Gentle soul or perfect fool?

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Gentle soul or perfect fool?

From Bruce Attah

Published before 2005


Fred wrote:
Never before in history has so much garbage, refuse and sludge managed to leech it's way into societies bastions of the highest honors----bowed before like some "craven" image that ushered in the dawning of our longest artistic night since the dark ages.


Chris responded:
Yet even this would slander the "dark ages" - which were only dark in Western Europe. The impulse to make and cherish beautiful things is close to universal - but this and many other healthy impulses have been repressed by various ideologies of the 20th Century ...


Every time I catch myself patting myself on the back for clarity of perception, some ugliness arises before me and pulls forth the same deep, oh-so-wise comment: "I just don't see it." Like the selfish cruelty that seems so easy to so many people, the acceptance of unnecessary, uninspiring ugliness by so many people is simply beyond my comprehension. I wonder how much is a result of the barrage of "bad" influences combined with apparent complacency concerning anything not personally important. (Which brings us back to Harlan Ellison's bowel-movement quote, I suppose.) How can someone delude him/herself into accepting something like Piss Christ or the Madonna at the BAM show as worthy of being held up as art? What's the big thrill with "shock value" and where will it end? The logical conclusions of that concept are pretty frightening. Do the people who sponsor such shows truly think they're representing a worthwhile direction in art? How much is fiscal and reputational self-interest and how much genuine belief? If the latter, what do they see that I just can't grasp?

I mentioned Godward recently, and I think of his simple, beautiful art as a thematic reaction to the ugliness of which our species is capable. In a pure sense, he would be the poster boy for the fight against "garbage in; garbage out." I see value in "dark" art, especially if it is well-conceived and has redeeming value beyond "shock" or non-constructive "disgust." I remember listening to Arnold Schwarzenegger talking about the moral value of Terminator 2, how it was a statement of the pointlessness and self-destructiveness of violence. This despite a high, creative body count. Sticking to s-f examples, if you don't mind, I was on a panel with several artists, who started talking about the Alien movies. I liked the suspense of the first movie and the fun and upbeat moral imperative of the second. There was a group who believed that Alien 3 was the best of these movies. They liked the dark, driving force of it, the sense of despair, the valiant self-destruction of the heroine at the end. To me, the movie was a down-spiraling blood-fest whose big thematic statement was that the only real solution to horror and despair was suicide (not self-sacrifice). It made me want to pick up something seriously harmless, like Jane Austen. BTW, the root purpose of science fiction is not simply to predict the future but to analyze the affects of technological and related changes on humanity.

I've struggled to understand "the point" and try to stay in touch with contemporary cultural forces, dark, foolish, and otherwise. I'm sorry, but I just don't get it. Does that make me, like Godward, a gentle soul, or a fool?

Bill