Thursday, March 09, 2006

OpinionJournal - Boy in a Bubble

That's Peggy Noonan's word for George Clooney, who won the Academy Award for "Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role" for his appearance in the movie Syriana. She wasn't so much criticizing his performance, or even the movie that he appeared in (though that movie is typical Hollywood revisionist trash, but that's another topic). Rather, she was criticizing him for being "proud" to be out-of-touch with America. News flash, George! This is your audience. As Ms. Noonan cleverly demonstrates, Orson Welles would never have shown such disrespect for the person standing in line at the box office. And, says Ms. Noonan, those Hollywood people wonder why no one wants to go to the movies anymore, and why nine percent fewer people even bothered to tune in to the Oscars show this year.

I quote:

The Clooney generation in Hollywood is not writing and directing movies about life as if they've experienced it, with all its mysteries and complexity and variety. In an odd way they haven't experienced life; they've experienced media. Their films seem more an elaboration and meditation on media than an elaboration and meditation on life. This is how he could take such an unnuanced, unsophisticated, unknowing gloss on the 1950s and the McCarthy era. He just absorbed media about it. And that media itself came from certain assumptions and understandings, and myths.
Such as, that Communism was not bad at all, and that no one had any legitimate grounds to fear it, and that was why McCarthy was a bad person--not because he was trying to chase down a conspiracy of evil men without confronting their ideas, but because--in the "expert" opinion of George Clooney--McCarthy was "accusing" people of doing that of which they ought to be proud, and for which America ought to be grateful!

I do, however, have this quarrel with Ms. Noonan. In her last paragraph, she says:

Most Americans aren't leading media, they're leading lives. It would be nice to see a new respect in Hollywood for the lives they live. It would be nice to see them start to understand that rediscovering the work of, say, C.S. Lewis, and making a Narnia film, is not "giving in" to the audience but serving it. It isn't bad to look for and present good material that is known to have a following. It's a smart thing to do.
The trouble, as this history of the Hays Code makes clear, is that the motion picture producers of the Sixties were giving a new, wilder movie audience exactly what it was then asking for. If Ms. Noonan criticizes the movies today because all we're getting is what the actors and directors think we ought to see (because that's what they want to see themselves), she misses the point. Would a movie like Brokeback Mountain be any more acceptable if homosexual practice rates got back up to fifty percent, as was the case in ancient Greece? Not by my Bible!

We need to judge any form of art, literature, or music by an absolute standard. My standard is, "What is pleasing to, or glorifying of, God?" And increasingly we need to judge our art galleries, booksellers, libraries, concert halls--and yes, theaters, both stage and cinematic--by the quality and acceptability of the works that their owners and operators display, show, or sell therein. That's why I didn't tune in the Oscars. That's why I said long ago that if Richard the Lionhearted had left any direct descendants, I would encourage them to sue the Academy in a class action for defamation of character--in this case, the character of the Crusaders, in that the Academy awards statuettes of Crusader knights holding their broadswords to "artists" who produce the sort of work of which no Crusader would ever approve. (And that's why I still say that a real gas of a short subject would have all those Crusader statuettes suddenly animate themselves, raise their swords, and chase all those monkey-suited people off the stage.)

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