Sunday, February 12, 2012

Scene and Herd: Are We Having Fun Yet?

Scene and Herd: Are We Having Fun Yet?
By Tom Wachunas

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” - Charles Dickens, from “A Tale of Two Cities” –

And now for something completely different: some thoughts on why I’ve chosen NOT to review a well-hyped local theatre production.

The cover of The Repository Ticket Section on Friday, February 10, was an eye-popping exercise in sanguine sensationalism. A photo of two actors, one holding a bloodied chain saw to the neck of the other, was accompanied by the boldface headline, juxtaposed with photo- shopped blood drips, “A Different Kind Of Musical Comedy” (referring to the upcoming production of “Evil Dead: The Musical” at Kent State University Stark).

I think it’s interesting that we often perceive a division between ‘high’ and ‘low’ when it comes to the time we spend in our diversionary activities, as in “arts and entertainment.” As if our entertainment needs to escape from what we might regard as the too-profound or lofty content of fine art, or that our art is somehow less legitimate if it’s seen as too merely entertaining.

But let’s not forget that ‘entertainment’ as a descriptor has a deeper meaning and application: that which we maintain and/or cherish in our minds, as in to entertain an idea. Of course some ideas are better than others. Come to think of it, some ideas are just plain bad, as is the case with the musical in question. Deliberately forgetting about whatever real performance or technical excellence the production might have to offer (guess I’ll never know, huh?), I decided that it was a bad idea for me to see this particular show that carries this caveat (prompting in turn a few more general considerations about the state of our contemporary entertainment offerings, artful or not): “Viewer discretion for this production is strongly advised due to gratuitous profanity, gore, and adult subject matter.”

It’s not that I think spoofing the horror genre is an inherently problematic idea, though in this case I suspect I’m being more than generous. And I wonder if the musical’s song titled “What The F____ Was That?” is an unintentionally self-inflicted skewering of its bawdy fecklessness (I admit to seeing a few You Tube-type short clips of the show).

But “gratuitous profanity, gore, and adult subject matter,” and similar warnings, have been increasingly visible red flags pitched on the entertainment landscape these days. That would include contemporary TV, film, music, theatre, and the ubiquitous internet. I’m talking about the kind of content that, with burgeoning frequency, unabashedly imitates and exploits the bizarre, violent, dark, kinkier and otherwise salacious aspects of life - so often praised as fun and funny, or real and “in the now” - rather than illuminating or expanding the truly inspiring, the sublime, and yes, the Divine.

I have often heard the argument, for example, that profanity and filthy street language are acceptable everyday indulgences that bring “authenticity” and “honesty” to our expression of who we are and what we think. But I think this is a jaded, insidiously complacent attitude that denies a deeper, more disturbing symptom of a cultural malaise when it comes to what we should be consistently supporting and seeking from ourselves and from our artists/entertainers. The language and subject matters of our entertainment are mirrors and barometers of the condition of our focus, the state of our minds and hearts. As it is, I sense that a growing societal tolerance of, and consent to, our baser instincts has been eating away at our ability to discern between depravity and dignity, between self-absorbed hedonism and nobility.

And underlying all these considerations is the pervasive climate of ideological pluralism and moral relativism that has defined our era. As I grapple with the fact that my aesthetic standards may not be yours, I choose to remember that as a Christian, I have in fact been graced with the wherewithal to focus, in all things, on the mind of Christ that dwells in me (my failures to always do so notwithstanding), including how I use my time and where I place my attentions.

So I’ll leave you for now, once again, with these Divinely inspired words from Paul to the Philippians (4:8-9): “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of Peace will be with you.”

Photo: Detail – right panel from the triptych “Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch

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