Moment of Brilliance – the Bay line

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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6 thoughts on “Moment of Brilliance – the Bay line

  1. One more thing to keep in mind, this.

    If you read das mervin’s sporks (I actually think you did!), you’ll notice that she points out every instance of human-bashing in the Twilight “saga”.
    It’s the same as with Avatar – there are these (supposedly) perfect and flawless people, and you should aspire to become one of *them*, because humans suck.

    I don’t know about zombie movies; on the one hand, zombies have always been a metaphor for something else (aids, drugs, communism, what have you) – something that the writers perceive as horrifying/evil, but something that’s still very human. On the other hand, zombie movies will never be taken seriously again after Zombieland (excellent movie) and the endless RE sequels (which suck, and there’s *another* on its way, IIRC), so we don’t invest a lot of emotions in them anymore. They basically just bring out your inner 8-year-old: “Yay! I can has baddies to shoot! And they look human! But it’s okay because they’re mindless monstrous brain-eating reanimated corpes!”

    Other examples I can think of is Knowing and The day the earth stood still (the Keanu Reeves remake). In both those movies, humanity is portrayed in an extremely negative light, and it’s not-so-subtly implied that, if not for alien interference in both cases, we would’ve wiped ourselves out sooner or later (along with the rest of the planet). because we’re just dumb humans, and we suck. Having said that, TDTESS doesn’t really count, because of your second point – there *are* a couple of humans who are shown to be genuinely good people. just too little, too late IMO, though.

    This is a really interesting topic, BTW. I’ll be back with more examples, and hopefully I’ll make more sense next time. 😉

    • Of course I’ve read a lot by das mervin – after you referred me to them IIRC. (even have a restraining order from her – some people just aren’t flattered by proposals…)

      Which just adds to my dislike of the Twilight series and further fridge logic: if humans suck so much, why are they in charge of the world?

      Thinking about it more, you might be onto something with zombies. We’re never really supposed to sympathize with zombies, but the humans they hunt (whereas in TH&A, we’re clearly supposed to sympathize with plants/nav’i). Well, until Romero’s later work I hear – and look how those have turned out. (the evidence mounts…)

      I haven’t seen Knowing or TDTESS (either version) but have read or seen things about them and I think you may be onto something. Certainly may explain why those movies did as bad at the box office as they did. 😉

      And I think you’ve made more sense than I ever do.

  2. In transformers the aliens side with the humans against other aliens. In Avatar the human shits on the humans (and America by proxy) and joins the aliens to fight the humans. What a great film where audiences have a chance to cheer for the death of US Marines.
    Interesting that you’re a fan of Novik, since the main character in 19th century novels seems to have wonderful 21st century notions of racism, environmentalism and animal rights, ultimately forcing him to betray England. I much prefer Patrick O’Brian.

    • I don’t mind those peculiarities from Novik as much because she at least puts in explanations for the people adopting the views in a believable way. Let’s be honest, a lot of “modern” morals have only grown in popularity because of certain tech advances so it would make sense that different techs and situations would possibly cause a bit of this early arise of some ideals. Though I do think Lawrence adapts to the new ideals a little too quickly, I did like that his own, more old fashioned ideals also influenced those around him (showing that perhaps there is something worth preserving in “old ways” now and then).

      As for why I like her? The question of how humanity would act if other sapient life shared the universe with us is a fascinating question to me (one I probably examine a little too much) so I quite enjoy the examination of humans & dragons. Oh – and dragons. That also has a lot of appeal to me. 😉

  3. “even have a restraining order from her – some people just aren’t flattered by proposals…”

    What the hell, hero? *I* was supposed to marry her!
    😉

    “if humans suck so much, why are they in charge of the world?”

    Better yet – if nothing we make (not even a nuclear bomb – according to Word of God) is strong enough to kill a single meyerpire, why aren’t THEY in charge of the world? Why the hell do they feel the need to keep their existence secret?

    Re: TDTESS remake – don’t waste a couple hours of your life on that… thing. According to people older than me, the original was pretty damn good, and with the remake they rewrote the original message, made a new Aesop and then broke it to pieces. Classy.

    Also I’m reading ZeldaQueen’s spork of the first book in the House of Night-series atm. Suffice to say that the quality wavers between “actually not bad” and “worse than Twilight”. Especially relevant here is the writing duo’s overuse of Beethoven was an Alien Spy. I’m sure you’re familiar with that trope. I swear – they keep namedropping all kinds of celebrities, politicians and historic figures who were actually vampires all along, because we humans are just too lowly to ever amount to anything extraordinary. There’s also the constant bashing of how something is “typically human”. Whut?

    I think the lesson here is basically to not create a race of elves (whether or not they’re really elves – you know what I mean) that’s just so perfect and Better Than You that you can smell a nasty bitterness emanating from the author in question.

    “What a great film where audiences have a chance to cheer for the death of US Marines”

    As well as having a chance at some more collective cultural guilt. Hurrah for progress! Also, the bad guys were utter cardboard cutouts: a sadistic racist general and an immoral corrupt businessman? Wow! Never seen *those* before!

    It’s also important to note that there are a lot of works out there that outright focus on the inherent evil of mankind – but then turn it around and present a message of hope: Aliens, T2, the Buu saga in DBZ (what? go check – it’s true!), etc.

    “so I quite enjoy the examination of humans & dragons. Oh – and dragons. That also has a lot of appeal to me. ”

    Of course it does. I’m working on something with a bunch of dragons in it, too….
    😉

  4. As far as zombie movies go, as a person who rather specializes in them, zombie movies, at least those with the tiniest degree of thought behind them, generally always represent HUMANS as the threat, and the important plot-drivers to the action. Zombies are just opportunists who kill you when you make bad decisions, fight with other humans, or otherwise cave in to what amounts to original sin. own infighting gets too much. We fall to zombies because we are weak.

    The action doesn’t follow the zombies, except in the most idiotic zombie movies. The zombies are just there, waiting, or slowly advancing. It’s human conflict set against a backdrop of zombies, so decisions, personal foibles, and likes/dislikes take on lethal dimensions.

    This is one of the reasons that the protagonists in crappy zombie movies are a bunch of complete retards. The directors are (ineptly) trying to show how people’s choices lead to their deaths. In a better-staged movie, the conflicts are more subtle. For instance, in Day of the Dead, the complete asshole military guys are, in fact, right all along about the best way to survive, and are betrayed by the very people that they THOUGHT would betray them. But the fact that they are such jerks about it makes people hate them and think they must have been wrong. In Fulci’s Zombi, the island doctor is clearly hiding something – he is probably the cause of the zombies. This is displayed by the fact that the death of Tisa Farrow’s father is shown differently in the two flashbacks (in one we actually see his death, in the other the doctor is just describing it, and he is proved to be an unreliable witness). But Fulci, a skilled director, doesn’t draw attention to it. It just sits there.

    Wow that was a lot to say about zombie movies. I guess I can liken any comparision to them.

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