Saturday, May 06, 2006

Tom Clancy with a scapular

Opinion columns get a lighter hand on the desk in part because, as a rule, there are no false opinions. That doesn't mean there are no dumb opinions, and it certainly doesn't mean opinion columns are free of lame reasoning and puerile writing. It might mean, though, that rather than keeping such a one out of the paper, we can do little but shake our heads in wonderment at its refulgent glory.

A few excerpts, lightly annotated:
Best works of art are gutsy, challenging
I went to see "United 93" for the same reason many of you will be drawn soon to "The Da Vinci Code."

(Hold this thought for a second; we're going to come back to it.)

You and I want to be challenged, inspired, provoked, occasionally offended and always moved to think harder and feel more deeply.

And you and I read potboilers for exactly which of those reasons?

Many of us don't seek out legitimate expressions of art -- or a gutsy preacher getting ready to unleash a stunner of a sermon -- to be entertained.

We seek them out to be changed.

Leaving aside the bizarre conflation of sermonizing and art, and the annoying deixis, this is a pretty narrow view of what "art" is supposed to do, innit? Even if we're restricting ourselves to "legitimate" art?

I slipped alone into "United 93" because my wife was one of the many who could not bring herself to relive that part of Sept. 11 again. Some bought popcorn. (One hates to break the poetic spell here, but ... some of whom bought popcorn? The many who could not bring herself* to relive that part of Sept. 11?) But when the lights dimmed, this felt more like a memorial gathering than a suburban Charlotte theater on a Saturday night. We were there, quietly, to honor the memory of a group of previously unknown passengers who came to embody ingenuity and sacrifice.

Think back to the lede a second. You went to this flick for the same reason we lemmings "will be drawn soon to 'The Da Vinci Code,'" and that's -- to honor the memory of a group of previously unknown passengers? OK, just wanted to clear that up.

Skip the next few grafs (hey, don't thank me), in which the author reminds us (twice) that he interviewed a relative of a Flight 93 victim, and, well, cut to the chase:

"The Da Vinci Code" will be the next movie to challenge our capacity to welcome all points of view.

Let's ponder a few of the implications of this sentence:
1) "United 93" challenged our capacity to welcome all points of view.
2) The more points of view we can welcome, the better.
3) All points of view are equally valid.
4) We'd better welcome all those challenges in "The Da Vinci Code."

To which one is inclined to say no, no, no and no. "Welcoming all points of view" is not in itself a virtue, nor is it a necessary (or sufficient) condition of a "legitimate" work of "art." Some points of view are stupid. Some are morally indefensible or culturally beyond the pale. "All points of view" about Flight 93 would include, at a minimum, "Hey! Bin Laden's a heck of a guy!" -- three for three.

An overweight melodrama about the agents of Rome is a different matter, but it raises some similar questions. As in: Whence the supposed virtue in "welcoming" its challenging "point of view?" (We're going to run out of quotation marks if this keeps up much longer.) Do I get into heaven quicklier for believing in popish plots? What's the columnist going to demand of us when someone makes a Tom Cruise version of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion"?

OK, that's a stretch. But it's a kindred stretch to the one that insists we find moral meaning in the diverse "points of view" of "The Da Vinci Code." Dude! It isn't Nabokov! It's not even C.S. Lewis! It's Dan Brown! It's like Tom Clancy with a scapular! And a flashlight under his chin!

My, the places we draw our legitimate art from these days. Long and heavy? Yeah. Page-turnosity? Fairly high. Gutsy and challenging? Not on this planet. Sorry.

Anyway, to conclude, life once again imitates high school composition class:

Whether it's a film about a doomed flight, a novel about a grand church conspiracy or a weekly sermon from your faith leader, the most important expressions are the ones that rattle our cages.

* {Running fingernails down blackboard} The pronoun error is even more blatant when you rewrite the sentence.


Blogger Erin Doyle said...

"You and I want to be challenged, inspired, provoked, occasionally offended and always moved to think harder and feel more deeply."

Sorry; "you and I"--or at any rate "you"--want no such thing. You may THINK you do, but admit it: What you really want is a movie that makes that narrow-minded idiot down the street choke on his popcorn. This is yet another example of the insidious phenomenon known as the third-person effect--the one that makes the mote in the other guy's eye look like a sequoia on steroids. Or, to paraphrase General Patton: We don't want movies that make US think; we want movies that make the OTHER poor bastard think.

3:47 PM, May 09, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

Hmm. Well, quoting George Jr. is a fine way to get on HEADSUP-L's good side in a hurry, but what's this "insidious"? We _like_ the third-person effect around here.

11:33 PM, May 21, 2006  

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