Thank you to the anonymous person who requested this post! Talking about the value of movies that simply make you happy, versus the “films” that are intellectual and teach you things.
A few weeks back I was stuck in a really bad phase of Seasonal Affective Disorder depression. And one of the things I found most useful was meditating. It wasn’t attacking the root problem, but it was giving me a 5 minute respite from being frustrated and miserable which gave me the strength to deal with problems. 5 minutes of respite, and then I could cook healthy food, go for a long walk, clean the house, all those useful things.
That is the value of entertainment. Marx called religion the “opiate of the masses” and in modern times, it has often been translated to television or movies as the “opiate” of the masses. But let’s look at that a little more.
Opium is an addictive drug, but opiates are also medicine when used in moderation and appropriately. My Dad’s dad and my Mom’s Mom both struggled with this. They both had terrible pain in the last few years of their life, pain that couldn’t be treated, that was just part of aging. Their doctor’s prescribed them pain management pills, opioids, and they both resisted. They waited until the last minute and took as little as possible. Which was BAD!!! Not just because they felt more pain, but because it weakened them overall and made other medical issues harder. When your body is fighting pain, you are too tired to do your physical therapy, or eat your meals, or all those other things you need to do.
Entertainment can be an opioid, I’m not gonna argue against that. Heck, I’m using it that way right now. I am trying to get through post-COVID fatigue which means I need to just sit in one place and let my body heal itself. I need “opioids”, I need something addictive and compulsive to keep me in one place and let the time go by. So I am watching bad true crime TV shows, and Star Trek, brainless BBC detective shows (Death in Paradise is soooooooooooooo dumb). And I am fighting the part of my brain that is telling me I should be watching Dasvi, or the new high quality HBO documentary on spousal abuse, or anything that isn’t trash.
If some entertainment is “opioids”, then I suppose other entertainment would be considered stimulants. If I watch Dasvi, my mind is going to process it as a stimulant, it’s going to make me want to write a review, to do research, to be productive in the world. That’s a good thing, normally, but today in particular I need to be resting and relaxing, so it is a time to prescribe myself “opioids” instead of “stimulants”.
If we are using a drug metaphor, let’s go all the way and talk about uppers and downers. They are both drugs, but they have opposite effects. One gives you more energy, one calms you down. Media is the same, it can calm you or energize you. And BOTH are valid uses, so long as they are used properly.
I think what is missing when there is a debate between entertainment versus value is that it depends on the needs of the viewer, not on some abstract universal answer. And no one can answer that for you. If a reviewer says “no one should watch a dumb worthless movie like RRR”, or alternatively “the makers of RRR are flawed because they didn’t use their platform to address big issues”, they are making a judgement as to what people need without giving agency to the audience.
Maybe that’s why the people who make these arguments tend of be upper class men? They are used to making arguments as to what is “good” for everyone else. That same instinct that allows this community to control women’s bodies, to want to police welfare recipients to make sure they “deserve” money, to think they have the right to decide who should marry each other, or what jobs people should have, also allows them to decide what media people should watch.
I’m generalizing here, the examples I gave above come from all sides of the political arena. But that’s the point, no matter what side you are on, there is a confidence that you know best which is the birthright of upper class men from every side. You can tell people what they should be eating, what they should be thinking, and what they should be reading and watching.
There’s a corollary to this, the upperclass woman who thinks she knows best for all women. It’s a major issue within feminist theory, again present in all cultures, the “women’s issues” tend to be issues that are problems for only the most upperclass women, and the solutions offered would only work for that group as well. And again, we see it in film reviewing. There are male reviewers who say “everyone should be watching movies like this/making movies like this because it is better for you”. And there are female reviewers who say “the kind of movies women want to watch are these, and if you don’t want to watch them, you are wrong”. But again, they are assuming they know everything about your life and your needs, and they don’t. Because the only person who knows that is you.
So when a reviewer says that Raabta is fantastical trash, or we should all be watching Gangs of Wasseypur, they don’t know my life. You can say that Raabta is a fantasy, but still allow the audience to determine if they need a fantasy right now and not judge their choice. You can say Gangs of Wasseypur is complicated and challenging without judging whether someone is in need of a complicated challenge right now.
And now I will go back to watching my relaxing trash because it is what I need right now in my complicated life that is full of many aspects beyond what media I consume.