Jun. 20th, 2007

I saw this quote by Pauline Kael in another lj and it got me thinking in a way a slew of recent meta posts on the subject haven't managed to: "Irresponsibility is part of the pleasure of all art; it is the part the schools can't recognize."

Also, from the wiki:
    Kael had a taste for anti-hero movies that violated taboos involving sex and violence, and this reportedly alienated some of her readers. She also had a strong dislike for films that she felt were manipulative or appealed in superficial ways to conventional attitudes and feelings.

Just, I think it's so true: irresponsibility as a valid, intrinsic source of pleasure, and not just of works dealing with the 'naughty', 'bad' or controversial subject-matter, but of all artworks. In dealing with weighty subjects (such as death, life, sex, riding the bus, etc), there are a million different approaches you can take, but the effective approaches will be the ones that seduce the viewer or reader in some way. Through language, rhythm, the framing of the piece or its structure, something will inevitably end up making the brutal beautiful. That's basically the nature of art, whether it's translated into myths and classic tragedies or into wham-bam hyper violent American movies (the frame changes, in other words, but the substance of the dynamic remains).

To be didactic, to be responsible, you-- the writer you or reader you-- must be emotionally detached; odd, since a lot of the people crying for greater responsibility have what may seem like excess emotional response to certain triggers in the artwork. But their response isn't to the work; it's to the basically superficial relationship the work has with their own internal world. They are seeing themselves more than they're seeing the 'picture'; in a way, all art wants you to see yourself in it, of course, but it's a self transformed. Art-- good or trashy or outright disgusting-- by its nature tends to want to seduce you, to take you on a ride, to communicate itself in bright neon colors, to reflect upon you. It's as irresponsible as any fling, as any infatuation, as anything where emotions are involved, unpredictable and seemingly universal but always feeling uniquely tailored to two specific individuals.

Once artwork becomes 'official' or 'canonized', for instance, to some extent it starts to bore most people sight unseen for exactly this reason: people don't want their entertainment-- or their art-- to be 'good' for them. I mean, on some level they do 'cause it feeds their ego and sense of self-importance a lot of times to own or be familiar with it, but the pleasure changes-- it becomes a selfish pleasure. If most people go to see the Mona Lisa, in other words, they'll stand there and go 'wow, that's the Mona Lisa! Wow!' without really... seeing it with fresh eyes, with eyes that are open to seduction. These people will probably have a more honest response to something they've got an actual emotional connection with, like a great photo of their favorite actress or a movie they watched at exactly the right time & the right place in their lives so that it clicked for them. What I'm saying is, you can't really grow to love Shakespeare, say, unless you don't care he's Shakespeare; I know this is true based on personal experience, at least. Reading Shakespeare's turns of phrase just makes me quite deliciously, squirmingly happy, because that man has a seriously hot way with words, know what I mean? He's got it going on. Mrrr. :D

Superficiality within art or entertainment always fails in terms of mass viewer response, too, forget critics. Everyone knows that mindless exploitative sequels suck, and once they cross that final boundary of being totally obvious they're just milking their audience, they stop making any money. Movies that really work are the ones that have fun with themselves; the ones where someone involved in them was on the ball, passionate about their performance, their movie. The audience always responds to this sense of 'realness', whether it's movie actors or writers or politicians or creature designers; the LoTR movies' success is a great example of passion at work, passion working. Ultimately, if you make something passionately, people will feel that love. If you make something just to make a quick sell, people may buy it, but they won't love it. The didactic or 'responsible' impulse, basically, is a way of valuing the end result (the 'message' or the 'sell') over the passion of the process, and thus is doomed not to have the emotional effect it aims for.

The other aspect of what attracts people is, of course, the shock value of stirring up controversy, of challenging assumptions and saying something bold & loud & quite possibly stupid (but LOUD). If you want to be heard, of course it helps to know your audience enough to know when not to shout, but generally speaking, people want their attention grabbed and molested roughly, with no lube :> The 'seduction' I mentioned is the 'slow and sensual' version, but that's not what you're going to be in the mood for every single time, generally. People look to both art & entertainment for everything they won't try or admit to wanting to try in real life, and have since the first mummers danced their first dance around the first campfire. Whether it takes the form of a deeply meaningful masterpiece (like, I dunno, 'A Clockwork Orange') or the next Hannibal Lecter movie, at its heart the process remains the same: get up in people's faces and scream bloody murder :>


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