Have We Lost The Symbolic?
Recently, I dragged the family into the family room (where else would one want to drag one's family?) for a family movie night. As it turns out, we were all at home on this special evening, and I wanted us all to watch the old 1976 movie, "Godspell".
From the off-Broadway plan by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak, Godspell is an interpretation of the teachings of Jesus. Back in '72 when it came out, it was fairly controversial in that Jesus and the Disciples were portrayed as a clan of clowns, the setting was New York City, there may or may not have been a resurrection, etc. And the culture - thoroughly vintage 1970s. I admit I wanted to see if my 21st century kids would find it acceptable or repulsive. (The liked it).
But what struck me personally while reviewing Godspell for the nth time (I've seen it a lot - one of my favorites), was its blatant symbolism. Everything was symbolic. Jesus was a clown! The actor who played John the Baptist also played Judas! The troupe lived in a junkyard! Symbol after symbol filled the screen. Godspell overdoses on symbolism. I've known this since first seeing the musical, but this time, the symbols seemed to jump off the screen.
But I began to wonder, when was the last time I saw symbolism in a movie? I remember "The Sixth Sense" used the color red whenever dead people were present (red doorknobs, red coats, etc.). Otherwise, I can't recall symbolism in our modern movies.
Why don't movies contain symbolism anymore? Is symbolism passé or 'not cool'?
Perhaps a lack of symbolism plays to a more straight-forward approach to our world. We don't need to blast cartoon symbols of aliens dancing across the screen a la "Space Invaders" because technology has advanced to the point that we can blast "realistic", moving, breathing, bleeding, exploding aliens instead.
Along the same lines, maybe we have been "over symbolated" (stimulated by symbols). We have icons on our computer screens, stick figures to tell us where to go to the bathroom, emoticons to express emotion on Twitter, even drawings instead of directions (ever constructed a piece of Ikea furniture?).
Maybe it's part of the dumbing down of society. We don't want to think about the reason behind the story because we are so engrossed in the story in all its realism, itself. It takes less brain power to be simply told what to believe than to try to work it out yourself.
Which brings me back to Godspell and Jesus. He could have just told us to love each other (which He did) but He also demonstrated it in elaborate parables. He could have just told us to serve others (which He did), but He also demonstrated it by washing the disciples' feet.
Maybe there is something reinforcing about symbolism. Maybe it triggers something in our minds that helps us understand more clearly. Maybe we need a little more symbolism these days.
What do you think?
1/5/2013 05:24:46 am
I think you're too smart for me. I never noticed the color red in 6th Sense. I so rarely watch movies anymore that I wonder if I would notice what you are noticing?
1/5/2013 02:35:52 pm
Denise - don't sell yourself short. I read about the Sixth Sense thingee somewhere - IMDB, I think.
1/7/2013 12:09:09 am
You know, I haven't even paid attention to the level of symbolism in today's society. I am not sure if that means it still exists at a high level, but blends in so well that I don't notice it or if I am oblivious to the disappearance of symbolism because I am not paying attention. I value symbolism---used symbols & pictures as shortcuts to help me write less to study in High School & College. I need to open my eyes a little larger to analyze the current level of symbolism.
1/8/2013 11:10:53 am
Ben, I have a very nerdy response. Call me sometime and we chat. Love you blog!
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