Blue Velvet Unrevisited

I haven’t seen the film Blue Velvet in a long, long time and I’m kind of afraid to do so. When it was first released, I saw it a dozen or so times because it was strange and fun and creepy and, well, Isabella Rossellini of course. Once the film settled in my brain, my takeaway was that the “message” of the film was that, underneath a thin veneer of normalcy, people are disturbing and bizarre, meaning that “disturbing and bizarre’ is the real normal.

At the time, in 1986, this message was novel to me and gave me something to chew on. I’d never looked at people that way. I’d always felt terribly alone, as though my feelings and challenges and thoughts were unique. It seems terribly naive now, but things were very, very different then.

Fast forward to 2014 and we’ve now had the internet in our culture for, what, 20 years or so? Among the many changes we’ve seen, one of the bigger one from the standpoint of the 1986-version of me, is that people who feel weird or alone have access to communities of people who feel weird and/or alone in exactly the same way.

We’ve normalized many, many things that were swept under the rug in the past. Sexuality, in all of its glorious permutations, is the most obvious example. I’m not just talking about homosexuality here. I’m talking about the entire spectrum of gender identity (which isn’t restricted to sexuality, but there’s some overlap), and all manner of kinks and fetishes and such. Viewed through the eyes of the mid-1980’s, we’re all perverts, and we’re pretty open about it. Of course, we’ve always been perverts, but because we couldn’t talk about it, we might well have thought we were the only ones.

There are, of course, some less positive examples as well. Racism seems to be making a comeback in some circles, as are xenophobia (not quite the same thing), and anti-intellectualism and others. By being able to interact with like-minded people, all manner of views that were considered “fringe” have been normalized in the span of a generation.

So, I wonder: Would Blue Velvet still have the same sort of impact? It’s central message seems to have been embraced by society to such a degree that would there be any shock beyond “how did we ever consider this shocking?” It’s hard to say how much of my perspective is down to the times changing and how much is me being older. I could well be misattributing my reason for seeing things differently, but it just seems to me like Blue Velvet may well be a commentary on a time that would seem unrecognizably foreign to today’s audiences.

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