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Don Mclean’s classic, “American Pie,” would not likely become the hit it was in 1971 if released today. Apart from the biblical references or its unembarrassed use of the word “love,” the song has another disadvantage. It was written at a time when popular music was for everybody.
Today, the popular arts are strictly for the kids – or more broadly, toward non-adults. (The country’s easiest target demographic.) And the non-adults have objectively bad taste buds today. More importantly, despite access to the entire repository of world culture in their pockets, so many of them don’t know how to read – at least not in any meaningful way. Thus, those thankless gatekeepers we once called critics are no longer accessible to them.
I don’t recall finishing an entire book before I was 20 years old, but I did have one thing that kept me grounded: the movies and the music. I was a terrible student, but I had a big imagination. The issue was that my reading skills were poor, and I never encountered anything that excited me enough to make the struggle worthwhile. But my love of a different art form, but which also delivered stories instilled in me an interest in virtually everything other than reading. I couldn’t follow the words on the page, but I could hear the poetry when accompanied by music. So, I sincerely believe, as McLean did, that the popular arts can save one’s moral soul.
Fortunately for me, I grew up before the year the culture broke. Just before it broke, in fact.
But I needed help understanding what it all meant. Enter Armond White, from stage right. I’d have been about 20 when I discovered his work. I first learned of the despicable nature of our nation’s press by following the ganging up on America’s best critic – often littered with a smug pettiness and even some racial condescension, to boot. Well, they messed up. When he got picked up by National Review, I followed. And there I discovered conservatism.
Now, I want to bring your attention to a brilliant piece of his, wherein he claims 2004 as the year the culture broke. Reflecting on it with a decade already passed, he contemplates the significance of the year that moviegoers were split on two of the big sensations, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911.
I went to see Fahrenheit in a theatre in Manhattan. Driving the irony home was the fact that the man who took me and his son – a longtime family friend – was 106 stories up, along with his son, my father, and myself on the evening of September 4, 2001. (We’re Floridians, so while that might not seem like much of a coincidence to New Yorkers, it’s sufficiently eerie to me.) To this man’s credit, he did fall asleep about halfway through, but perhaps he’d have been wiser to have left his boys with the greatest “man” who ever lived, rather than with a insufferable, pontificating blob.
But back to Mr. White.
White would’ve been coming of age around the time McLean released his biggest hit. Along with the intoxicating tunes coming out of jukeboxes and eight-track tapes, Hollywood was enjoying a Renaissance of its own. Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris were sparring a bit over Auteur Theory and the cinephiles were taking sides. But the young Mr. White thought better, integrating both, and deeming the pair his intellectual parents.
If you skipped the link above, click on it here. I’ll wait.
As five more long years have passed since White mourned our loss, I’d say we’re not much closer to completing the healing process. The division has been so bad that even Armond’s – and the nation’s – beloved Steven Spielberg has been lost. Excluding the rare exceptions like David O’Russell, Jonathan Demme, and the Coen Brothers, popular artists have abandoned their task of bringing us joy and touching our souls. Most would rather appeal to our prejudices and preach their politics.
Imagine the glee this evokes in our country’s foes. Imagine Putin – the only subject that seems to appeal to America’s bipartisan side – and the big grin he’s got on his face. Fifteen years and Americans have yet to begin patching up our injuries.
All the while, Satan laughs with delight.
Let’s end this on a high note, shall we? There is hope. The American Cinema Foundation has picked up Mr. White on their board, where he will be joined by the brilliant @titustechera! They’re doing wonderful work over there, give them support any way you can!
Let’s give Satan a good kick in the privates so the public can finally be at peace.Published in