Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Random Thoughts On A Very Hot Day

Artists love the content and craft of art rather than the business of art, though fame and fortune grant an artist various forms of authority and security and are aided by the business of art (and the whole machinery of marketing and sales). Funnily enough, hype is effective because it mimes genuine enthusiasm and passion…True criticism involves identifying, exploring, and evaluating the structure, content, and spirit of a work—and it is forever in danger as it works with knowledge against ignorance.

I heard an interview with Woody Allen yesterday on National Public Radio (NPR). His voice was pleasantly deep, and it was amusing to hear him distinguish himself from his characters (he claims he is less intellectual, more ordinary—the guy on the couch with a beer watching a sports game). Woody Allen said that people like to them of him as an intellectual, and that an intellectual image might add to the enjoyment of his films for some. It is true that human beings are referred to increasingly as brands—reputations, products; and that’s the triumph of capitalism: an enslavement to marketing and public opinion...Woody Allen’s new film is Whatever Works, starring Larry David...I recall many years ago having an argument with a couple of friends about whether the very famous Woody Allen was an independent or mainstream filmmaker—they said the former, I said the latter, though now he seems to me to have been both, which may be one definition of a good and successful artist. Meanwhile, there is a bicycle film festival tonight at the South Street Seaport in Manhattan, featuring bike movies and parties (the film festival is from June 17 through 21).

I used to know someone who tried to dismiss science fiction as a matter of course—she was trying to take a superior attitude to a genre she was ignorant of, a genre that imagines possible futures in both human relations and technology (imaginings that often come true), a genre that requires imagination and intelligence to be rewarding to the viewer or reader. Science fiction puts vision to hope and fears, problems and the knowledge needed to address them. Reading recently Daniel Shaw’s Film and Philosophy: Taking Movies Seriously, I was pleased to see these lines: “Science fiction is the most philosophical of literary genres, because it so often concerns itself with questions about the criteria for personal identity, the difference(s) between humans and machines, the implications of present trends for the future of the human species, the dangers of technology and social control mechanisms, and the possibility and significance of contact with alien species” (page 44). Some works are so good they exclude people who do not have the sensibility to appreciate their qualities.

Thirty years ago the Rolling Stones were controversial for claiming in a song that black girls wanted to have sex all night long: now black rappers call black women whores and bitches...Some Girls was a great album—is a great album, as were Diana Ross’s The Boss and the first Rickie Lee Jones album, all music from that time, the late 1970s.

The crisis in health care is like every other crisis—manufactured, claimed one conservative radio talk show this week. These conservative shows—whether devoted to religion or politics—spend a great deal of time misrepresenting the president of the United States, Barack Obama. The constancy of their dishonest, hateful, ignorant, manipulative talk is an example of evil, a far from banal evil...In an article on bitterness and its reasons and roots, a professor of literature, Christopher Lane, writes in Psychology Today in “Bitterness: The Next Mental Disorder?” about politics: “The Bush administration led the country into a protracted, illegal war, based on trumped-up evidence; ignored memos that said the country faced credible terrorist threats; locked up large numbers of suspects afterwards without trial or due process; lied to its citizens about the widespread use of torture; eliminated every sensible, necessary check on financial regulation to prevent a fiscal meltdown; mocked the facts of climate change; and sat on its hands as Hurricane Katrina devastated a large city” What did the conservative talk show hosts have to say about any of that?