Friday, May 15, 2009

How Martha and Quentin messed up the world

Yesterday, on the short walk to my office from the car lot where I park, it struck me that both Quentin Tarantino and Martha Stewart are 21st century Frankenstein monsters.

Oh, they might look a little less frightful (at least Martha does anyway) but Quentin and Martha have a lot of common with the creature who was the embodiment of Dr. Frankenstein's wish: they are all examples of what happens when good intentions, talent and formidable intellect are pushed too far and go horribly awry.

The thought first occurred to me when I passed a movie theatre and saw several disturbing, full-coloured posters advertising the latest orgy of gruesome violence that passes for cinema these days.

Thanks Quentin, I thought with just a touch of guilt, Thanks a lot.

The twinge of guilt came because I have to admit that I loved Quentin when he first hit the big time with Reservoir Dogs. I mean, didn't we all?

At first I resisted watching the movie, even though everyone told me that cinema's new wonder kid had somehow managed to make violence palatable. But they were right: when I finally screwed up my courage, I was astonished to find myself chuckling and singing along to Stuck In The Middle With You during the torture scene.

Afterwards I felt exhilarated. The juxtaposition of violence and humor was like nothing I had ever seen before! It didn't bother me at all! Clearly I still had the edge required to absorb and enjoy cinema that pushed the envelope.

Honestly? I felt never more cool.

I wasn't alone. Quentin Tarantino became celebrated as the most original filmmaker in years and proceeded to churn out violent, blood-spattered movie after violent blood-spattered movie. And he soon spawned imitators who pushed the envelope even further, though increasingly without his signature rapid-fire and admittedly witty dialogue which cleverly referenced cinematic classics from around the world.

Fifteen years later, Quentin Tarantino's legacy is one I have lamented before in this space: a never-ending parade of torture-porn crap like Saw and Hostel (which he executive-produced) that is less about cinema and more about how much graphic human suffering (mostly young male) theatregoers can dare each other to sit through.

So what does this have to do with Martha?

Well, just past the movie theatre is old building which once apparently housed a shop specializing in upscale Italian fixtures for the home. It is vacant now in these recessionary times, but in an elegant and delicate script, outrageous slogans still beckon from the windows...

"It's not just a tile, it's your style" and "Your home is your style statement."

To which daily, I respectively and emphatically reply: "Yes it is, no it isn't" and "When the hell did everyone start thinking that homes were supposed to be style statements?"

Because they're not. Or rather they weren't before Martha got started on us.

Martha's revolution seemed just as innocuous to me as Quentin's when it first started. Many years ago when she first introduced the concept of gracious living to the great unwashed, I thought it was perfectly lovely. She was bringing into fashion the notion that people like me could and should take pride in their domestic activities.

Honestly? I felt never more posh.

But years later, I think that Martha Stewart and her legacy has become just as monstrous as Quentin Tarantino's.

Ultimately what Martha Stewart did was not about helping people live better, but about commodifying people's lifestyles in order to move product and make sales. She, and her increasingly craven imitators, helped usher in the belief that gracious entertaining was less about treating visitors with courtesy, respect and affable kindness, and more about designer cutlery and fancy table settings.

She, and a thousand others like her, made a fortune by fooling people into thinking they could quite literally buy style, rather than develop it on their own, and that class was personified by the exhibition of superior cooking and decorating skills as opposed to the exhibition of poise and dignity under difficult circumstances.

Before Martha Stewart rose to fame, the belief that class or style was related to the kind of floor coverings one purchased was merely an Achilles heel of the wealthy, chattering classes, not a widely held belief amongst the middle class. Today the economy and millions of North Americans are trying to recover from the misguided belief that style involves buying things you can't afford and impressing dinner guests with leased china.

I think society has created and fed more than a few monsters over the last several years and I'm sure it will create and feed many more in the years to come.

But the next time I make the trek from my office to my car I'm going to think about Martha Stewart and rampant consumerism and Quentin Tarantino and the proliferation of graphic human suffering as casual entertainment and I'm going to be careful what I wish for.

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Anonymous said...

Martha Stewart has always scared me more than a little, and I've never been able to stomach cinematic violence. This led to me feeling rather out-of-touch in my younger days. But now, thanks to you, I feel ever so ahead of the curve. Thanks a million! :)

Fawn said...

This is a great post! I have never felt compelled to watch violent movies (though I admit to enjoying, to my own surprise, the two Kill Bill movies). I'm totally with you on Martha. I still do enjoy her ideas now and then (stumbling across links on the web) but I want my house to be comfortable, not a showcase. Fortunately, with two small children, it's easy to never have it too perfect. *giggle*

moplans said...

I have to wonder if it is fair to blame them for giving us what we wanted?

It was so nice to read about your move and simplifying your life. I have often been grateful that we have not decided to upsize our home.

Colleen - Mommy Always Wins said...

I really wish I had a sophisticated and funny comment to leave you, but I don't. I just like what you said. :-)

kittenpie said...

I'm not sure I blame Quentin for the slasher movies - they were around before him and greatly enjoyed by many. He just made them cool and fun, but I also find his tend to at least have a focus for the violence involved. I feel like he has run his course, but still, I think he has been a different thing from the general horror genre.

Martha, though? Terrifying to someone like me who lives among boxes, power tools, and plastic children's toys.

Chantal said...

So true. Every generation has theirs. I think about the house wives of the 50's who would take Valium when they couldn't manage or handle the "June Cleaver" household.

Heather said...

This is one of the ways that I sort of wish I lived in an earlier time. Although I'd have to give up many things that I really like too.

Mary@Holy Mackerel said...

What a great post. Loved it. Totally agree with what you say, and how you said it.

emma said...

I couldn't agree with you more! I think perhaps the problem is over-saturation and everyone's need to copy whatever success has come before. Perhaps they will both disappear.

Unknown said...

I'm going to have to go read this again so I can fully wrap my brain around it but, WOAH! I HAD to read when I saw the title and told my husband, "this is gonna be good!" and it was...

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I just threw a party yesterday--the plastic wineglasses were not offensive enough to drive people off before 1:45 a.m.

Oz said...

QT had the opposite effect on me during my first encounter - I knew I was uncool when I watched Pulp Fiction because the violence was too much for me. I am not a scary/violent movie person, though I tried to be for years.

I totally agree with you about MS, though I'm not certain that she was the first - I think she built on an existing impulse and trend.

Zip n Tizzy said...

Really great post.

Aside from my concerns over how this economy is destablizing so many lives, I hope it will get people back on track to remembering what's truly important. Enjoying the company of others without worrying about how shabby our couch is.

May we use our creativity to help us build beauty on a dime.

Karen MEG said...

You're back ;). What an interesting juxtaposition.

Although I do appreciate the finer things in life, I never bought into Martha's "good things". Good things on the cheap that work are more my thing...and I get more practical as I get older. Or maybe just cheaper.

I've always been too chicken to watch any of Quentin. But I must say, him showing up as a mentor on American Idol? That was truly scary.

Expat mum said...

As the British designer Jasper Conran's mother Shirley once famously said - "Life's too short to stuff a mushroom"

Jaina said...

I think a standing ovation and thunderous applause is in order here...

Loukia said...

What? Quentin executive produced Saw? Never saw it - looked horrible. I'm surprised, though, because usually his work is great. What did you think of Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2? I actually really loved those movies, even though they were so violent.