Hollywood ExpectationsPosted on March 4th, 2009 No comments
At the start of every year I find myself involved in making plans for the next 12 months and every time I wonder about the relationship between plans and reality. Or more specifically: the fact that plans never work out and that no one ever gets anything right first time.
I was initially going to write this up as a corporate bullshit thing where leaders assumed that, since they were not doing any actual work, their staff we going to get it exactly right but this is not fair because everyone does it. Everyone makes plans with the expectation that chaos will suddenly be tamed.
Why is this?
My past experience tells me that the real world involves a whole lot of compromise, imperfect information and human error that immediately invalidates any plans no matter how well thought out. But each time I start a new project I tend to assume that everything is going happen perfectly and commit to time lines that have no room to absorb problems and unforeseen issues. Even though varying degree of failure would appear to be certain and unavoidable.
I have a semi-serious explanation for this…Hollywood.
We have all watched a lot of movies (and TV programs for that matter), which are designed to be entertaining and therefore avoid a lot of the tedious bits of life that are not going to keep an audience happy. The hero always knows what to do next, the villian has no redeeming features, the plot is usually uncomplicated and everything comes to a neat, feel good conclusion in around 90mins.
Obviously, I am not talking about every movie here, just the mainstream popular stuff.
Even though it is entertainment, I think people still aspire to live like the characters they see in movies and TV. Consciously or not, I think we absorb what we see and expect that this is how things should be if we are living our lives well. Movies mostly make us feel good and we want to feel good about ourselves so why shouldn’t our lives be like a movie?
Of course this is completely impossible. There is a massive amount of tedious and non-entertaining effort required to make movies ‘work’ effortlessly. Most of this effort is making sure “reality” is removed while still maintaining believability and thereby selling us this vision.
So what is this whole “reality” thing that Hollywood avoids but we need to deal with?
Uncertainty and doubt
The heroes of action movies always act with total conviction that they are doing the right thing and that the outcome of their actions is assured. Think about Indiana Jones, James Bond and John McClane, they never have a moment of doubt about what they have to do or why.
I can think of quite a few things I have done with where there was enormous amount of doubt and uncertainty all the way through. i.e. Was this really the best solution to my problem? Are we sure it will do everything we want?
In the movies, the characters always know what to say and are always completely aware of their feelings and emotions. whereas I usually don’t really comprehend a situation or what I feel about it until well after the event and much to late to deliver a good monologue.
Goodies and Baddies
Clear definition of right and wrong is a key part of fiction. In order for us to really like the heroes and really hate the villains it needs to be very polarised.
My real life heroes and villains tend to exchange roles quite often meaning that everyone is..well, they are just everyone really. All are capable of great things and all are capable of making your life a misery. Quite often a whole group of people are considered to be evil but individually they are not that bad. This makes it a victory over an enemy quite unrewarding.
Real life problems have complexity. They are rarely about one dimensional situations like a bus that will explode if it goes under a certain speed or rescuing someone who has been kidnapped. Usually you have to work out what the problem is before you can even start solving it.
Problems often have no ideal solution anyway and to resolve them you have to make a hard decision to live with a lesser evil. Rarely will you get a good unambiguous victory that has no downside. Its grey all the way and maybe they never really get solved and you live with them from the rest of your life. This would be a whole lot less depressing if we didn’t dream of the move star lifestyle with no concerns or worries.
Also one thing you never really see in the movie is the aftermath. The people whose cars where wrecked in the car chase, mothers of the henchmen standing beside their sons graves or the sadness of the guy the leading lady left behind. That is really something that Hollywood is good at preventing you from seeing or sympathising with
Speed of Resolution
The last thing is that most movies are an hour and a half in duration. A long lunch break for you and I. They are broken into three acts. The set up, the middle and the conclusion. There is a story arc that the hero follows that is neatly resolved well before any toilet breaks are required. What most people don’t realise is that these movies take years to make. It takes this long because the movie makers need to deal with reality like you or I.
I will finish on a related but slightly tangential note. Sport has goodies and baddies, it has clean problems, clear success, typically no consequences and is over quickly. I wonder if the appeal of sport and movies are more closely related that we think.