Once in awhile one finds something said by someone else that so encapsulates a thought you were trying to express, you can’t help but give the author major kudos.
From the always awesome Furious D we have the new term, “The Bay Line”. What is it?
The Bay Line is named after director and explosives enthusiast Michael Bay. It’s the line where a filmmaker goes from insulting the audience’s intelligence to insulting their existence. Bay’s films only insult the audience’s intelligence, not their existence, in fact, he goes out of his way to praise their existence. The audience forgives him his stupidities, and sits back to enjoy the visceral experience of robots beating the living shit out of each other while good looking people try to emote.
They’ll let you insult their intelligence as long as you give them lowbrow laughs or big explosions, but insult their existence, and the audience will punish you, even if they don’t consciously know that they are doing it.
It was this moment when it finally hit me why I hated the Happening and Avatar (H&A) so very much. They weren’t just insultingly stupid to our brains, they were insultingly stupid to our very existence. Glancing at scenes from the movies again, it’s hard not to see them as subtly declaring to the audience that “you should also suffer/die as the characters are”. Avatar sort of survived by being very pretty and offering something of an “experience”, but will that hold up for the sequels?
And yet, do not horror movies contradict this lesson? I’m not a big horror aficionado, but from scanning the plot synopsis of many of them, we notice several “outs” they give which H&A do not follow.
- We are generally not supposed to root for the antagonist/villain. Well sometimes we might do so unintentionally, there’s even probably some paper to be written about “protagonist creep” in horror settings, but at their core: horror movies are about something inhuman to be fought. (yes often there are movies where the killer/whatever is human, but usually in them there is a subtext that the antagonist has given up any right to call itself human) In H&A, we have the non-humans portrayed as just innocent victims defending themselves. Sure once in awhile there will be an inhuman opponent that is mentioned as “misunderstood” but this is usually a small part of the movie (that could nearly be cut out without damaging the story) whereas H&A have this misunderstanding as very central aspects of the story.
- The movies usually have some effort to make a distinction clear between all humans vs a subset. There’s often side characters, or maybe even one or two main characters which are portrayed as decent human beings. While we might be seeing Jason Vorheeves killing off a lot of unlikable partying assholes NOW, there’s signs that we don’t have much to worry about him going off on a rampage to kill all humans. In the Happening, the closest we have to likable characters/protagonists only survive by dumb luck, seemingly implying that all humans should be killed. In Avatar, the only humans which prove themselves worthy of not being killed/expelled/whatever, are the ones that “abandon” their humanity to become something else and live somewhere else.
- Somewhat related to the above, horror movies also give the audience some satisfaction in that they can think “well I wouldn’t do that” while watching the victims be selfish/stupid/whatever-gets-them-killed. Again, in H&A – there’s no sign that the audience – were they in those situations – could do anything differently to save themselves. (well… Avatar really hits the gray area)
So today we’ve all learned that, when writing or creating any kind of art, it’s probably best to make sure you’re not insulting the people you’re asking to give you money for your art.
But then this is “writing talk” so leave examples, counter-examples (how do Zombie movies impact this?), and more in the comments.