Just another quickie post. Victor Morton finally updated Right Wing Film Geek this week after a long dry spell, and I wanted to draw attention to his post on “born yesterday-ism,” the phenomenon of propagating ultra-recent artifacts of pop culture as landmark achievements. He was prompted in particular by Current TV’s list of “50 Documentaries to See Before You Die.” All of them, by the way, have been released in the past 25 years. Morton makes many insightful observations about this phenomenon, and I don’t gainsay any of them. The one that I want to add is simply blunt, and I can’t justify it with reasoned argument. Basically, if someone makes a list of films exclusively from the last 25 and gives it a title implying that it’s the be-all-end-all, my conclusion is that this person doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.
I’ve spent enough time on movie message boards to know that the first thing most rookies do is start a thread of their top ten/hundred/etc. favorite (or greatest) films, and these lists generally fall into two categories. Half are comprised of the established, film studies 101 canon, and the other half are comprised of films released within my lifetime. Morton doesn’t get too bent out of shape about Current TV’s particular selections, but I do want to point out that 32 of the 50 have been released in the last ten years. So even though the list’s shelf-life is only 25 years, more than half have been released in less than one half of that time, and the most recent half, at that. These are all indicators that the people making up the list (like message board newbs) have an incredibly short attention span and haven’t bothered to dig too deeply into the annals of documentary filmmaking to unearth truly great or interesting examples.
On top of that, half of the nominees are box office hits or Oscar nominees. Nothing against these films in particular; perhaps they really are the cream of the crop. But this is the kind of list that could have been compiled by a computer program. Or a person who’s just getting into film and has only seen the most recent hits and critical darlings. In either case, this list doesn’t tell me anything I don’t already know. It all adds up to a monument to a lack of cultivated expertise that’s leading us down cultural rabbit hole (which is conveniently located where the sun don’t shine). As Morton says, “The worst part of this sort of cultural born-yesterday-ism is that, like all forms of narcissism, it is self-reinforcing, and soon enough becomes its own justification and dulls the senses, like muscles that never get used.”
In other words, they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, but the erudite Mr. Morton is saying it a lot more nicely than I am.☕