Monday, November 27, 2006

EXTRA HELPING OF GRATITUDE. In my end is my beginning. After my Lileks pre-Thanksgiving throwaway, I find myself returning to the subject as the Mailer of the Mall of America lets fly a stinging denunciation of... Happy Feet. You know, that cartoon with the dancing penguins.

To be fair, the Art Police at Redstate got there first, and it appears Fox News has attacked the cartoon as well (leading to an interesting meditation of "the conservative crusade against cartoon characters" at The Carpetbagger Report).

But there is a categorical difference between the right-wing Zhdanovite squads and Lileks. The first group are mere sentinels of wrongthink; the stiffness of their reports shows that they don't have any real interest in or enthusiasm for the lively arts -- they are here on a political mission from which aesthetics can only distract, so they shoot first and have epiphanies later.

Lileks, on the other hand, loves all kinds of artsy-fartsy stuff and even allows himself to show off his erudition in matters of form and content. Jimbo knows architecture ("...I sat in the grass and consulted a small cigar, reading an interesting piece about a local architect who’s come up with a new paradigm for pre-fab housing. Is this the future of architecture? The article asked. Short answer, from me: nope"). Jimbo knows aesthetics ("Because they’ll all be white. Because they’ll all have an Apple logo, which already has that high-tech cool aura. Because they will look like they were designed to work together. In other words, aesthetics count"). Jimbo knows not so much about theatre, which he keeps mispronouncing, but he can see eternity in a matchbook. He has some kind of feeling for the arrangements of sounds and shapes that beguile him; he knows, albeit dimly, that art is not just audio-visual medicine for the restoration of his ichor, nor a series of propaganda opportunities which can be wrenched in the right direction if we can sneak our people into some high-level appointments in the artsifartsy industry.

So though he sometimes puts on the rusty armor of the culture warrior (which fits him so badly even he must recognize it), usually when a work of artsifartsiness conflicts with his own notion of the Way Things Ought to Be, he does not pretend to be talking about art: He goes straight to sub-urbane dad mode:
So now we have to apologize for serving fargin’ fish sticks, eh. Hell with it. Veal daily from now on. Veal for breakfast. Veal-O-Bits swimming in whale blubber.

I remember when animals were used as stand-ins for humans, to shed light on human behaviors and foibles; now animals are stand-ins for creatures more ethically advanced than humans. (See also, The Ant Bully. Or rather don’t; that movie said it was okay to be an individual as long as you were part of a collective, and no one ever had competing goals or ideas. Muddle-headed twaddle...)
When someone as proud of his verbal skills as Lileks starts spitting rank foam like this, a charitable interpretation is possible. In this case, I think he is trying to protect art from himself. When directly discussing even so modest a specimen as Happy Feet, he will not betray any signs of cultural authority, which might deceive some innocent souls into a misunderstanding about art; he will rave and shake his fist and instantaneously sprout elbow patches and a big blue vein on his big pink forehead, so that only fellow fist-shakers will be caught up in his spell, and the innocent will walk away, little realizing how close they came to corruption! It's kind of noble in a way, like Cagney at the end of Angels with Dirty Faces, Bill Hurt at the end of Altered States, Jeff Goldblum at the end of The Fly...

Hell, I don't know. Maybe he's just nuts. But coming back from Thanksgiving, it struck me that some of the folks I consider and treat as nuisances are actually something to be grateful for. Could I have, by myself, come up with a character like The Ole Perfesser, or the Crazy Jesus Lady, or Ann Althouse, or Lileks? It doesn't matter -- to me they are characters now. I realize, for example, there is a real person named Glenn Harlan Reynolds somewhere out there in the sticks, but though I know his writings, I don't know him: his words suggest the shape of a character, upon whose motivations and behaviors I am privileged to speculate. Maybe, with a little luck and ambition, I can detach these characters from their humble real-life avatars, and find for them some small measure of immortality. They certainly deserve it, after all the pleasure they've given me.

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