Sunday, December 19, 2004

Romanticizing the '50s, and demonizing the present

Writing for the Baltimore Sun (registration required), Richard Walter of the UCLA film school scrutinizes the 1950s, and wonders whether these are coarser times. His answer? Of course not:

"In those days, as now and always, the older generation saw the culture as already debauched. They saw its destruction in the availability of over-the-counter literature such as Lolita. They heard it in the 'jungle rhythms' of black artists such as Little Richard importuning white teenagers, 'Let's ball tonight!' If video games and violent films threaten to destroy moral character today, 50 years ago it was comic books. Fantasy and horror comics were viewed as part and parcel of the communist conspiracy. Even early editions of Mad magazine were pulled from news racks across the land.

"Today's movies are viewed as uniquely violent, but are they truly so? Conflict has resided at the center of dramatic expression since its earliest days. Oedipus kills his father, and you know what he does to his mother. Medea butchers her children and feeds them for dinner to their faithless, philandering father. By the end of Hamlet there are nine corpses onstage, some poisoned, some run through on swords. Richard III slays his nephews, boys 9 and 11.

"Ugly, bloody dramatic confrontation was not invented a week ago last Thursday by a coven of Hollywood evildoers in a dark chamber at Paramount Pictures. Audiences continue to crave conflict. The movie theater is a gymnasium for the senses, a safe place to experience that violent aspect of the human condition so that it can harmlessly be purged. Rational discourse, consensus and intelligent agreement have their rightful place in our lives to be sure, but art ain't it."