Out of the Hearts of Men

Okay, now I'm going to postulate something that NO ONE is going to believe. What I am going to postulate is that art is a reflection of society, not the creator of it.

If I'm forced to compromise, I'll say, "Yes, yes, okay, art and society have a symbiotic relationship where art reflects society and then influences it in turn," but I don't really believe that.

I believe that what we see on television and what we read in books and what we go to movies to watch is a reflection of what we already think and feel and do and want. I postulate that otherwise, we would not be able to recognize it; it would be meaningless.

This is not a popular way of thinking. People on the right and people on the left spend a great deal of time criticizing art: television, for example. Folks in academic programs spend a great deal of time (believe me) wringing their hands over the messages embedded in popular culture that justify political/social imperialism. (They say "imperialism" a lot at my school.) That is, people didn't go to see James Bond movies in the 80s because they wanted to see Russians get blown up, they went to see James Bond movies because they'd been brainwashed by Reagan into wanting to see Russians blown up and the movies just re-inforced that message. (Or they DID want to see Russians blown up, but they would have stopped wanting to see Russians blown up if there had been no James Bond movies. Or Star Wars wouldn't have happened. Or something. I don't know. I don't understand the way these people think.)

Anyway, I think it is all hog-wash, but I also think that Hollywood believes it. That's why they give awards to films about the horrors of middleclass America—because they are convinced at some basic level that saying something serious is more artistic than saying something funny, and, too, I think they really do believe that middleclass America is a hotbed of vice. Maybe it makes them feel better. But it all comes down to this belief that art is about teaching, saying something OF WORTH that will OPEN PEOPLE'S EYES to the TRUTH when it fact art is about recognition.

A scholar named Arnold Weinstein has written a book called A Scream Goes Through the House, trying to say all this but in a scholarly way. It's a difficult argument to make in the scholarly world even though it is so obvious. Because saying, "You aren't going to learn anything by reading or seeing this, you aren't going to become a better person or suddenly realize that you should be voting Democrat," is, well, good grief, it's positively un-American.

You will become wise. But wisdom is not about learning, wise is about expansion, about recognition, about realizing that pain and anguish and pleasure and lust and joy and love and worship and reverence occurs throughout the human race. That ideas about politics and art and God can be communicated. You see a movie and say, "Yes, yes, I've been there, I've felt that." You read a political treatise and say, "Yes, that's what I've thought. I never could put it into words before."

Even when it's a "new" idea, it's still about recognition, recognizing a world that contains this other way of thought. It doesn't mean you accept that idea or agree with it or want it around. It doesn't even mean you should. This is what censorship worries about, and to a degree, most academics are secret censors.

People hear what they want to hear, see what they want to see, believe what they want to believe, and that includes sophisticated people with lots of education, and it includes everybody else.

I could be brought to compromise on this, to a point, because I have to acknowledge that the world we live in does influence us. Genetics-semetics, environment does have some bearing on the way we approach our surroundings. At the very least, we have to interact with other people. But the human brain has this amazing capacity to process things through the filter of our personal desires. We are eminently, whether we like it or not, pro-active creatures.

Jesus Christ said, "Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man," which is pretty radical.

Now I'm a big believer in context so I have to point out that Jesus was talking about food, which doesn't address the problem of whether creating something out of one's evil thoughts might possibly influence someone else to think evil thoughts. Still, it's a remarkably pro-active statement. The World can't get you, Jesus is saying, unless you've got something in you which wants the World. So stop blaming other people. Look at yourself.

I could now give my theory about how people actually do get exactly what they are looking for in life, whether it is an excuse or a replay of their childhood or revenge or bitterness or happiness or whatever. Whatever gives them satisfaction. But I'll keep that for a rainy day.


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