Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"What will you have?" "The usual."

There are humorous takes, and then there are abusive generalizations that take over, get a life of their own, and become bad jokes. Such is the case of some of the articles centred on this actor. The article “Keanu Reeves’ extensive vocabulary”, filed under “Movie news”, mind you, is an example of such.

At least the author of this diatribe, Will Lee, is not over-subtle when it comes to the tone of what’s ahead: from the title to the first sentence, the reader knows what to expect and what he/she will gain from reading the article. If anything, it shows how pointless it is to reduce an artistic contribution to a single element: Hitchcock was a lot more than just cameos; it’s as preposterous to reduce such a director to this, as it is to reduce that certain actor to a given interjection.
Still, the author has the need to convince and (mis)direct the reader. “Clearly”, he states, his swiping quip is true. It should be taken seriously. Look! It’s on “Movie news”! The author then goes on to prove his “clear” point, in a list of movie scenes, with the dismissive description on the side, and the author’s precious contribution. There’s also the repetition: what “he says”, to make it “clear” enough for you, in case you don’t get it, is always the same… …isn’t this clever?...
And then, this clear, profound analysis stops in the void, with no wrap up mock from the writer, as to leave you wanting for more and ponder in the “clarity” of his message.

This is a good enough case study of what goes on in terms of what’s written about this actor in the media. Either complete dismissal, or mock. If you’re lucky, with a battered up analysis. If you’re not so lucky, this analysis will not just be battered, but also filled with dishonest considerations and rather… inventive facts when it comes to the actor’s work and biography. Although this particular article didn’t go that far, it still covered many of the elements present when a perhaps annoyed journalist has to write something about Keanu Reeves.
Firstly, we have the usual basis, right there in the title: the trashing sarcasm in the “extensive vocabulary” line. Very typical among these kinds of articles: establish the notion that the actor doesn’t have much going on in the brain department. The Keanu-is-dumb quip. From then on, defending the initial thesis gets much easier for the creative author of such fun and informative articles.
Then, the cherry-pinking when it comes to Reeves’ filmography. Never mind the actor in question worked in over 50 movies: the carrier is defined by the flippant and scornful take on… 5 films. Better yet: 5 SCENES. I can’t speak for other people, but that doesn’t look like a comprehensive career analysis to me. Not only that, but the career-defining-moment is not a very bright one. You could look at such an excessive generalization with some disbelief, but, since it was “clearly” established at the start the actor at hand is supposedly not that smart, the waste being fed becomes more palatable…
Thirdly, we have the defining-moment in itself: the “whoa”. Now, the usage of such an interjection seems is, as far as I’m concerned, particularly common among English-speaking crowds. Not only that but, when it comes to its use in films and media in general, it’s pretty pervasive! Just the other day, in a CSI episode, I heard the expression being uttered perhaps three times in a row, by different actors, upon finding a particularly disturbing piece of evidence. Why not define CSI as the “whoa-series”? Or that group of actors as the “whoa-bunch”? It hasn't been done. Not to my knowledge, at least. The only one who gets flak for daring to use such a common expression? You got it.
All of this derives to another point: the recurrent confusion between actor and the character played. Once again, the typicality is obvious in the title: there’s the assumption that Reeves, himself, not the character, doesn’t have an “extensive vocabulary”. The rest of the article might be centred in characters, but it’s much easier to feed the notion the characters themselves are basic when there’s a preconceived notion the actor playing them is too not very complex. The bundle being handed to the reader is much tidier after making such associations. And it helps the humorous objective, too. Although, where’s the reliability in having such an objective in a “Movie news” article, I guess only the author knows.
Attached to these last points, comes another classic: the notion Keanu Reeves and Ted “Theodore” Logan are the same. Ted was, indeed, a character also defined by the over usage of “whoa”; and I say “also”, because not even that foolish, happy-go-lucky kid was limited solely to an interjection. That doesn’t stop the author from limiting an entire career to such a term, though.

Setting aside the case study at hand, what is usually pretty clear from such types of articles is that the author despises the actor he/she is writing about. And that’s never a good starting point. The themes are always the same: the feeling is that most of these journalists do not sit down and commit to writing something new, but simply limit themselves to copy what was written by somebody else before, or follow the editorial line of the medium they write in. Which is not a very constructive attitude, since it reinforces a notion that might not be accurate. But it does explain how certain ideas are deeply ingrained in the public. The articles are tendentiously based on defective research, and so filled with condescendence and blatancy one has to wonder if they are trying to insult the reader as well.
Of course we can’t ask these professionals to write only about what they like, or to refrain from writing when they get up on the wrong side of the bed. But asking for them to be more thorough when it comes to research seems reasonable to me. Either that, or move humour pieces to the proper “Movie Wit” area.

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