Moviegoer wonders: Where art thou, Art?

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - Every once in a while, I get this urge to moo.

Yes, I'm referring to the sound cows make, particularly cows that are being herded somewhere. I get that urge in amusement park lines sometimes. But mostly, I get it in the summer at the movie theater.


Have you ever experienced a moment of blinding clarity? A moment when the clouds part and a thing suddenly becomes painful in its very obviousness? I had one the other day at the local multiplex, a 24-screen monstrosity with a snack counter the length of a football field. I was standing in the lobby watching cashiers, ushers and ticket takers move the crowd along with the brisk efficiency of cowboys on the roundup, watching folks waddle in with bovine obedience to load up on snacks from the brown food group before heading off to see Charlie's Angels II or Terminator III.

And it struck me: a sudden, visceral revulsion with my old friend, American popular culture. I found myself missing Art.


Meaning not Paul Simon's sometime partner, but that thing that ennobles us, that thing that enables us, that thing that lifts us from the rut of our own lives. That thing to which movies used to at least pretend to aspire. You know, "Art."

And yes, I know that Art pokes its head out, groundhog-like, every winter, as Hollywood rolls out its serious, heavy-duty, Oscar-caliber releases. Summer is for movies, winter is for film. Got it. But standing in the middle of that lobby, in the middle of summer, in the middle of explosions and cleavage and explosions of cleavage, in the middle of computer-generated "thrills" and focus group "chills" ... man, I could have used some Art.

Could have used a story, a storyteller, a plot, maybe some recognizably human characters with something substantial at stake. Unfortunately, I had just come from seeing Bad Boys II. I hadn't expected much, and the movie had delivered. It was a guy flick, dumb and flashy, full of locker-room humor and big explosions, and I was fine with that. Or at least I was until I saw one nakedly cynical scene.

Truck pulls in bearing the logo of a certain beer maker. The movie soundtrack starts playing a vaguely familiar beat. I'm not paying attention to it right away. Then it hits me where I know that song from; it's heard on the TV spot for the beer whose logo fills the screen.

This is no longer a movie. It's not even pretending to be a movie. It is, for all intents and purposes, a commercial, albeit a subliminal one. One that tries to make an end run on the conscious mind.

It leaves me more annoyed than surprised. After all, this is the way of things now. Advertising and entertainment have blurred, become "advertainment," in which every thing has but one purpose: to sell you and me some other thing.

From product placements in movies and on television to an actor being paid to drop a drug maker's name into a TV interview, from "news" programs that promote a network's entertainment shows to toy store tie-ins that funnel children from the movie theater straight to the nearest Toys 'R' Us, media's prime directive is to made us want, make us need, make us feel incomplete unless we buy. News becomes entertainment becomes advertising becomes the world in which we live.

I've always loved pop culture, always been energized by its immediacy, its audacity, even its fizzy fickleness. But it has become less easy to love as it has become less of a culture and more of an advertising platform.


OK, maybe the humidity has made me grumpy. I just know that I'm grateful winter is only a few months away and that good books are available year round.

And on behalf of everyone else in my herd, everyone else who has come to feel like a giant wallet with a person attached, allow me to say one final word to the barons of advertainment. With all sincerity: Moo.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun. He can be reached via e-mail at or by calling 1-888-251-4407.