The words "a Rob Zombie film" and the fact that I'm not particularly fond of John Carpenter's original Halloween did not deter me from going to see Zombie's remake of the 1978 slasher film. It's two hours of innocent people getting gruesomely hacked to death (as well as slaughtered in other horrifying ways) by a masked psychopath with no emotion or an ounce of human decency—what's not to like about a movie like this, really? Besides, Malcolm McDowell shows up, supposedly lending the project some artistic cred. (But is that cancelled out by the fact that he starred in Firestarter 2: Rainbird?)
This Halloween pretty much replicates the plot and carnage from the first movie, but with Zombie's deft and convincing directorial vision. And an hour-long first act is tagged on in order to humanize the crazed killer, Michael Meyers, delving into his grotesque white-trash childhood and documenting his murderous antics at the age of 10—four people beaten or stabbed to death by his young hand.
It's all relentless and pretty overwhelming, so I checked out mentally early on.
Cultural critics lambast films like Halloween for having no redeeming social value and contributing to the delinquency of minors. And I'm not talking about social conservatives or pioneers in the family values movement. I'm referring to the denizens of pop culture, the scholars of art in all its forms, people like you and me.
Indeed, the term "torture-porn horror" was created by a film critic to deride films like Saw and Hostel and Captivity. There's a pretty thought-provoking defense of modern-day horror movies and an attack against its finger-wagging naysayers in this week's LA Weekly. In "Why 'Torture Porn' Isn't," Luke Y. Thompson charges that critics "seem unable to make the distinction between fantasy and reality when it comes to some of the best contemporary horror films." The inability to distinguish fantasy and reality is, interestingly enough, what some critics worry most about when it comes to extreme horror. (This is not limited to cinema. Just observe parents snatching away gangsta rap from their kids because children supposedly can't separate the "characters" in gangsta rap from the artists who create them.)
This entry is not meant to be a defense of the Saw and Hostel movies and that whole genre because I don't like them enough to want to stand by them. But the ensuing "controversy" that these types of films leave in their wake point to a larger problem, not only in modern-day cinema but in modern-day creativity in all its forms. It's simple, really: cultural elitists are destroying art.
Okay, when I use the word "destroying," I am grossly exaggerating because I wanted a titillating title, but I think it's fair to say that the elite are at the very least stifling the expansive, evolving, and multidimensional creative spirit.
The spate of articles that bristle at contemporary horror are compounded by other articles that attempt to devalue other forms of art as well, just because it doesn't conform to some indefinable ideal of what art should be. What prompted this entry was not horror's bad press (because, again, I really don't care all that much), but all those other critics who have been attacking other aspects of pop culture in subtle but nonetheless pretentious ways.
When the film critic I most admire, Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman (yes, I like some critics!), reviewed Captivity, he made me roll my eyes. No, he didn't say anything particularly derisive about the film itself, but he referred to the film's director, Roland Joffe, as a "middlebrow humanist." (Joffe won Oscars for helming the historical dramas, The Mission and The Killing Fields.)
And I've seen this all my life—in film, in the theater, in the literary world—the word "middlebrow" used as an artistic insult, as a weapon to cut down anyone who dares to make a piece of art meant to reach more than a chosen few.
I'm not sure that Gleiberman meant the phrase to be an attack, but it reeks of a kind of elitism that is wholly unaware of the damage it is doing. I know that Gleiberman, of all people, is able to enjoy all kinds of movies and see their value no matter what genre they fall in, so perhaps I am misinterpreting his intentions. But anyone who's been an artist a day in his life knows that, when someone calls your work "middlebrow," that is not high praise. In fact, that's not any kind of praise. That's a slap in the face.
In the same week, I read a jaw-droppingly pretentious article from The Washington Post called "Harry Potter and the Death of Reading," in which book critic Ron Charles seems to issue contempt at "perfectly intelligent, mature people, poring over 'Harry Potter' with nary a child in sight"—as if the intelligent and mature should not waste their time with anything as purportedly pedestrian and trivial as the Harry Potter books. Indeed, any adult with an interest in Hogwarts is suffering from "a bad case of cultural infantilism," according to Charles. Furthermore, he seems to want to blame the Harry Potter phenomenon for the decline of literacy.
Again, I didn't particularly like Halloween, Saw, or Hostel; I never saw and never will see Captivity; and I have no interest in reading any Harry Potter book ever in this or any other lifetime. But the seemingly widespread attempt to devalue particular types of creative expression, different types of art, is a cultural sickness. And it must be stopped in the interest of preserving a vast and varied cultural landscape. There is a place for Shakespeare, for horror, for Pulitzer Prize-winning novels, for Harry Potter, for Rob Zombie, for Roland Joffee, for Ingmar Bergman, for Bjork, for Justin Timberlake, for Bach—and that place is on the same shelf.
Certainly, you'll have your preferences when it comes to art, but let's not devalue the types of art that don't appeal to us and let's not undercut the people who like them. We can indeed dislike and even hate stuff, but it doesn't make that stuff less valid as an artistic expression. Indeed, on this very blog you'll see me rail against movies that suck, but it's because I think they suck on their own terms. I do see them a valid cinematic expressions.
And since when did "socially redeeming value" become a requirement for good art, for worthy art? Guess what? All art is worthy. Now, don't misinterpret my words—I'm not talking about snuff films or "art" that physically harms people. You know what I'm talking about; you really do.
There's real artistry that went into Citizen Kane and Lawrence of Arabia, sure, but do you know how equally difficult it is to pull off something like Superbad or The 40-Year-Old Virgin? And there's real poetry and genius in Hamlet, but can you deny the mastery of language and human understanding necessary to create something like Where the Sidewalk Ends? You know what I'm talking about.
When it comes to art in all its forms, I propose that we remove certain phrases from the lexicon (or at least from our own everyday speech) because they, in subtle ways, damage this nation's relationship to art and its creators and serve to stifle the variety of creative expression:
- guilty pleasure
- veg out
When I first launched this blog, it had a tagline that declared, "Where writer/performer PRINCE GOMOLVILAS navigates through high and low culture." I italicized the word "and" to emphasize that I made no judgmental distinction between "high culture" and "low culture" because, when you really think about being an artist and the nature of creativity, there's really no difference.
Agree? Disagree? Still think Eli Roth needs to be banned from the planet Earth? Discuss.