Sunday, October 24, 2004

Andrew Klavan Takes On The (Liberal) Arts

Below find an article by Andrew Klavan – an excellent writer and friend of mine – and a few comments I had about his thoughts (which follow the article below). Check out Drew’s site at: www.andrewklavan.com.

Left Good. Right Bad. It's Called Art.
A conservative hero in a movie? That'll be the day.

By Andrew Klavan, Andrew Klavan's latest novel is "Shotgun Alley" (Forge, 2004).


Here's my new idea for a thriller. An ordinary guy wakes up one morning and his wife — who has joyfully devoted her life to him — has disappeared. His neighbor — a kind and intellectual Christian conservative — has become invisible. And his best friend — a peaceful man who supports the war in Iraq — has lost the power to speak. It's scary stuff, all right. I'm going to call it: "The Arts in America."

I don't like to make sweeping statements about the arts because there are always many exceptions. But I have a solid observational berth — I'm a novelist and screenwriter; I'm well read; I go to the movies often — and I can't help noticing that, in the last 25 years or so, large segments of the American population have practically vanished from our fictional landscape.

When was the last time you saw a conservative politician who was the hero of a movie — as opposed to the slavering villains of "The Manchurian Candidate," "The Contender" or "The American President"?

When was the last time you read a serious novel in which a full-time wife — not just a mother, but a wife — was happy with her life choice as opposed to being a Stepford robot or a trapped bird a la "The Hours"?

When was the last time — outside of pabulum like "Left Behind" or "Seventh Heaven" — you saw an intelligent Christian who wasn't a priest or a milquetoast or Mel Gibson?

It's not that I don't enjoy the stories being told by American artists — I do. And I'm not suggesting that the arts should be traditionalist in intent. I just think they should be more — pardon the word — inclusive. Self-fulfilled housewives, conservative good guys, intelligent people of faith not only exist, they're actually pretty thick on the ground, and I believe the American arts should accurately represent the full panoply of American life.

It's a commonplace and a truth that there are many liberals in Hollywood, and I know for a fact that many in the New York literary establishment are left-wing as well. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but it can have some unfortunate consequences.

People who associate only with the like-minded can sometimes forget that their opinions are just opinions, that their ideology is, in fact, an ideology and that good and reasonable people may disagree. As a result, alternative points of view may be demonized, and institutional intimidation and tacit censorship can begin to exclude opposing voices on the levels of both production and criticism.

I write crime fiction, much of it what you might call neo-hard-boiled. My stuff is not political — and certainly not traditional — but I try to let all my characters speak their minds.

When I submitted my latest novel, "Shotgun Alley," my editor — seeking only my good — suggested I tone down one character's nasty remarks about feminists. When I demurred, he pointed out that the book buyer for one of the major chains might order far fewer books because of it. I still declined, but I'm established and ornery. If I were just starting out, I would've had to be brave, which is much harder.

On the critical front, the cries of "Obscenity!" once meant to censor a "Ulysses" or a "Lady Chatterley's Lover," have now morphed into such loaded accusations as "Racism!" and "Sexism!" intended to silence dissent against the incredibly uniform outlook of mainstream intellectuals. When such dissent breaks through, man, those eggheads squeal like a Texas newsman caught with his pants down by a blogger in pajamas.

Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" is the most obvious case in point. The whipping Mel gave Jesus in that picture was nothing compared with the bejesus the intelligentsia beat out of Mel.

The cries this time were of anti-Semitism and the methods were vicious. The man's father was attacked, his motives impugned and, in some genuinely low moments, Christopher Hitchens and Frank Rich hinted that the director was homosexual, a twice shameful thrust in that it slandered its target and reduced a mode of loving to a schoolyard taunt.

And why? Wasn't it really because Gibson used his artistic talent to present the Christ of fundamentalism? Hey, it's not my thing either, but if we can bring open minds to the partisan constructs of Oliver Stone and Michael Moore, why can't we spend a couple of hours believing in Mel Gibson's God?

Today, traditionalist values have been pushed underground into fantasy — which may account for the power and popularity of such stories. "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy preserved Tolkien's complex Christian understanding of evil, and "Spiderman 2," to these eyes at least, looked very much like an encrypted tribute to our fighting heroes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But why can't such voices speak outright? I don't think I will lose anything if my neighbors are depicted sympathetically, even if they are among those good neighbors with whom I disagree.

After all, if art is meant to broaden minds, shouldn't it broaden the minds even of those as flawlessly moral, as politically infallible and as spiritually insightful as ourselves?

AND GREGG’S THOUGHTS:

Since it seems to me that the essence of fiction (and maybe crime fiction even moreso) is man against society, man against the power structure, man against impossible (or strenuous odds), it seems logical that such stories would favor the individual up against corrupt business. After all, who wants to see a big corporation crushing an individual - the odds aren't fair, and it ain't the type of archetypal narrative that hits the pleasure buttons in our rat-like brains. Maybe said corporation has a valid reason, even an ethical obligation, to crush the individual, but it doesn’t seem to me to make for great drama.

Some stories, such as Michael Mann's The Insider, do feature an ethical businessman - but there needs to be a context for his struggle for there to be an article then film, so he's set against Big Tobacco. But Michael Douglass was something of a hero in The Game, as was Cruise in Vanilla Sky - guys who yanked on the levers of power, then went in search of the truth. Clearly, the bias Andrew talks about IS present - no argument there - I just think there are numerous reasons beyond political slant for that, and also more exceptions than he indicated. When I write about the essence of fiction as being a conflict in which the protagonist doesn’t have the upper hand, that doesn’t carry with it any ideological weight. All that is necessary to the nature of the endeavor, in my humble estimation, is good writing and conflict. And since most writing is not exceptional, people go where is most obvious to fulfill these cookie-cutter conflicts. Examples of conversative themes – say a good businessman beset by self aggrandizing activitists - could certainly be compelling and – if executed properly - carry enormous dramatic weight. As did Oleander – the David Mamet play about the crushing stupidity of evolved forms of political correctness – victimhood wielded as weapon, which leaves its targets with no options for response or defense (except for richly deserved rageful stomping). But what most easily and readily fits the equation (man against forces larger than him) are those obvious conflicts - man against power structure, etc. Is it a vast liberal conspiracy? No – it’s the lowest common denominator for what fits the archetypal bill. One of my golden rules: Never explain by conspiracy what can be explained by stupidity or mediocrity. As Jung argued – the MECHANISM for creating archetypes is inherent in man, not the archetypes themselves. So if people have an instinct to choose a symbol for wisdom, within most cultures they will settle on a wise old man (or woman). It makes sense and it’s obvious. Likewise, unless someone is compelled to leap outside the conventional narrative structures (Bowles, Trollope, etc.), they’ll settle on what most easily fits the bill. Brilliant film and books are ALWAYS a leap beyond the prevailing winds (and usually beyond propagandistic fulfillments of contemporary politics of either side) - and therefore are always rare. Wisdom embodied in a little boy – sounds fascinating. But it requires someone of unusual talent to pull it off and make it convincing. Most hacks and formula writers will simply go with the old man.

As for happy moms - again, Andrew is right in general. But bear in mind Susan Faludi's great assessment of Fatal Attraction in which Ann Archer, mommy warrior of hearth and home defends her realm effectively against evil-bitch working woman-who-must-be-missing-something-due-to-her-lack-of-domesticity Glenn Close. Also, the template for The Missing with Cate Blanchett - tough-ass mom whose fury is unleashed after her kid is wronged seems another common theme. The maternal instinct-as-bad-ass source of power probably peaked with our girl Sigourney in Aliens, and while I certainly won't argue that that's a nice quiet tale of a happy Stepford gal, I do think that the maternal instinct is valued there (but yes, to Andrew’s point, she's a feminist working girl all right). Again, I do see Andrew’s point about the skew - and one thing I loved about his excellent novel Man and Wife (which I highly recommend to you all) is the wonderful portrayal of a wife and mother and the fact that marriage - and the way that a marriage is nestled in a fragile place in time where, for both parties, the past must be not too remembered and not too forgotten - is the centerpiece of the story. I do wish there were more books and films like it - that aren't afraid to have a marriage - a good, real marriage - play an important role. It's something I've tried to do with Dray and Tim in the Rackley novels.

In any event, I recommend you check out Drew’s site – again, it’s www.andrewklavan.com. I’ve come to rely on him – in his fiction, articles, and in conversation - for his smart, though-provoking takes on matters.

My name is Gregg Hurwitz and I approve this message (and apologize for using too many dashes and run-ons).

5 comments:

Aquaryan said...

Good comments! I find it ironic how people claimed to be open to opinions, but only to opinion that agree with their own. I am going to check out Andrew's novels.

Fred said...

Good post, I'm glad you brought my attention to Drew; but I think his comments were rather more explicitly about the lack of unabashedly pro-life protagonists than the lacek of strong mothers, content in their maternal role.

Speaking as someone who's pro-choice.

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