Being in a not-such-a-long distance relationship means that I am a frequent user of Autobuses de Oriente’s Mexico-Puebla service. Advancing down the autopista between my boyfriend’s mini-city and the sprawling metropolis I now call home, I am constantly struck by two distinct thoughts:
The first is the anachronistic beauty of the landscape in a country whose infrastructure is ravaged by corruption and theft; whose newspapers are emblazoned with images of bloodied corpses and bullet holes in heads; and whose citizens walk around nearly certain that they’ll be kidnapped, or at the very least mugged, before they reach their front door. Dripping with green and nestled within rolling hills more than a mile above sea level, the transcendent two-hour trajectory between Mexico City and Puebla is devoid of the palpable fear that sags over the city like the faint smog, providing a theoretical contrast most writers only dream of.
The second is why ADO insists on playing such shitty movies.
Last Sunday, as I boarded the bittersweet bus that brings me back to my dream city but away from my dream dude, as the sun set behind thousands and thousands of stacked stucco houses, and as a faint rainbow flirted with the dewy grass, I found myself locked in a giant sardine can with 40 other riders and a dubbed version of Marley and Me.
Marley and Me, for those of you have not had the grave misfortune, is about two blond people, played by Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson. They amble around doing blond things: wearing khakis, achieving mainstream success, and getting a dog to match their hair. Progeny is popped out, life passes, and ultimately the dog dies, allowing everyone to experience death first hand, etc. etc.etc.
It’s not so much the film that I’m worried about as the dissemination of the ideas it presented therein. Ignoring the dog for a moment, the characters live a lush life. Their house is three stories, their clothes are always clean, and their biggest problem is that the dog chews their stuff. One could argue that losing a loved pet is a universal theme. I would respond that there are places where they would be happy to have the meat of that 75 pound golden retriever in their icebox.
But this is not the only fraudulent flick, and by fraudulent I mean guilty of transmitting the already accepted vision that foreigners have of Americans as flush with cash and out of touch with the real problems of the world. Bad Teacher features Cameron Diaz as a borderline alcoholic middle school teacher who happens to possess every single perfectly-cut pair of pants and impeccable-sewn top from Paris 2010 Fashion Week. Winter’s Just Go With It delved into the lives of a plastic surgeon, his assistant, and their oh-so-difficult drama pretending to be spouses in Hawaii. EvenMidnight in Paris isn’t utterly sinless: This time, Owen Wilson plays a successful screenwriter who about to marry up. He’s comfortable but not as rich as his fiancée; this is denoted by the fact that he wears a brown tweed jacket instead of a black blazer like his future father-in-law.
My problem with these movies is not that they show luxurious existences, but rather that they pass these individuals off as the average American. Clearly the economical situation in the US is puzzling to an outsider. They read the newspaper and hear things on the radio regarding plummeting salaries, terrible job market; the world “crisis” is ubiquitous. Yet foreign viewers see the average American worrying about not having the appropriate brand of shoes, emotional breakdowns, and maybe not getting sex on demand. Even a crappy MTV show like Teen Mom, broadcast in Mexico every single day, shows the underage matriarchs toting iPhones and going to nail salons amidst their paternity problems and child support woes. The pixels don’t lie: Americans have money. But do we? And if not, why do modern movies insist on reflecting a very peculiar and particular quadrant of society?
I see no problem with movies as fantasy. It’s indubitably exciting to watch the wealthy doing things we will never be able to afford. However, when it’s passed off as the norm is when it becomes distortive and dangerous.
The opposite problem, just as damaging, is the movies and shows about the most degenerate, cracked-out people our fair United States have to offer. Programs likeHoarders and Intervention promote the idea that if you’re not living in a high rise in Soho, you’re a junkie who can’t throw anything away. Or you’re Precious.
As an American who occasionally splurges on overpriced cocktails instead of buying new underwear, whose bank account is constantly flirting with empty, and who has an objectively interesting life, I remain perplexed as to why screenwriters and directors insist on creating crap instead of working with the story of one of the of the millions of multi-layered middle-class mortals known as the true average American.
As an American living abroad, I’m annoyed.
And as a writer, I guess it’s my job to do something about it. But until then, I’ll tune out the movies on the bus and spend my weekend commute looking at this complex country unravel before my eyes out the almost clean window.