"Birdman," "American Sniper," and the Importance of Being (an) Expert

The designation “expert” matters in this world, whether we choose to admit it or not.

I may be a day late on this, but I’ve been pondering the Academy Awards ceremony and beyond just thinking “Birdman” was a great choice, I find myself (along with a myriad of others) dismayed at the article in The New York Times which suggests that maybe “American Sniper” should have won because that’s what audiences voted for with their wallets. What sort of hogwash is that?

Before I go further, I have to tell you—in case you’re unaware—I’m an unabashed lover of big Hollywood movies. Perhaps much to the chagrin of my grad school professors many a year ago, I am anything but elitist.

Back to the issue at hand – the best movie isn’t necessarily the movie which made the most money. Is that really the criteria by which we rank films? No. And I’ll tell you why – it’s idiotic as criteria, completely idiotic.

Just at a base level, people pay to see a movie before they know if they like it, so ticket sales can’t be a measure. Sure, they’ve heard from folks and so a movie having “legs” does so based upon word of mouth which presumably means that people like it, but a big opening is, in no small part, based on people’s presumptions of what they will like (and that doesn’t even get into the marketing aspect of opening a movie).

I do however love the notion of people paying on the way out of a movie theater rather than on the way in. How cool would that be? You see the usher at the door and explain that movie “X” was worth only $5 (terrible dialogue, poor projection, bad sound mixing), and then the next week hand over $12 because movie “Y” was brilliant start to finish.

Jumped the track again there, didn’t I?

Yeah, well, so I think so did “American Sniper.” (SPOILERS!!)  It may start off well, but “Sniper” has no real discussion about the pros or cons of the war, and worse there is no dealing whatsoever with what Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) seemed to be facing in terms of PTSD. We see him going downhill through a number of years; his wife repeatedly tells him there are issues in his behavior; he makes it back to the States but doesn’t go see his wife and kids; and then, magically, he explains to one doctor on one occasion that the problem is only that he couldn’t save more folks. That isn’t what we see on the rooftop in the climactic action sequence, nor is it in any way the outgrowth of the other issues.

True or not (I am not qualified to argue that), it feels like a cop out, like a movie which has no desire to actually have to deal with the results of the dramatic tension it has built for the past two hours. It is a disappointing ending in a movie which I otherwise thought was pretty good.

Fine though, forget “Sniper.”

Here is the simple truth of it all – awards, for the most part, are not a popularity contest decided by the masses. Sure, there are awards ceremonies built entirely around the populace voting, but by and large that isn’t how it’s done.

Now, we circle back to the beginning, for whatever reason we as a society have decided that experts are useless. Folks feel like they know more about vaccines than doctors who have studied for years. Scientists who have studied it by and large agree about climate change. Many folks who haven’t studied it disagree. Evolution? Why accept the views of those who have spent decades trying to figure out whether or not it has happened. A state lawmaker in Idaho asked a doctor on Monday if women could swallow a small camera to do a remote GYN exam on women, and this guy is one of the folks deciding women’s medical issues (you don’t really believe the backpedaling that it was a rhetorical question, do you?).

Experts aren’t always right, but they’re experts for a reason. “The masses feel differently” isn’t a valid rebuttal.

I don’t think this year’s ceremony was brilliant, but I do believe that many of the films were. And, more importantly than that, while I may question what I hear from experts, while I may do research on my own, I give added weight to expert testimony, whatever the field of study. Education and years of experience matter.

We are not all experts on every subject, nor should we be, but we should have respect for those who are an expert in a given field. It could be that if you know more about something than someone else your opinion should count for more.

photo credits: Fox Searchlight Pictures/Warner Bros.

Categories: Random Thoughts

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4 replies

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