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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Over the weekend my girlfriend and I decided to watch Shocking Asia, the 1974 Mondo-style exploitation documentary. I had not seen this staple of my high school years since the early 00s when our local Video Update/Movie Gallery closed its doors. Video Update was the best rental joint in town because of their large selection of exploitation documentaries, and Shocking Asia was the best on the shelf.
I have long been a fan of exploitation documentaries. I grew up in the 80s, but was unaware of film franchises like Faces of Death and its spiritual successor Traces of Death until the mid-90s. I was still young and naive enough at that time to buy into these films completely, taking what was on screen totally literally and not for once questioning what I was watching. It was only later that I realized just how fake these films were; that they were created solely to shock and captivate audiences with their macabre humor and gratuitous, exploitative sex and violence.
In 2011 it’s harder to be shocking than ever. The internet has desensitized our culture so much that what used to pass for shocking is now just passe. Teenage crime, pedophile pastors, congressional sexual shenanigans — these are just par for the course in our society. In 1974, Rolf Olsen’s film may have shocked the crap out of audiences. Even in 1999, the year I first saw it, Shocking Asia sure had its fair share of shocks remaining.
The film stands as a paean to a simpler time; a time when you couldn’t just Google something or look up a film via Wikipedia. It was a time when experts existed and you needed that weird guy in the corner with an encyclopedic knowledge of cult cinema. Now anyone can just use imdb to find anything out about an upcoming film. The first thing that mainstream internet did for pop culture was turn everyone into a film critic; now it’s turning us all into film experts and historians.
I’m glad the internet exists; without it I wouldn’t be able to blog my thoughts, read hundreds of movie reviews, and watch things like Shocking Asia instantly. But wouldn’t it also be nice to walk into a film knowing nothing at all about it? Even with the recent case of Super 8, I went in virtually knowing nothing except it was a Spielberg production and a JJ Abrams film. It was a total breath of fresh air for me.
It’s hard to be a part of a world where everyone is an armchair quarterback, second-guessing film makers, audiences, and critics all of the time. It’s nice to have this information available at your fingertips, but it’s also nice to get shocked once in a while too.