I Saw Satan Laughing with Delight, the Day the Culture Broke

 

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.

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  1. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    JFK: a thrilling film made with exceptional skill, created by the industry’s top talents, dedicated to ripping open a wound and pouring poison in the raw gash. It presented with seductive skill the corrosive, fantastical delusion that the malevolent right controls everything, kills its foes with impunity, and stands athwart Goodness. The liberal Boomer generation may not have bought the plot, but they agreed with its conclusion: left-leaning government is the little guy, the scrappy underdog, and only fascists would oppose its reasonable empowerment.

    Sorry I missed it.

    You didn’t miss too much. Oliver Stone being unable to help himself as usual – wrecking what could have been a good movie about a turning point in American history.

    Lolita Davidovitch was really cute in that, though.

    Yeah. Definitely a lot of fine acting.

    • #31
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Samuel Block (View Comment):
    I’m on my phone, so I didn’t see that little winking mouse, tipping his cap.

    Pogo Possum is not a mouse. The Yout’s are all Philistines.

    • #32
  3. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Samuel Block (View Comment):
    I’m on my phone, so I didn’t see that little winking mouse, tipping his cap.

    Pogo Possum is not a mouse. The Yout’s are all Philistines.

    Well now I’m embarrassed.

    Apologies, Pogo.

    • #33
  4. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio…
    @ArizonaPatriot

    The culture didn’t break all at once.  I did like American Pie quite a lot.

    It I had to pick a moment, musically, it would be Norwegian Wood, released by the Beatles in 1965.  It symbolized, was caused by, and further inspired the breakdown of morality.  The Beatles did write some fine songs after that date, but I think that this was the inflection point.

    Morally, they went from the sweet and innocent I Want To Hold Your Hand (1963), to the manly A Hard Day’s Night (1964), to the frantic Help (1965), to the adulterous and nihilistic Norwegian Wood  (1965), to the obscene Why Don’t We Do It In The Road (1968).

    Innocence was not wholly lost.  Taylor Swift’s early work was pretty good in this regard.

    • #34
  5. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Where did you get the notion Norwegian Wood is adulterous?

    • #35
  6. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    The culture didn’t break all at once. I did like American Pie quite a lot.

    It I had to pick a moment, musically, it would be Norwegian Wood, released by the Beatles in 1965. It symbolized, was caused by, and further inspired the breakdown of morality. The Beatles did write some fine songs after that date, but I think that this was the inflection point.

    Morally, they went from the sweet and innocent I Want To Hold Your Hand (1963), to the manly A Hard Day’s Night (1964), to the frantic Help (1965), to the adulterous and nihilistic Norwegian Wood (1965), to the obscene Why Don’t We Do It In The Road (1968).

    Innocence was not wholly lost. Taylor Swift’s early work was pretty good in this regard.

    I’d think “Drive My Car” might be the song on that album that was the most sex-induced. But that is an interesting thought. Apparently it did bring The Beach Boys into competition with them.

    Wait, are song names supposed to be italicized? Seriously asking.

    • #36
  7. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Samuel Block (View Comment):
    Wait, are song names supposed to be italicized? Seriously asking.

    Album names italicized. Song names in quotes.

    • #37
  8. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio…
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Where did you get the notion Norwegian Wood is adulterous?

    Wikipedia, actually, when I looked up the date.  It is clearly about a meaningless sexual fling.  It was written by John Lennon, who was married at the time.

    • #38
  9. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio…
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Samuel Block (View Comment):
    Wait, are song names supposed to be italicized? Seriously asking.

    Album names italicized. Song names in quotes.

    I dissent!  Though not very strongly.  Wikipedia appears to italicize both, though I’ve only observed this in the few Beatles songs and albums that I referenced this morning, so perhaps it is not consistent throughout Wikipedia.

    • #39
  10. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    Wikipedia appears to italicize both, though I’ve only observed this in the few Beatles songs and albums that I referenced this morning, so perhaps it is not consistent throughout Wikipedia.

    Wikipedia has many editors, and they may not all follow the same style.

    • #40
  11. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret
    @CarolJoy

    The culture, including music, is so broke that if you go to youtube and listen to 70’s, 80’s or even 90’s hits, the comment sections reveal people of all ages pining to have that style of music returned to us.

    Just as you discovered the words of Armand White, younger people have discovered the music of Cream, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, The Band, Joni Mitchell, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, Janis, Melanie and many many others.

    It gives me hope.

    • #41
  12. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret
    @CarolJoy

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Where did you get the notion Norwegian Wood is adulterous?

    Well that’s a step up. Usually anything someone here feels is morally offensive, they decide it is about abortion.

    • #42
  13. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret (View Comment):

    The culture, including music, is so broke that if you go to youtube and listen to 70’s, 80’s or even 90’s hits, the comment sections reveal people of all ages pining to have that style of music returned to us.

    Just as you discovered the words of Armand White, younger people have discovered the music of Cream, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, The Band, Joni Mitchell, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, Janis, Melanie and many many others.

    It gives me hope.

    There’s a new record label in New Orleans which is hoping to do its part for the needed revival. Keep an eye on us. Let us know what you think.

    • #43
  14. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Where did you get the notion Norwegian Wood is adulterous?

    Well that’s a step up. Usually anything someone here feels is morally offensive, they decide it is about abortion.

    I thought it was about a bum who tried to score on a lady with a job, got turned down and made to sleep in the bathroom, and then burned her house down in revenge. 

    • #44
  15. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret (View Comment):

    The culture, including music, is so broke that if you go to youtube and listen to 70’s, 80’s or even 90’s hits, the comment sections reveal people of all ages pining to have that style of music returned to us.

    Just as you discovered the words of Armand White, younger people have discovered the music of Cream, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, The Band, Joni Mitchell, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, Janis, Melanie and many many others.

    It gives me hope.

    So, a lot of the folks in the 24/7 prayer movement are young…really young. Like 19,  20, 22. Under 30 young. The musicians among them, when I play them Yes or Rush…or Glass Harp or Phil Keaggy, they first have to pick their jaws up off the floor and then they get motivated to up their game. It is heartening. 

    • #45
  16. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret (View Comment):

    The culture, including music, is so broke that if you go to youtube and listen to 70’s, 80’s or even 90’s hits, the comment sections reveal people of all ages pining to have that style of music returned to us.

    Just as you discovered the words of Armand White, younger people have discovered the music of Cream, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, The Band, Joni Mitchell, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, Janis, Melanie and many many others.

    It gives me hope.

    So, a lot of the folks in the 24/7 prayer movement are young…really young. Like 19, 20, 22. Under 30 young. The musicians among them, when I play them Yes or Rush…or Glass Harp or Phil Keaggy, they first have to pick their jaws up off the floor and then they get motivated to up their game. It is heartening.

    That’s what’s so unfortunate about what I’ll call – in agreement with the many commenters above – the slow fracturing of American pop culture. (I still stick with White’s assessment of this being a particularly important moment.) Secular kids aren’t exposed to anything that aims to inspire the divinity in us all, and the religious kids are likely to go without being exposed to popular, often-secular music that somehow channels the divine, even if the artists don’t know it.

    Then, these kids have nothing in common, and no means of communication.

    • #46
  17. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Where did you get the notion Norwegian Wood is adulterous?

    Wikipedia, actually, when I looked up the date. It is clearly about a meaningless sexual fling. It was written by John Lennon, who was married at the time.

    Do you think everyone who listened to the song was thinking, this is about Lennon’s adultery?

    • #47
  18. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    Do you think everyone who listened to the song was thinking, this is about Lennon’s adultery?

    It never even occurred to me.

    • #48
  19. Man With the Axe Inactive
    Man With the Axe
    @ManWiththeAxe

    I’m not so certain that the supposed fracturing of culture is a bad thing, or even a thing.

    As James Lileks points out, the 60s was already fractured. I was 14 when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. Everyone my age was hooked. My brother was 6 years older. He couldn’t see it. He liked Johnie Mathis. My still older brother, 11 years older than me, liked jazz and never changed. My parents didn’t care about music one way or the other. 

    I was out of the country for a while in 1968, and returned to a place that previously had been in love with the Temptations and Four Tops and was now in love with Cream and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. As portrayed (by Oliver Stone: Is there anything he can’t do?) in “Platoon,” the culture seemed divided between the beer-drinking rock and rollers or country (e.g., Elvis) and the grass-smoking rockers. (The Doors, Jefferson Airplane). 

    Then eventually came disco and hip-hop and the divides just keep coming. 

    • #49
  20. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Armond White’s story was interesting, but I feel like he missed a few points when he wrote it. The critics that dissed Mel Gibson’s movie was a mirror image of what we progressed to since the 1960’s.  Christianity and a movie about Jesus’ crucifixion was no longer something to be cared about. Christianity itself was undergoing a struggle and still is. Michael Moore is a buffoon and the association with Weinstein is appropriate. 

    While I like some of Tarantino’s movies, I found them to be violent and vulgar.  He is talented, and that’s what sells.  I remember when Brad Pitt and the other actors were accepting an award for Fight Club, and the background for some reason was “flames”.  It looked like hell.  Brad Pitt held up his award in a fist pump gesture and thanked Tarantino and said something about how he was proud to be an atheist.  Then he made a vulgar gesture.  It was the weirdest moment.  Why even bring that up? Angelina was in the audience. I guess what I’m getting at is judging current morals and culture in music and movies may be an indication of how it is, but it certainly is no surprise – especially today.

    • #50
  21. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    Man With the Axe (View Comment):

    I’m not so certain that the supposed fracturing of culture is a bad thing, or even a thing.

    As James Lileks points out, the 60s was already fractured. I was 14 when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. Everyone my age was hooked. My brother was 6 years older. He couldn’t see it. He liked Johnie Mathis. My still older brother, 11 years older than me, liked jazz and never changed. My parents didn’t care about music one way or the other.

    I was out of the country for a while in 1968, and returned to a place that previously had been in love with the Temptations and Four Tops and was now in love with Cream and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. As portrayed (by Oliver Stone: Is there anything he can’t do?) in “Platoon,” the culture seemed divided between the beer-drinking rock and rollers or country (e.g., Elvis) and the grass-smoking rockers. (The Doors, Jefferson Airplane).

    Then eventually came disco and hip-hop and the divides just keep coming.

    Agreed. I don’t even see any reason to suggest that we’re supposed to have a totally coherent American culture. For starters, when do we mark the beginning of “pop culture?” The term multi-cultural wouldn’t be such a problem if people used it to describe the way the United States is, and how it’s always has been. Instead they tend they give it a value distinction, and define it thusly: “the way a society deals with diversity,” and then applying its use to argue that certain cultural fragments ought to be erased, and others thoughtlessly endorsed.

    But I think it’s worth reminding ourselves through the trough that most of us probably believe is actually upon us, there have been crests. And if we can all get better movies and music out of appreciating those rare moments in history that we consider to have been golden ages, then all the better! We all get to have more fun – and conservatives would be much more politically effective if they were a little more fun.

    If so, we might begin to have better representation in culture industries. Ive got a few recent posts trying to inspire conservatives to have a little more fun, because it is their patriotic duty. So listen to Titus’ podcasts, and find out what you should be checking out.

    • #51
  22. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    [Deleted. Duplicate]

    • #52
  23. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Man With the Axe (View Comment):
    Then eventually came disco and hip-hop and the divides just keep coming. 

    These aren’t really genres.

    • #53
  24. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Man With the Axe (View Comment):
    Then eventually came disco and hip-hop and the divides just keep coming.

    These aren’t really genres.

    More like communicable diseases.

    • #54
  25. The Great Adventure! Inactive
    The Great Adventure!
    @TheGreatAdventure

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Man With the Axe (View Comment):
    Then eventually came disco and hip-hop and the divides just keep coming.

    These aren’t really genres.

    More like communicable diseases.

    Most definitely sexually transmitted. 

    • #55
  26. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    Armond White’s story was interesting, but I feel like he missed a few points when he wrote it. The critics that dissed Mel Gibson’s movie was a mirror image of what we progressed to since the 1960’s. Christianity and a movie about Jesus’ crucifixion was no longer something to be cared about. Christianity itself was undergoing a struggle and still is. Michael Moore is a buffoon and the association with Weinstein is appropriate.

    While I like some of Tarantino’s movies, I found them to be violent and vulgar. He is talented, and that’s what sells. I remember when Brad Pitt and the other actors were accepting an award for Fight Club, and the background for some reason was “flames”. It looked like hell. Brad Pitt held up his award in a fist pump gesture and thanked Tarantino and said something about how he was proud to be an atheist. Then he made a vulgar gesture. It was the weirdest moment. Why even bring that up? Angelina was in the audience. I guess what I’m getting at is judging current morals and culture in music and movies may be an indication of how it is, but it certainly is no surprise – especially today.

    One thing I like about this review is that it was written before the phrases fake news or lamestream media or elites were used to describe our press – I just find those to be yucky ones.

    I agree this is all quite subjective – he’s quoted somewhere as saying nobody could precisely shares his views on things because that’s just not possible – but this is a profound turning point. To consider 9/11 – the event itself – being followed, only three years later, by a documentary like Fahrenheit, directed by a fraud, and goes on to win one of the most prestigious awards in the business. I can’t imagine we wouldn’t have a cultural shift 9/11, but for it, and the years that followed, to have fractured us so significantly should have been unexpected.

    Then again, I could just be a little naive. 🤗

    Pauline Kael is widely known on the Right for a misquotation that makes her sound politically foolish and snooty. Though probably a true instance of snootiness, she has become a person that many conservatives have deemed one of the“elite.” But she was not an elite – just very opinionated and quick to trust her reactions and thoughts on a subject. Despite her political alignment and East Coast proclivities, she was not unfair or venomous the way these people are today.

    Here’s an interview with her that is interesting:

    She gets going about two minutes in. The following 5 minutes or so are very good.

    • #56
  27. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Man With the Axe (View Comment):
    Then eventually came disco and hip-hop and the divides just keep coming.

    These aren’t really genres.

    I’d say they are.

    • #57
  28. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    Pauline Kael is widely known on the Right for a misquotation that makes her sound politically foolish and snooty. Though probably a true instance of snootiness, she has become a person that many conservatives recognize the name as, well, an “elite.” But she was not an elite – just very opinionated and quick to trust her reactions and thoughts on a subject.

     

    If you’re referring to her “I don’t know how Nixon got elected” remark, thanks for busting my bubble.

    • #58
  29. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    Pauline Kael is widely known on the Right for a misquotation that makes her sound politically foolish and snooty. Though probably a true instance of snootiness, she has become a person that many conservatives recognize the name as, well, an “elite.” But she was not an elite – just very opinionated and quick to trust her reactions and thoughts on a subject.

     

    If you’re referring to her “I don’t know how Nixon got elected” remark, thanks for busting my bubble.

    Pop.

    You might be pleasantly surprised to give her interview a brief listen. She’s pretty fascinating.

    • #59
  30. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Samuel Block (View Comment):
    You might be pleasantly surprised to give her interview a brief listen. She’s pretty fascinating.

    There’s a lot of content out there, and it is a half-hour.  There aren’t all that many spare half-hours in a day.

    • #60
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