Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Tales of the Writer

First, read this: Hard Onions

The best writers are those that look at things as they are, not as they want them to be. In order to do so, they need to be able ignore popularity, as popularity creates a shroud for the item that is popular, a shroud both attracts fanaticism (so that anyone criticizing is wrong) and the wrong kind of criticism (if it's popular, and art must not be popular, then there are those that wish to prove their artistic integrity by bringing it down). Too many artists are affected by the shroud, and base their judgments on it.

Consider William Shakespeare and Jerry Bruckheimer. The two may not seem to have a lot in common, but when you start looking at what they have done, there are a number of striking similarities. Shakespeare's original intention was not to create art, but to fill the Globe Theatre, just as Bruckheimer fills theaters today. Bruckheimer's films are filled with deceits, people brought down by their own pride, star-crossed romances, and those in power abusing that power; sound familiar?

Seriously look at Top Gun for a moment. At the core of the movie is Maverick's pride and how it creates problems for him, even to the point of causing the death of his friend, losing a prized assignment and an accommodation, and creating a problem with his romance. I can easily take out the fighter planes, and still have a solid movie. However, it's an easy bet that any critic of Bruckheimer's will concentrate on the planes.

Now, look at Hamlet. By the end of the movie, there have been eights deaths from a variety of causes, including a sucide caused be neglect, two comic reliefs sent to their deaths, one basically random stabbing, and four deaths in a duel from stabbing, poison, and a stabbing/poisoning. Throw in one guy going nuts and the possible incest issue, and you have a plot that any schlock Movie-of-the-week director would love to get his hands on.

It's easy to dismiss, but seriously think about it for a moment. The purpose of any play or film is to entertain; if it can't do that at least, then it's a failure from the start. needs to do more to be considered art. It needs to touch something within us, and find a resonance that we can understand. It's that resonance that's the difference between something that's mere entertainment, and something that's more. "Hamlet" and "Top Gun" both show what happens when something is obsessed over to the point that it becomes harmful: Hamlet wants revenge, and Maverick wants the Top Gun award. We all know what it's like to obsess, to ignore our common sense, and do something because we have to do it. The main difference between the two is that in "Top Gun", Maverick moves beyond that and learns that love is more important. There is a reason that it's considered a great date movie.

But, because "Top Gun" has fighter planes, has a great soundtrack, and appeals to regular people, there is no way any respectable critic would ever call it a great movie. The shroud is in effect.

Now, look at Robert Mapplethorpe. The guy's a great photographer, and definitely deserves most of the accolades he's been given. However: I'm personally annoyed by the guy. He threw a cross into urine and asked one question: If you create a work that offends someone, and that's the point, is it art? That is, if the sole point is to make critics happy and tick off a particular group, creating division between artists and others, is it really art?

Don't get me wrong: Art should ask questions. But, should it be used by artists to create a line between artists and everyone else? Should it just be artists that appreciate art, or should anyone be able to appreciate it? If I say something is art, does that automatically make it art? It doesn't take talent to create division, but it does talent to make people ask the right questions. By taking on the religious right, Mapplethorpe is covered in his own little shroud...

You would have thought that artists would have learned from high school that popularity isn't something you should strive for, but something that shold be ignored. A lot of artists have decided that being popular is more important than doing art, and that's dangerous.

And they've found that a great way to become popular is to take on popular things, and make fun of them. Rather than wasting time figuring out how to skewer the latest movie, why not instead try to figre out if there is something below the flash, if there is some steak to the sizzle. After all, a shroud is what they bury things in, right? Why be in such a rush to cover everything with one?