
Which is the targeted audience for most movies, including half the movies on Murray’s list of movies supposedly not “principally directed at children and teenagers.”
Again, it’s not that I don’t think there’s a regular America somewhere out there. It’s that it’s a more complicated place than the quiz allows for. But whatever it is and wherever it is, it’s not to be found at the multiplexes anymore.
Unless regular Americans are defined as teenage boys who haven’t discovered girls yet.
By the way, I’m leaving it up to any of you to explain, using his own qualifiers, leaving Toy Story 3 off his list proves Murray doesn’t have a clue when it comes to movies.
If you want to do some catching up with the rest of regular America: Shutter Island, True Grit, Tron: Legacy, and Iron Man 2 are available to watch instantly on Netflix.