My mother watched Gladiator for the first time recently. I had to laugh when I saw her during the final battle, hunched over on the couch, wrapped up into herself, disturbed to the point of discomfort. NBC had excised the part where Russell Crowe was stabbed in the kidney before the final bout, so she was confused as to why he was staggering around like a drunkard. When I informed her, she assumed an expression of abject horror, even moreso when I clued her in to the fact that he dies at the end.. At that point, she claimed resolutely that she didn’t want to watch the end (she did, anyway).
She made a comment to the effect that people shouldn’t make movies that are so sad and disturbing. This is a woman who could barely sit through the first 15 minutes of The Mask of Zorro (“Is the baby going to be alright? What’s going to happen?” *fidget fidget*). On their 20th anniversary, she and my father saw Forrest Gump and they had to go straight home (rather than to dinner) afterwards because she was bawling like a colicky baby. In short, she likes her movies fluffy, inspirational, and nonconfrontational. To her, cinema is a form of entertainment, rather than the artistic medium that it really is. Outside of Hollywood, anyway. That she ever made it through Schindler’s List is a monument not so much to her resolve but her morbid curiosity.
No, I wouldn’t call Gladiator a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I found it a wooden, plodding chore to watch. Crowe’s acting (as always) was about as expressive and convincing as a grade school play. But that’s beyond the point.
Several months ago, I scanned in a rather ponderous article for a philosophy professor, which praised tragedies to the sky. It was about six times too long, but its basic gist was that tragedies force readers into inspiration and revelation, that they are the supreme art form.
Still, why subject ourselves willfully to despair? Is that the only way to learn the lessons inherent to loss and suffering? I say yes. Discomfort is a sign of growth. As I’ve written of such stories as “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” tragic tales expect readers to consult their own tables of values, and, if they don’t exist, (re)create them.
Some people don’t like to do this. My mother doesn’t. In her mind, religion has given her the only morals she will ever need, and she severely dislikes it being challenged. My brother used to confront her about church and Christianity, and she would always become flustered, either admitting that she couldn’t answer the questions, or blathering on about something with no pertinence to the conversation.
People in general dislike being challenged. Myself, I’m philopolemic— I love to argue, and general, I argue so well that my ideas aren’t critically threatened, but that has happened in the past. In fact, prompted my current agnosticism (to be technical). It wasn’t pleasant.
Truth, however, is a bullet sloughing off its sugar, traveling inexorably into the base of the brain. Recently, I ranted and raved about the gay-marriage furor in California. I believe that, sooner or later, the silly twits that comprise the conservative opposition in this country will have their beliefs challenged to the point where they must accept progression, distasteful though it may be to them.
Our history has proved time and time again that the advancement of humanism continues unimpeded, from women’s suffrage to the civil rights of blacks (included, as Gavin Newsom points out, the fight for interracial marriages circa mid-century). In fact, the only group that we have fucked over and continue to fuck over is the American Indian, which in part has to do with the fact that the demographic has dwindled so much that marginalising it is a matter of passive ignorance over active persecution.
I am a cynic. I will defame human beings until the day I die, but I do believe that we have some capacity for humanism and passionate logic. Our bullet, in more ways than one, will continue inexorably until we either accept or destroy ourselves.
[If you’re wondering why I’ve titled this blog “Goatsong,” it’s because the word “tragedy” is a Greek words which means, literally, goatsong. They sacrificed a goat when they would stage these tragedies in their theatres.]