Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Spielberg receives honorary degree at BU: 'pop-intellectualism' in our culture

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I'll admit that I always liked Spielberg's films. When I was in the third grade, I purchased a VHS copy of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and obsessively watched it over and over again. In fact, I got so into it that I created my own "grail diary" with an assignment notebook, just like the one Indiana's dad uses in the movie. I tried to make it resemble the one in the movie as closely as possible. This is how I got my kicks.

When I was in the fifth grade, I went to the movies to see Jurassic Park with my Dad and remember being completely blown away. You know that feeling you have when you walk out of the theater and your head is still caught inside a movie reality and reality-reality just doesn't matter anymore? Well, that's what I was feeling after I saw Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park was all that mattered anymore. I couldn't get the John Williams theme out of my head! "How'd you do this?" "Let me show you!" "You have a T-rex?" "We have a T-rex!" "And bingo...Dino DNA!"

After the movie, I went straight to McDonald's to get the Jurassic Park value meal, complete with a big plastic collector's cup that featured scenes from the movie. I think the box of fries had scenes on it as well. It was super-sized. It was delicious.

Anyway, what I'm getting at here is that I really enjoyed Spielberg's movies when I was a kid. Heck, I still like them now. However...

I raised my eyebrows when I heard that Spielberg received an honorary degree from (my Alma Mater) Boston University at last month's commencement ceremony. Basically, I'm not sure a prestigious University like BU (or any University, for that matter) should be giving honorary degrees to members of the entertainment industry. I feel the result of doing something like this blurs the lines between Entertainment and Intellectualism, which - in the long run - dumbs down our culture.

Honorary degrees should be a way to honor deep intellectuals (i.e. revolutionary thinkers), and I don't think many of the recipients at any school nowadays fall into this category. When I graduated in 2004, BU gave an honorary degree to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Certainly Belichick proved himself to be one of the best football coaches of all time, but he hadn't made any significant intellectual contributions to society. So what was BU even honoring him for? Intellectual success, or just success in general???

Maybe BU only honors people like Spielberg and Belichick because they're popular. Maybe the degrees are just a shallow means of making the school look 'cool' because it can get some big names to attend graduation. I mean, no disrespect to Spielberg, but I don't think he falls into the category of intellectual either. I know a lot of people will point out films like Schindler's List and Munich and maybe Amistad and say that those films were products of a "thinker", but I don't really think they were. Sure, a film like Schindler's List has the appearance of being an intellectual film (shot in black and white, contains intense violence/graphic nudity, serious tone elicited via musical score, sophomoric use of symbolism etc.), but I think that when it comes down to brass tacks, nobody who watches that movie really gains any greater understanding of the Holocaust, like how or why it happened. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think a movie like Schindler's List (like many critically acclaimed movies in Hollywood) is a film that has the appearance of being intellectual - maybe a good word is 'pop-intellectual' - but is not really intellectual in terms of its substance.

So, frankly, I lose a lot of respect for BU (again, my Alma Mater) when they're giving honorary degrees to Spielberg - a man, I guess, who sometimes possesses the appearance of being an intellectual, but is not really an intellectual. He's a great entertainer who tells really great stories (many of which have a semi-important lesson or two to extract from them), but they are not products of a deep thinker who should be honored in an intellectual environment like a University.

When people like Spielberg receive honorary degrees, the REAL intellectuals go overlooked by society, and when that happens, true intellectualism gets watered down and eventually dies. The culture becomes dumb. And a dumb culture isn't a healthy culture. A dumb culture can be a dangerous culture.

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