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Works and Days

Confessions of a Cultural Drop-out

October 17th, 2009 - 9:40 pm

I have some confessions to make, not because any of you readers are particularly interested in my views; but rather because I think some of you are in the same boat: Have you stopped reading, listening, watching, and paying attention to most of what now passes for establishment public or popular culture? I am not particularly proud of this quietism (many Athenians did it in the early 4th century BC and Romans by the late 3rd AD), but not really ashamed of it either.

Shut up and see a movie?

Take Hollywood protocol—make a big movie, hype it, show it at the mall multiplex. But I went to one movie the last year. Maybe three in the last four years. There is not much choice here—car crashes, evil white men killing the innocent, some gay or feminist heroes fending off club-bearing white homophobic Mississippians in pick-ups. Or you can endure the American war-machine kidnapping, torturing, or murdering even more of the helpless abroad—with Robert Redford, glassed down, tweed in display, or snarly George Clooney sermonizing, like the choruses of Euripides’ tragedies.

The usual themes—some evil corporation is destroying something (fill in the blanks: the environment, the neighborhood, the small town, etc.), some CIA conspiracy is out to ruin a crusading heroic journalist, or some brave professor or writer is exposing a massive cover-up—are, well, boring, even with the sex, the blow-em-up explosions, and some nice scenery. (And all this from a corporate Hollywood—reliant on the security of the American military, crass in its high tastes and destructive in its behavior, and all the while profit and status obsessed! [The world of Halliburton makes the world safe for Botox?])

If it is not all that, we get instead some neurotic suburban psychodrama about a senseless midlife crisis of some aging yuppies, wondering whether their empty lives really have meaning. Then there are always the “action” movies about tomb-robbing, treasure-hunting, or Zombie killing, but even they try to mask emptiness with a politically-correct throw-away line now and then. Can’t they make one movie of the Lewis and Clark expedition or Lepanto, and one less with Tom Hanks as the anguished and caring postmodern man?

Why not DVDs?

If I watch DVDs, they surely are not of recent vintage. I couldn’t tell you a single release in the current most rented 100. I rewatch instead Westerns—Peckinpaugh, John Ford, the classics like Shane and High Noon, the greats like Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Lee Marvin, George C. Scott, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, John Wayne, etc., and, as I wrote a few months ago, almost anything with a brilliant, but now forgotten character actor such as a Jack Palance, Richard Boone (cf. Cicero Grimes in Hombre), Ben Johnson, or Warren Oates—if only for their accents, ad-libbed lines, and carriage. Only the greats like DeNiro or Pacino, or a Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, and a few others (a Hackman, Eastwood, or Hopkins) approximate the old breed. (A Mickey Rourke, Gary Oldman, or John Malkovich are at least originals and, like real people, look the worse for it). So I find myself replaying something like a Das Boot or Breaker Morant, or supposedly corny 1930s and 1940s classics like How Green Was My Valley or The Best Years of Our Lives.  If I want to watch a film that failed at the box-office, I’ll take One-Eyed Jacks or Major Dundee or Pat Garret and Billy the Kid; their failures are better than today’s “successes”.

Today’s under thirty American male actors sound like they either have sinus congestion, or are trying to convince someone they are not as effeminate as their contrived appearance otherwise suggests. If my life depended on it, I could not identify any of the current leading actresses. The country needs a screen presence of a Burt Lancaster or Frederic March and it gets instead a Ben Affleck or Leo DiCaprio.

Musical Time Warp

Ditto music. I don’t know the name of a single rapper. Don’t follow rock anymore. Don’t want to. I like a Mark Knopfler or Coldplay, but mostly missed music’s 21st century. I’m so lost that I think a Bob Seeger and Bruce Hornsby are contemporary mega-stars, though I couldn’t identify a recent hit of either. I haven’t seen any of the kids write as well as Springsteen or Van Morrison. One Otis Redding had more talent than the entire hip-hop industry.

Who is Katie Couric?

Add in television. I haven’t watched a network newscast in 10 years. If I want to see a 60-Minutes hit piece, I’ll watch a You Tube video where the amateurs are far more interesting and honest about their ambush journalism. Do the CBS hit-men still try to jump in and cross-up some poor official, as he stammers while they hammer on? Is Andy Rooney still around?

I don’t know which anchor is where. I bump into them in their re-aired interviews like the Couric/Palin disaster or Gibson with his eyeglasses on his nose as if were a professor of Romance Languages grilling Sarah the Idaho co-ed, but other than that could care less.

I’d take an old paleo-liberal like Eric Sevareid, John Chancellor, or David Brinkley any day over the most conservative on NBC or CNN. The old guys had style, even class; today’s crowd spends more on teeth-whiteners than on books.

Obama is perfect for the age. Like Bush, he had the Ivy-League degrees; unlike Bush he had the pretension that they meant something, even though in his mind the Berlin Airlift, the German language, Auschwitz, World War II, Cordoba, the geography of the U.S., almost anything dealing with history, geography, literature, or well, knowledge in general—well all that is stuff that others less relevant than he learned in college.

Commercial-free TV?

I like C-Span and have always admired Brian Lamb. I used to be a big fan of PBS and PR, but no more. The laudable shows are far outweighed by the race/class/gender agendas, usually someone in a soft drone, talking scarcely above a whisper, about some new heretofore unnoticed pathology of the US military, corporation, or government (pre-Obama) that a particularly angry but heroic professor or investigative reporter is going to enlighten us about.

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