Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympic Fervor

Should I continue clarifying that this Alexandra person I keep referring to is my friend?  Or shall I simply say, "Alexandra this and that," and everyone will know who I'm talking about?  I think it's clear that she has some significance in my life and great influence, whether she realizes it or not, on my thoughts and writing and whatever else.

So it didn't really surprise me that, when I was sitting around watching London's Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics and thinking that I wish I had someone to share the experience with, Alexandra was also watching the ceremonies and quite excited about it.  Turns out my emotions are rather finicky lately because if she weren't watching, I would have been depressed.  I would have been depressed because, a) I wouldn't have had someone to share my titillation over Kenneth Branagh's presence, or someone to say to me, "Kenneth is bad ass right now," and, b) the Olympics are more than a long and diverse sporting event to me.

For one thing, I believe that an artistic temperament is naturally inclined to love the Olympics.  At the same time, I can imagine Hank Moody from Californication being mortally opposed to the Olympics and, if asked why, wryly saying, "Why would I watch a bunch of better-looking and more fit men running around in tight suits or whatever when I can just sit at home and get laid by pretty women?  Why put in all the extra effort?"  Of course, Hank Moody would probably have thrown in some f* bombs in there, but the sentiment doesn't change.  But for everyone else the Olympics are special because they exhibit the height of individual and team competition on an international stage of unity.  Competition and significance, and feeling like you're a part of it because, well, your country is represented after all... even if you're an anarchist like me, that matters.  If none of that matters, then you can still at least appreciate and greatly appreciate the artistic wonder of the ceremonies, the Opening Ceremonies especially.  Who doesn't want to watch, with a billion other people, Kenneth Branagh be a bad ass, J.K. Rowling overcome her fears and read some poetry in front of a billion people, incredible set pieces and tremendous coordinated dancing like So You Think You Can Dance? and whatever other shows will and can never match, singing from little kids and a whole nation together led by Paul McCartney himself that American Idol will never match, and faces of intense pride and accomplishment representing and parading for an entire nation?   You won't find the brilliance of the Olympics anywhere else.  Well, ok, maybe the World Cup in football (soccer), but it's a struggle finding American-borns my age or older that care about that.

Why am I writing this?  Well, I guess I'm writing because I'm a writer and I'm tired of the tastes of people in this country, especially, and more and more around the world.  We prefer to watch reality TV and, ironically, miss out on real emotions and uplifting and brilliant events; we watch only the most explosion-oriented and action-packed movies around and rarely even hear of, let alone watch, The Tree of Life (as crappy as it may have been), the entire corpus of Charlie Kaufman, The Last Temptation of Christ, or something like Southland Tales, all movies with critical acclaim, incredible directing and screen-writing and artistic excellence, and I've only mentioned American-made contemporary films; we read Twilight, Harry Potter, and The Hunger Games and think we are cultured--nothing against any of those (well, I can't stand Twilight or The Hunger Games, but that's besides the point)--and then have the audacity to proclaim that Moby Dick and The Scarlet Letter are not good books.

Not good books!  Look, I don't care if you hate Melville's master-piece or Hawthorne's, although I think his other works are far better, but you have to recognize and respect greatness, even if you don't particularly like it.  That, more than anything, is the issue.  "The Olympics aren't as fun to watch as, say, Big Brother, so nevermind."  Unfrigginbelievable.  Don't like Shakespeare? Get over it, he's had more influence on the shape of your life than you probably have.  So really this post has very little to do with the Olympics.  The indifference some people around me have shown to the Olympics, though, is devastating to me because it is a representation of how terribly wrong our society has become in our approach to and understanding of art and its significance.

Perhaps this is why I think artists are the greatest form of person in the world.  Might want to get out your cockiness meter for that last statement.  Some artists can be total jerks... but in general artists can differentiate our intense passions and emotions from an appreciation for a thing.  I LOVE Oscar Wilde, but is he the best playwright?  No, not even in the top five of the English language--top ten maybe.  I absolutely loathe Hemingway, but must I respect him?  Definitely, and I've read lots of his works, knowing that, truly, I'd be less of a person and less of an intellect and less of a writer if I decided to stop reading Hemingway after For Whom the Bell Tolls.  And, because I respect greatness enough and know that it makes me better being around it and reading it, I, unlike many, actually know that Hemingway's title comes from a John Donne poem.

All I'm saying is, developing more of an artistic temperament would be good for all of us.  What I mean by that may be stereotypically described as, "just doing whatever is pleasurable."  But an artistic temperament, as I've been trying to say, has such an expansive understanding of pleasure it's not funny and very funny all at the same time.  I receive great pleasure from the new Batman films, though I wish they were filmed differently, and 300, but I also love films like Ordet (look it up); and I find great pleasure even in the things that I hate but still respect, like any book written by E.M. Forster or any poem written by e.e. cummings or Robert Frost.

So let's get on changing how we find pleasure and then work on where we find it.

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