A fount of useless knowledge

Yesterday a friend sent me a link to a youtube recording of an album that we used to listen to when we were young. You see we were a bit obsessed with this one particular movie (I suppose in all truth we still are…) called Raiders of the Lost Ark. You may have heard of it. So this youtube thing, if you have not checked it out for yourself already, was the “radio play” version of the movie. Not only do I have very fond memories of listening to it ALL THE DAMN TIME, but I have very distinct images of the album cover in my head. I can see it as if I were holding it in my hands. But more than that I can hear it, not all of it but parts certainly, at will. So I put headphones on and listened to it right away and it was fantastic.


We used to watch the movie a lot as well. I still watch it at least once a year. And we had the toys. And the soundtrack. And the awful (and frustrating) ATARI video game. And the script. And cobbled together costumes. He, that friend of olde, has a grand collection of props and genuine articles from the movie, full tilt collector that he is. I went on to get a degree in archaeology and now work in a… shall we say museum setting. Clearly this film had great influence on us.

But why? Certainly it is not the only film that we hold dear (you know, there is the whole Star Wars thing), nor has it stopped there. There are still movies that made a big impact on me and that I watch and re-watch with great fervor (LOTR or The Matrix for example), but none hold the sway or importance of Raiders.

When listening to that “album” yesterday, I knew what they had edited out of the original movie dialogue… not just that things were missing, but rather I was finishing the statements and the scenes in my head, so too with the soundtrack. I could easily visualize everything that was happening during the long and somewhat awkward bits of sound effects as if I had just watched the film yesterday. This movie is etched on my psyche.

The Wife and I recently re-watched another film that exhibits a similar influence on me, though certainly not quite to this extent… or at least to a different one; Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, one I have mentioned here before. As with Raiders, I know all of the dialogue and can recite much of it from memory; the soundtrack nearly as well.

It goes on and on like that with many things. Things that seemingly have no “useful purpose” in navigating life in this, our society. Depending on who you talk to I suppose. I briefly touched on my frustration with society and the rules that we have constructed to govern it (well sort of) in my other blog yesterday. In thinking about this business I had to acknowledge that much of what I was ranting about the other night is directly related to the influence of the mythical Ferris Bueller.” Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” Or “How could I be expected to handle school on a day like this?” or “Don’t think twice. It is understanding that makes it possible for people like us to tolerate a person like yourself.” These quotes, and many others like them — very often gleaned from movies, but also books and songs — make up a good part of my sense of the world around me.


Contrary to what would seem popular or at least common practice, I do not seem to have a belief system built on typical social norms such as religion or what I learned in school or political inclinations or hell, even familial standards. Granted I am likely overstating my case here, but the reality is I spent a lot of time alone, dreaming my life away when I was a kid and I suppose in many ways I still do.


My question then is on the one hand, is this more common than I am inclined to think? Are we all subject, in terms of learned behaviors and beliefs, to popular cultural influence and is it more that influences like family and church have been overtaken by popular entertainment? Many people have religious texts memorized, or political doctrines and documents. But then there are sports and music industry icons, video games and comic books, art, popular fiction and literature. So, on the other hand is this sort of direct cultural influence a good thing? If I have been so heavily influenced by things entertaining and we all know that there are far less harmless cultural influences out there, what are the possibilities?

Then, in asking this I am aware that it almost seems a preposterous question. Of course we are influenced by our surroundings, but to what degree and what then are the implications of that? Religion and politics are, by design, intended to create structure in society… if not outright control. It is with intent and purpose that leaders operating within such institutions seek to exert some influence over others. They operate within long standing, historic systems and this is not inherently bad… necessarily. But if we are all subject to influence and to a free will interpretation (clearly more so in some than in others) of that influence, then the power to influence others potentially becomes a great and terrible responsibility. Hence the terrors often wrought at the hands of the church and political establishments (of whatever sort). Yet the opposite is also true, do not get me wrong here, this is not about casting any blame.

The media and entertainment industries do not seem so structured or cohesive. But then is this suggesting a more random and chaotic suite of cultural influences on society? However, this kind of begs the question of Life imitating art. Or the tail wagging the dog, or the cart before the horse. Clearly I had no influence over the making of Raiders or Ferris Bueller. But both have influenced what I have become. What is my role in that? Was the influence so great because of the time in which I was living? That might make sense for the latter especially, but not really the former. Given that these influences have had such great impact on my life, how does that translate into what influence I might have on the world around me… miniscule as that may be? I certainly know by experience that my “pop” culture references are not always relevant today.

Ultimately maybe it doesn’t matter I suppose. But, on the other hand it is hard to not ask why we do what we do, or think what we think. It is hard not to question the rules of society and the decisions that we make within it, not to mention behaviors we exhibit because of it. If “we the people” truly have some measure of influence over how we are governed and how we live our lives, then is this world working the way we want? Obviously it is not so easy as all of that.

Which begs the question of truth. How could there possibly be one truth? One right or wrong way? Indeed, it does not make any sense.

“Oh Marcus! What are you trying to do, scare me? ,You sound like my mother. We’ve known each other a long time. You know I don’t believe in magic, a lot of superstitious hocus pocus. I’m going after a find of incredible historical significance, you’re talking about the boogie man… Besides, you know what a cautious fellow I am.”


One thought on “A fount of useless knowledge

  1. I haven’t (yet – until now) thought much on the relative influence specific/individual movies might have had in shaping my personal worldview: I tend to think it reinforces it to a large degree, and that’s why I orient to ones in line with what I like, or reflect my personal taste. But that in itself tends to limit openness to things I wouldn’t normally experience or see, or read, as I then have a preformed opinion on what I think I would or wouldn’t enjoy, which, as opposed to filtering out garbage, more often than not restricts exposure to anything new or different.
    Case in point is being elitist about mass media and by virtue of my own lofty alternative standards and refusing to see most of the crap that’s put out there. But then – horror of horrors – going to see something that’s stupid and/or popular and wind up enjoying the hell out of it anyways (ex. from Godzilla to abstract art exhibits etc.).

    Media literacy would look more at the overall impact entertainment has on society, as in keeping us all collectively occupied (or pacified from a more cynical “opiate of the masses” perspective). But as a maker myself, and also as an educator, I see firsthand the pervasive influence on peers and students when it comes to derivative works and individual styles lost in the current swirl of pop flavor. The cautionary danger is when so many potential talents aspire to be a cog in the wheel of industry, sublimating their own style or vision within a corporate structure (ie dream job to work for Marvel/DC, Pixar etc.).

    More importantly I think the industry in an insidious way robs talent by captivating (as opposed to inspiring) the audience, as in the overwhelming majority tend to consume content by others rather than create their own. Making art, in whatever medium, is so rewarding, self-affirming and powerful in comparison, but it’s much harder and demanding than plopping down to watch the newest damn DVD or program.

    My personal reflex/mantra when watching or seeing stuff has more lately been “is there anything else that I can be doing instead?”*

    *Says the guy scanning in artwork – while surfing the blogosphere AND playing the complete series/18-disc set of “Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends” in the background…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s