The Expected “Virtue” of Ignorance

I went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music earlier this afternoon to see Birdman. I’ll reserve my review for a later time – although I will say, in short, that I didn’t feel anything for the characters and I feel far more feelings at learning that Lesley Gore (of whom I am a big fan) has passed away – but what’s currently on my mind is something that happened in the theater prior to the start of the film. BAM shows movie-trivia quizzes on the screen and the theater’s audience demographic, which is downtown-Brooklynites ages 25-35, is often vocal in the attempts to solve the questions. Today was no different, but two such examples of quizzing led to unfortunate revelations about the moviegoers.

1. “Who described Marilyn Monroe as ‘an endless puzzle without any solution’?” (I knew that the answer was Billy Wilder.) A woman approximately thirty years old, sitting behind me with some friends of about the same age, guessed Billy Wilder. After getting the answer right, she admitted, “I don’t know who that is.” She and her friends laughed it off and seemed to come to the conclusion that whoever it was, he wasn’t anyone interesting. (I recall the word “whatever” in particular.)

2. “Which of these actresses was born on July 4?” I knew it was Eva Marie Saint (7/4/1924) and not Ingrid Bergman, Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn. The same woman from before said, “I’m going to guess Bette Davis.” Answer revealed. “Eva Marie Saint? Huuuuh? Never heard of her.” Cue raucous laughter and agreement that this name must be a random nonentity in the movie business. This response was more expected to me; I figured that Ms. Saint, who is one of my favorite actresses, is probably not as famous a name for recent generations, even though films of hers like On the Waterfront and North by Northwest might ring a bell for even the least aware culture-consumer.

When Birdman began and the opening credits announced the subtitle of the film, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, I had to sigh a little. Ignorance is, sad to say, all too expected and actually congratulated. This is not de rigueur for all movie houses; the Film Forum and MoMA expect a bit more out of their customers, particularly the older moviegoers who like to test each other’s knowledge on directors and actors (from memory, sans screen-quiz) while waiting for the movie to start. There is nothing wrong with not knowing movie history, but it is in poor form to applaud the lack of cognizance. Given the current state of our technology, any of the adults sitting behind me could have taken a phone out and Googled “Eva Marie Saint,” but it is a mark of where we are at today that we have more information than ever at our fingertips and yet, more often than should be the case, people don’t care to find out more than what they already know.


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