Perhaps the only good thing about being a social outcast in your own culture is that you can pick and choose what you build your inner culture out of without having to worry if you’re doing it wrong. And that’s because you’re already wrong by the definition of the dominant culture so you can’t be more wrong for leaving something out. For instance, I like old movies. But I’m not a big fan of musicals. So even though I’m told that old Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly movies are supposed to be great I don’t see it that way. Sure, I don’t have anything against these movies but if I’m picking my top 100 movies the only musical might be “The Wizard of Oz.” So, whereas I won’t complain if someone wants to see some musicals from the 30s and 40s, if someone tells me that West Side Story is a great American classic, I assume we are not going to see eye to eye on most things.
So, I’m going to use my own preferences rather than whatever nonsense gave us such ridiculous things as ballet, Jackson Pollack, performance art and the Beat Poets. I was discussing film with an old friend and we got on the topic of “Citizen Kane” and he noted that numerous critics have maintained over the years that it is the best motion picture of all time. And that got me thinking, I don’t think Citizen Kane is even good. It’s loaded with dysfunction, depression and annoying characters that descend into a world where life has no meaning and isn’t worth living. And that got me thinking. The world view that finds Citizen Kane exemplary is a distorted one that is a symptom of the problems we’re facing now. A philosophy that sees no meaning in life, that denies the existence of good and evil always devolves into nihilism. And when people with that philosophy create art, no matter how technically adept they are the product always celebrates death as the only reality. And the effect such a message has on viewers is corrosive.
A distinction can be drawn between a message that is unhappy and one that is nihilistic. There are plenty of books and films and works of art that are sad but uplifting. After all death is an inevitable part of life and death brings great sadness to most of us. And there are a multitude of unhappy things that happen every day in the world. But life correctly understood is the triumph of the human spirit over all these challenges. So portraying unhappiness and tragedy isn’t the problem. The fault with the modernist world view is the mentality that finds no value in human life at all. Happiness and unhappiness are equally meaningless and the only activity they pursue is to stave off boredom by portraying things that outrage the chumps who still believe in things. And because every outrage eventually becomes dulled by familiarity each new outrage has to be more extreme and more diseased.
And so, this is the point. Just because something is fifty or a hundred years old doesn’t mean it’s a “classic.” And something made tomorrow can possess the qualities that make it exemplary. The quality is either there or it isn’t and it doesn’t require a college degree in art criticism to recognize it. All you have to do is see whether the point of view of the book or the movie says that normal life has meaning or not. It’s as simple as that.