Plus ca change …

Art maybe longa and vita brevis (to coin a phrase) – but it seems our memories are even shorter.

There’s a promotion for an upcoming movie I kept seeing on the Space channel – something called Airline or Skyline or some damn fool line ( I gather some giant flying machine runs amok, destroying everything in its path, all, no doubt, to stunning and deafening effect (at least for those of us with intact hearing). Unfortunately, all I can see are the fake-looking computer-generated effects that make me want to giggle, dramatic voiceover notwithstanding.

Can anyone take these things seriously? That last Indiana Jones movie, for instance. I watched it on an airplane and could not take the interminable chase scenes even semi seriously: lovely two-dimensional jungles as the three-dimensional Jeep carried away Cate Blanchett and the two guys.

More than anything it reminds me of those corny old movies with the painted backdrops of the Rocky Mountains – Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald singing “When I’m calling you-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hooooo …”. Horses bobbing up and down. Or those ‘40’s and ‘50’s movies with cars speeding down some hillside where it’s obvious the car is stationary and there’s a film rolling in the background.  It did not remind me of Gene Kelly dancing with the cartoon characters because that was actually rather cool.

Don’t look at the backdrop .

I suspect most people don’t care because unlike me they enjoyed the Indiana Jones movie and will enjoy the Skyline one – especially if they watch it on their iPhone screen. But c’mon, who are we kidding?

Fake is fake, whether it’s generated by a cool, high tech gizmo or painted onto a piece of fabric by a guy who went to art school and can’t believe he ended up in Hollywood and not some Montmartre atelier. In the end, it’s goofy and tiresome and repetitious. Personally, I’m more impressed with that Bridgestone tire ad where they come to a crashing halt at the end of the pier because naturally their tires are so terrific. (I gather the director was so nervous that the car wouldn’t stop in time that he suspended a net in the water to catch the car – and the actors – in case it went flying into the bay.)

My curmudgeonly gripe today is that we just don’t realize it’s been done before. Except we forgot or don’t know. So this wide-eyed aren’t-we-all-so-clever-today thing is just so the day before yesterday.

So to speak.

It’s not just movies, it’s science and everything else. The so-called new neuroscience where we’ve realized the neuropolasticity of the brain. Genetics. All presented in the tones of a child who’s just learned to tie his or her own shoelaces for the first time and figures there’s an award in it. A Nobel prize even. (The parents would concur.)

One of my students practically spluttered a few weeks ago when I told her that actually epigenetics and the concept that the developmental process mitochondrial DNA undergoes is more important than the actual nature of the DNA itself isn’t new at all. In the thirties and forties it was called embryonic or, quite appropriately, developmental genetics.

In his 1926 book, The Theory of the Gene, T.H. Morgan pointed out that it’s important to keep apart the “phenomenon of heredity, that deals with the transmission of the hereditary units” and the issue of “embryonic development that takes place almost exclusively by changes in the cytoplasm”. (quoted in Evelyn Fox Keller: Refiguring Life; Columbia Univ. Press, NY, 1995)

Epigenetics in other words.

Whoever it was who said that we stand on the shoulders of giants knew whereof he spoke. Too bad we seem to have forgotten.