John C. Wright (johncwright) wrote,
John C. Wright
johncwright

Interview!

The fine fellows over at Sf Signal  (which I read every day) asked such sterling science-fictional luminaries as Yours Truly and Paul Levinson our opinions about what was wrong with Hollywood and what should be changed. The piece is here: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/006074.html

Everyone else actually answered the question, and spoke about the need to improve the writing. Unfortunately, I went on a bit of a tangent, and expressed my disgust at the "philosophical product placement" the pokes its snout into practically every film I see these days. To find a film that does not indulge in a gratuitous insult against my religion or my nation or something else I hold precious is so rare as to be worthy of comment.

The first comment in the comments box chides me for not admiring the healthy dissent and vibrancy created by the willingness of mainstream cinema to call into question the core values of the society. Myself, I would retort that this is exactly my complaint: the core values of society are countercultural, and they are expressed with a lockstep uniformity I find both non-vibrant to the point of boring and non-healthy to the point of morbid.

In the past, the values of the culture and the counterculture were at odds, but were not necessarily enemies. The culture prized things like modesty, fidelity, sobriety, and thrift; the counterculture was kept in check until holidays or late nights after work was done, and it was permitted to express itself. The counterculture prizes things like bragging, sexual nonchalance, wild fun, and immediate self-gratification: it is the culture of Just Do It and of Fa-La-La Live For Today. The counterculture expressed itself in off-duty hours and drinking songs in much the same way the culture expressed itself in hymns and austere public monuments. The speeches made at graduation ceremonies are solemn (and forgettable) precisely because they are the most pure expression of the culture: graduation speeches are the last opportunity for the elders of the tribe to impart their wisdom to the next generation, to transmit the values of the culture. The ribald lyrics, mocking altar and crown, that workingmen sing over their mugs of beer at the public house after the children are abed, were an expression of the counterculture.

In terms of religion, the culture believed in things like the Holy Ghost, and the counterculture believed in things like ghost stories. No one wants to hear about saints when they are drinking a pint; but they don't mind hearing about some eerie Oriental spiritualism. It is no coincidence that rock stars and film stars go in for Zen Zoroastrianism or the study of Wiccan Cabalism rather than Rotary Club Episcopalianism.

A similar logic applies to the political beliefs of the counterculture: their sympathies are always with the rebels and the little guy, the minority, and the forgotten man. The political left appeals to the out-group, the people with no great love for the current power structure, and no self-interest tied into its preservation, and therefore no loyalty to its underlying values. The entertainment field has always been more accepting of minorities than the main population for the same reason the sports field has been: talent is all-important in these fields, race and color are secondary. When the first mixed-race ball teams started wining games, the other teams found they could not afford to remain racially segregated, because they could not afford to ignore the larger talent pool. In terms of story-telling or song-writing, it is easier to provoke a reaction from an audience with an appeal to the short-term and the self-centered: there are more stories about wild gambles paying off than there are about hard work and thrift paying off merely because wild gambles are more dramatic. Since poets and playwrights live in a world where their own artistic mad gambles sometimes pay off, the romance of grinding hard work rarely appears in their stories.

Paradoxically, one of the main things that keep the little man down, the lack of disciplined work habits, are lauded by the counterculture precisely because the counterculture is eternally in the holiday-time, when reason and virtue sleep.

With the rise of the mass media, films, radio and television naturally fell into the Holiday mood and off-duty hours camp. They were for entertainment, not instruction, and so they played songs of the counterculture. It is primarily radio and television that brought the counterculture into daily contact with the home: movies seen on Saturday matinees were not for work-days. But with the rise of the portable radio, that changed. The ribald lyrics were now an every day thing, a work-day thing.

What happened in postwar America, which was without precedent in history, was that the counterculture grew in wealth and prestige at the same time when the culture lost all faith in itself. The popular entertainments grew to be the main source for transmitting the values of society to the next generation: it is from these the youth get their ideas of right and wrong, normal and abnormal. The counterculture became the culture.

Now, every day is New Year's Eve, a day for drinking and laughter and poking fun at the authority figures on whose shoulders the society rests. All the uniformed figures are to be splattered with mud for our amusement, whether it be a soldier's uniform, the gray flannel suit of the businessman, or the collar of a cleric.
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