Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Now I’ve debated with friends many times about how Michael Bay truly is the Shakespeare of our time. Normally I’ve never bothered to really justify the statement (and agreed that comparing Joss Whedon to William Shakespeare is a much better allegory), but since I’m bored I decided I might as well: Just why is Michael Bay, to me, the next William Shakespeare?
I suppose I should start with my own views on both men. William Shakespeare… is a writer. Oh he can write good pieces here and there, and some of his work is great… and some of his work is frankly terrible. Or at least terrible from a modern point of view, but more on that in a moment. Suffice it to say that while I can appreciate Shakespeare, I don’t find his writings are as great as everyone thinks them to be. The same can be said for Michael Bay. Michael Bay, as much as you love to complain otherwise, is a fantastic director. That is to say, he can competently co-ordinate a large number of tasks simultaneously and do them all well. We more often that not think of the ‘director’ as the ‘artist’ of the film, when they are anything but. Many times films are directed by people who can just do the job at hand, keeping track of the complex problems facing production and smoothing them all out. When it comes to this, Michael Bay is one of the best directors in the business since the Transformers movies are some of the most technically difficult films ever made. But what about as a writer? Well correct me if I’m wrong, but has Michael Bay ever actually written any of his films? Directed them, sure. Produced them, often. But written? Well when I look it up no, he hasn’t. Michael Bay hasn’t written any of his films. Well this should invalidate the blog right here, no? I mean how can I compare a writer to a non-writer? Well let me jump back a bit to address a concern I made earlier.
I said that some of Shakespeare’s work is frankly terrible from a modern point of view, and I stand by that. Twelfth Night is a pretty rubbish play… when performed nowadays with women in the parts. A woman dressed as a man pretending to give a women’s perspective is a rather tired gag, something we’ve seen before. But in Shakespeare’s time, only men played the roles. So Twelfth Night now becomes the story of a man dressed as a woman dressed as a man pretending to give a women’s perspective is so much funnier. A woman trying to give advice while hidden is okay, but a man trying to give the same advice is even funnier. The joke works on so many more levels. But, when seen nowadays, the joke often falls flat. A lot of the great bits of Twelfth Night are lost by having women playing female parts. But there’s more to it than that. One of the biggest complaints I hear about Shakespeare is that it feels like it’s written in another language. Well… it is. It’s written in a form of English that’s almost all but lost to us. To get the jokes you have to get out a history of the time period, as well as a dictionary to look up the words. You have to do a lot of intense relationship to get right to the heart of the matter to finally find out-
â€¦ That it’s a fart joke. Or some sort of other lowbrow piece of comedy. Because, despite popular belief, Shakespeare is not that highbrow. It’s almost the exact opposite. It’s full of lowbrow jokes that most people would find distasteful if they understood what they were listening too. I mean what sort of artist would litter their work with toilet humour?
â€¦ And this is where Michael Bay comes roaring back into play. Because what are his films if not filled with the toilet humour found in other, ‘lesser’, works of art? Shakespeare wasn’t writing for the highbrow, he was writing for the common man. He knew the common man would snigger greatly upon hearing about some poor woman’s country matters. The same way the common man sniggers greatly at seeing a Transformer pee on someone. Shakespeare knew what the common man liked. He knew what pop culture liked. He, in a nutshell, was the pop culture definition of his time.
And that’s very much true when it comes to Michael Bay. Mister Bay is a pop culture juggernaut, capable of capturing the public’s imagination and, more importantly, their money. A man whose had some of the highest-grossing films attached to his name? And why? Because he, much like Shakespeare, knows exactly what the common man wants. He knows what people want to see and he delivers. Does that mean both men are at fault for playing to their audiences? Well, no. You can’t blame an artist for appeasing the public with their art. Does that mean that audiences in Elizabethan times were smarter then? No, since they too sniggered at the same type of humour that we do now. So why is Shakespeare so fondly remembered but Michael Bay dismissed?
Well it all starts around the Georgian times, when Shakespeare was taken out of popular culture and placed into high culture. For reference, it was during this time that opera was in popular culture, and look at it now. Hell video gaming is moving from popular culture to high culture as we speak. Shakespeare was no longer just a common playwright, but instead morphed into the figure we recognize today. A figure so popular that to even dismiss his work as pop culture trash is a crime against literature. He is the poster boy for high culture… So whose to say that Michael Bay won’t become similar? Who can say that in two, three hundred years, Michael Bay’s work is likewise analysed for hidden meanings and symbolism? If your argument for Shakespeare’s survival depends on popularity (i.e. he was popular enough to continue long after his death), is the same then not true for a director who has some of the most profitable films of recorded time? Maybe in five hundred years time, Michael Bay’s films will be taught as a way of understanding the early 21st century. Maybe scholars will have to do a lot of research to work out all the ‘references’ hidden within the work. Maybe they’ll be insane conspiracies about how Michael Bay couldn’t be the man history claims him to be, but some other fellow entirely. Who can say what the future holds.
But what about the present? Are Shakespeare and Michael Bay on the same level? My answer is yes. Both men are geniuses at their selected craft. Shakespeare is good at writing, Michael Bay is good at directing. Both men have been meddled by executives telling them how they want the final product to look (since Shakespeare had to portray King James’ ancestors in a good light lest he lose his head). Both men have produced works of art firmly entrenched in the pop culture period of their time, defining both it and how the future will look back upon the time. Hell both have created works based on other properties (since Shakespeare is, essentially, a fan fiction writer). Both men share a lot of similarities. If we heap praise on one, why not heap it on the other?
So there you have it. My look at a controversial subject that will no doubt horrify all of my English teachers over the years. IF you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.