Playing Both Sides

Career. At one end you have doing socially relevant projects (work that “matters” like helping the homeless) and at the other you have doing fun projects (like making videogames). As I’ve been struggling to find a happy medium between these two, a certain Woody Allen quote keeps coming back to me. On Studio 360 back in July he put it this way:

Sometimes I think to myself that there are two types of films: there’s the confrontational film that deals with life issues and existential issues or political issues and there’s the kind of film that’s escapist. And I always debate with myself which one makes the better contribution because you would think off the top of your head that the confrontational films are superior to the escapist films. But the truth of the matter is that the real issues of life — the real philosophical issues of life: religious issues and issues of mortality and issues of human suffering — are never resolved in any of these movies because you can’t resolve them. So, people just go and they commiserate masochistically and they come out of the theater, you know, moved in some way but the same. Whereas with an escapist film you at least give the audience a chance to get away from the horrors of reality for an hour and a half. It’s like going into air conditioning and just sitting down and watching Fred Astaire dance for an hour and a half and you come out at least refreshed so you can go on with your life a little bit. So I’m not sure that escapist films, comic films, are not more of a help in the long run even though the temptation is always to think and to want to do more substantive things.

Woody found his happy place working to entertain what he perceives as the pained masses. But those masses are rich. What about entertainment and respite for those who can’t afford a movie ticket? In the best of worlds, those who can afford movie tickets would be spending some portion of their time helping the underprivileged, but we know that doesn’t happen so much. That’s the tension he doesn’t quite touch on. Or does he?

Escape or soak in it? What does the product you produce need to be to make you happy? Is it something that entertains or something that deals with real issues? At first, it seemed like Woody was saying he chose the former. But the more I think about it, the more it seems he found a way to play both sides. Although he doesn’t say it in so many words, soothing the pained (albeit wealthy) masses is his substantive contribution to society, his socially relevant issue. Ultimately, then, contribution is personal — different for everyone. The hard part is figuring out what yours is.

For a guy who insists he isn’t interested in doing more than putting on a show for shits and giggles, Woody ain’t a half bad philosopher. But, then, I suppose that’s part of his charm.

image grabbed from TamTam

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