Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stephen King: entertainment and the subconcious mind

In search of Halloween entertainment, I discovered Stephen King's Cat's Eye under the "supernatural horror" genre (perfect for those of us who want scariness w/o the blood) on nextflix. After a mindless 20 min. wasted on Interview with a Vampire, (Brad Pitt is just too cute to be a vampire and Tom Cruise looked ridiculous with red cough syrup dripping from his teeth every five minutes), Cat's Eye helped me to rebuild the brain cells I lost. (I promise I'm done with parentheses . . . as of) now.

Upon completion of the film, I felt as impressed by it all as I was at the start of things, but my adulation left me scratching my head. It's easy to say why some writing is great: it might convey powerful ideas that change your life (E.M. Forster) or overwhelm you by the sheer craftsmanship of it (Keats). In this case, the highest compliment that I could give the work was that it was very entertaining. The word entertainment connotes pure mind fluff, which certainly didn't fit the bill. I felt like these stories were working on me at a deeper level than I could comprehend.

Which brings me to my new grand theory about the whole "it's just entertainment" thing. I've decided that all art, whether it's high-brow or low-brow, lofty or merely entertaining, must contain powerful ideas. It's the ideas that make the work capture our imagination, whether the intended effect is sobering or just plain fun. The difference between art that is applauded for being "intellectual" and art that is relegated to the "it' just entertainment" category, has to do with how the art form works on the brain. It it effects us at a conscious or rational level, then we will certify the art as being full of big ideas. If the art works on us at a subconscious level, we will likely say that the art is gripping, but we may fail to give it the credit it deserves, mainly because we are not fully attuned to how the the art works on us.

Comedy is perhaps the best example of what I mean. Have you ever watched a comic routine and felt like a lot more was communicated than meets the eye? It's tempting to say "oh, it just made me laugh" . . . but when you think about it more deeply, you realize that the comic was playing off of deep seated stereotypes, social mores, and taboos? In Stephen King's case, his stories might seem like they are "just entertaining," but they pack a punch by assaulting our deeply rooted concept of real v. fantasy and, above all, by exploring the perennially fascinating good-verses-evil theme. King's stories target subliminal instincts and values without us knowing it.