Broken wasteland

Ask anybody what the problem with modern cinema is.  More than likely, you will encounter the notion that “too many sequels are getting made”.  Not enough new ideas are put into scripts.  Hollywood simply raids the past to create the blockbusters of the present.

It’s a formula that often works well.  They simply take a film that was made 30-odd years ago, update it with new slang, a new setting, and the latest computer generated film techniques. It makes for a successful product.  People flock to the theaters in droves, pay far too much for a ticket, and sit in dumbstruck awe for an hour and half.   All for something they have seen a million times before.

Both the audience and the filmmakers what a farce this is.  They are pure waste of an artistic effort.  Yet, we still go see them and they continue to make them.  Everyone is guilty. The unspoken truth behind mass media is that nobody actually cares about the merit of the output.  The producers only care about how much money a film will make.  The cinema goers only care about wasting a few hours at some place other than their depressing homes or apartments.

These films get made simply because most people are, at heart, cowards.  We gather around the dining table or the living room and despair.  We know we should be doing something together.  However, it can’t be something that actually takes effort.  Attempting to do something meaningful is always hit or miss.  We’d much rather choose an activity where little effort.  If it turns out badly, at least we didn’t really try too hard.

This often means choose something that everyone will like.  Nobody should be offended by what is put in front of us.  They might blame us for that.  Instead, we appeal to the lowest common denominator.  A film that might require thought might upset somebody.

This often takes the form of some shared cultural relic from days past.  Filmmakers must go back to a time when popular culture meant something to everyone, since it no longer does today.  The past is our last refuge for understanding each other.  Remakes and sequels are powerful for this reason. They carry prior expectations of greatness by the culture that created them.

As modernity marches onwards, popular culture will continue to degrade. Not until it reaches previously unknowable levels of idiocy will it ever get better.  Only when things start of fall apart do we see the meaning in creating something new.  The adage “if something isn’t broke, don’t fix it” holds true, even for things as vapid as Hollywood movies.  It is only when confronted with the rampant desolation of something completely broken does true change happen.   Patching the holes in a sinking boat only extend the suffering of the desperate passengers aboard.

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Slavery starts in the mind

If there is one thing modernity could use, it’s more good readers.

People are taught to read at a young age.  One of my earliest memories is being proud at being to read a whole book.  Looking back on it, I think I was proud because it was something that I was told to do.  I took every chance I could to show it off to as many adults in my life as possible.  They showered me with praise for accomplishing something that most children aren’t able to do until they are much older.

Being only 3 or 4, it goes without saying that it was one of those books you find only in pre-school classes and in households with young children; it was a book with many pictures, text that rhymed, and large print.

It’s odd, when you are that young, memories are devoid of concrete facts. They only exist as distinct impressions.  I’m fairly certain that I did not actually read the book.  Sure, I had said all of the right words at the right time, but the symbols on the pages meant nothing.

I thought I had fooled all of the adults. It had been read to me so many times that I had only memorized what to say when the pictures were shown.  Looking back on it, I probably was fooling no one.  The adults could probably see beyond my trick.

As we grow older, we are given more books to read with more words, less pictures, and smaller text.  However, not much else changes. Many people ever learn how to read properly.   They are only looking at the “pictures” and telling others what they expect to hear.

When you read something, you are essentially on a journey through another person’s thought path.  Much like most things in life, the easiest thing to do is to just follow along.  If someone asks your opinion on it, you can always just regurgitate what the author said and change a few words  It is much harder to take those thoughts and turn them into your own.

If something you read does not sit well with you, ask yourself why.  If you feel you are right, let yourself be heard. Disagreement is the sign of a free thinker. If you find yourself agreeing with everything someone says, it is no different than following his every command. The difference between master and slave starts in the mind.

Bad writers set out to preach.  They seek to enslave the reader’s mind.  Behind every “thou shalt” lies an cowardly author.  He thinks lowly of you, so think lowly of him.

Good writing frees the reader’s mind.  It encourages reflection.  Only through reflection can an idea become your own. The wise doubt all things before they believe them.  Without reflection, reading is nothing besides cold, dead thoughts.

The tragic pagan

To learn the essence of something, it is a useful exercise to seek out its origins. Without knowing where something came from, it is impossible to truly understand the meaning of it.  By studying the conditions that caused it to come into being, you can see it in its purest form.

To see the true beginnings of Europe art and paganism, you must travel back to an ancient time before written records.  While much can be learned by this, it is much harder to draw concrete conclusions without any easily accessible first hand evidence.

Drama is modern by these standards. Its oldest form is tragedy. It was developed by the Ancient Greeks, just under 2500 years ago.  While the majority of the plays the Greeks wrote have been lost to the ravages of time, a few key masterpieces have been saved.  They are still reproducible in their original form, with the same words and meaning.  To have the unaltered expression of the ancients is a priceless gift for modern people interested in such things.

While its importance to history and art is obvious, it is has a much less well known side.  Tragedy was just as important to religion in the ancient world.  By immersing yourself in these works, you instantly get a feeling of their pagan nature.  The word itself has connotations of ritual. Tragedy is derived from the Ancient Greek word tragoidia, meaning he-goat-song. 

Tragedy was derived from an ancient pagan ritual to Dionysus called dithyramb. At the center of this ritual was a hymn sung about the life of Dionysus.  Upwards of fifty men were said to have taken part in these rituals. It started to take on a new form when spoken word was intermingled with this singing.  As the worship of the gods evolved, these rituals started to focus more on these spoken roles.  It created something very similar to the drama we are familiar with today.

While the chorus might have lost its central role, the subject matter of these plays were ever focused on the gods.  The main characters of this new form of ritual were mostly human, but their fates were inevitably decided by the gods.  The tragic hero was smart, capable, and extraordinarily gifted and his fate was unusually cruel.

This characteristic, unfortunate turn is what gives tragedy its power.  The downfall of the main character is most often brought on by his own hubris and arrogance to the gods. Through this, tragedy becomes an inherently moralistic art form.  It strives to teach the audience member reverence for the gods through these tales of great misfortune.

In contrast, Christianity and similar Asiatic religions tell fables that promote hope through resurrection and redemption to the lowliest of men. A pagan playwright has no use for such endings. Its values are inherently European. Tragedy demonstrates how no one can escape consequences.  The gods will always have the final say, despite the greatest efforts of man.

Strong and healthy European societies have always embraced this tragic outlook in their mythology and art.  Later European paganism tragic tales such as The Death of Baldr and The Fall of Sigurd. We see similar themes appear in the plays of the Renaissance with writers such as the great Shakespeare and in Romantic Europe through operatic composers such as Wagner.

When tragedy is viewed this way, you can start to see modern drama, in cinema and at the theater, through the eyes of the ancient.  Those who understand the power of the tragic hero share much in common with the pagan authors who first forged the genre.  Tragedy is an affirmation of the pagan warrior spirit; the world can be cruel and unforgiving but ultimately it is the way you fight that gives life its true meaning.