Adventures in Selection Bias
August must be a slow month even for those brimming with manufactured outrage, because over at Big Hollywood today, the best James Hudnall can come up with is a dashed-off piece about how Jimmy Carter sucks and Sylvester Stallone rules. No, seriously.
After the moribund Carter years, the age of Reagan issued in a new era of American confidence. And with that confidence came a wave of films full of male bravado after a decade of paranoid, navel gazing films with negative endings.
I’m not going to quote the piece more extensively than that, since that’s basically his whole argument right there. The “New Hollywood” films of the 1970s were the perfect pseudo-intellectual, hollow, self-obsessed type of the Carter Administration, just as the hyper-masculine action hero pictures of the 1980s were perfect type of the Reagan-era’s Nietzschean vitality. While it’s worth nothing that Hudnall is not so enamored of Schwarzeneggerian masculinity as to hit the free weights and slug the whey protein himself, the idea of art-as-a-mirror is certainly a familiar and tempting one.
The problem, though is that he’s comparing the arthouse picture of one era with the summer blockbuster fare of the next. After all, the first Superman movie, Grease, Saturday Night Fever, and two Bond movies all grossed in the top 10 in the 1970s, and Platoon, The Killing Fields, and Ordinary People all won Oscars in the 1980s. And of “Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Gibson, Norris, Van Damme, Seagal,” only Stallone had a movie in the 1980s that out-grossed Platoon.
I’m not trying to make the point that the 70s were better than the 80s for film, or vice versa. We’re talking about fucking ten-year periods here; they both had a lot of movies, and when you try to generalize this broadly, you only open yourself up to death by a thousand counterexamples. For every Taxi Driver there’s also a Do the Right Thing, and for every Lethal Weapon 2 there’s a Smokey and the Bandit. But if this is the way Hudnall wants to kill some time in late August, I don’t really hold it against him; I just worry about the type of person who curses Jimmy Carter under his breath while watching The Graduate and gets a hard-on for the Great Communicator mid-way through Bloodsport.