A picture is worth a thousand words and a motion picture is worth a thousand fetishes. The first definition given for fetish in my dictionary states, “A material object believed to be the dwelling of a spirit, or to represent a spirit. It may be induced or compelled to help and safeguard the possessor and to protect from harm or disease.”
The first part is clear; actors in a movie represent characters in a script in the same way that spirits inhabit an object. Actors confirm this with statements like, “I lived and breathed that role.”
The second half of the definition sounds superstitious. How can movies be induced to safeguard and protect us? Assuming primitive tendencies are played out everywhere, the ways of old are practiced at the multiplex too. Movies seem to safeguard and protect us primarily by confirming each person’s individual belief in what is right and wrong.
Under fetish, in my dictionary, definition number two reads, “Any object of devotion or blind affection.” If paying admission can be construed as devotion then audiences turn film into fetish simply by going to the movies. The suspension of disbelief that a good story extracts from us amounts to a kind of blindness.
Moving from the conceptual to the concrete, nearly every thing in a movie can be branded a fetish. Look anywhere and be prepared to find one. Set design, props, costumes, all are undeniable beachheads of fetishism. The stories themselves become fetishes the way they are presented. All the key elements of a movie are showered with torrents of devotion, and something like blind affection, as they are created, fit together, lit together, photograph and trafficked through the new media.
The camera itself is a fetish, as is the projector. Framed production stills from movies, become fetishes of fetishes. The big screen is an ultra-potent fetish. The small screen may eventually catch up. Before screens came along, mirrors were the most popular fetish.
There is a third entry for fetish in my dictionary, “Sensual gratification derived from touching a part of the body of a person, or a piece of clothing belonging to it.” Considering the glaring fact that sex is the most consistent theme in movies, is it too big of a stretch to connect movies to this type of fetishism? Observing the actions of dating and lovemaking in movies becomes a sort of participation in the rites themselves, in which audience members are touched by characters and receive sensual gratification from them.
Even watching something as tame as a romantic comedy in a movie theater becomes a kind of, soft-core group sex but with no added emotional baggage to deal with and zero disease. There must be something worthwhile about sitting together in the dark and watching other people touch and kiss. We make regular sacrifices for the experience. We pay for the privilege and we are doing it in dark rooms, with total strangers, at all hours of the night and day, all over the world.