Scribbler’s Saga #58 – Important? Yeah, Right!

Posted: February 16, 2018 in Uncategorized

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

As I started this post, I had yet to see Black Panther (review to follow). I pulled out a pen from my overstuffed pockets (prepared to write, always) partly to kill the couple hours having come early to make sure I had my seat. I washed in hope for a good movie and stewed in my usual cynicism about the hype surrounding this one. Hype that bears comment.

Largely because we live in the kind of world where Black Panther seems such a new thing, despite the first steps by Hattie McDaniel, Sydney Poitier, Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington and several other giants with broad shoulders that perhaps didn’t get their statues when they’d earned them, the hyperbole defines inevitable for the next six generations. Okay, I generally support the why of this particular class of blovius, but less so at the level of having my Facebook feed increasingly clogged over the past six months with posts wallowing in this overripe stew whether for or against.

When it’s my friends expressing joy that a few things might go their way, I read or skim and move on. I don’t trash the things that friends feel they need and I can work with almost any honestly stated position. But, trust me, nothing makes me click through to hear Sargon of Akkad’s addition to the stew. Life’s too short for most of the clutter on social media. I suppose I should be specific about what I don’t like here; I run screaming for the hills anytime I hear people tagging a book, play, movie or opera as important.

Before I go further, please don’t confuse my disdain for the adjective’s use in commentary as being somehow in favor of a world without art or discussion. I’ve seen and read Fahrenheit 451 as well as watched the thematically similar Babylon 5: Crusade episode “The Needs of Earth.” Once men, women, children and domesticated animals evacuate, I really want to believe I’m going back in for irreplaceable things whether personal like photo albums or the verified last copy of almost anything. As always, ask me this question again when there’s a fire.

I have had discussions with people who made the point that society can lose a few so called important things because it is the responsibility of the current generation of artists to keep working and create the works that fill the void. The person making this argument didn’t believe people would ever get to the point of Ray Bradbury’s story where burn everything defined the day. Hence why I’m not going back in for just an ordinary library of CDs, regular books and digital files backed up in the cloud.

But, I still really hate important describing works in commentary and how we have literally rat-fucked the understanding of Shakespeare over the previous 300 years is the best example. Approximately 100 years after the Bard’s passing, elites who were already segregated into balcony seats from the peanut gallery Groundlings in the SRO on the floor near the stage started up with the importance of the plays. The Groundlings pretty much waved their hands and went off to create other entertainment that may or may not be taught in schools. It was the Groundlings who made Shakespeare the richest screenwriter of his day and created the reputation that has followed for the next 400 years…never forget that.

We’ve had nearly 300 years of importance rooted in admittedly peerlessly beautiful iambic pentameter and many gifts to the body of metaphor in Modern English. It shows up in how we teach the plays and sonnets in school, sometimes made worse by bad teaching. Every single student in Dead Poets Society groaned and grumbled upon the announcement of the Shakespeare unit until Robin Williams did an impression of John Wayne doing the Scottish Play. And these thoughts that importance delivered externally from the school administration will kill true appreciation doesn’t even factor in the related issue of the three centuries of naturally occurring linguistic drift where it’s easier to find a Spanish-English dictionary than it is to find a Then English-Now English dictionary.

In the 11th Grade, my English teacher nearly killed Hamlet for me. A woman with odd proclivities in her personal belief system, we chewed through the play with a steady diet of what it means (or rather what it meant to her), which I contend goes hand in hand with declaring something important. I ground my teeth through the whole unit (actually the whole class, but a post for another day on another blog). I want to find what the play means to me without cognitive interference. Luckily, like with my appreciation for the Bible, I found reasons to keep reading and ignore the noise from a badly taught class, or worse, Sunday school (yet another post for another blog).

In the face of such heavy handed assumptions that we must revere this stuff to the tune of lighting it like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction because the curriculum says so because the principal and PTA says so, I completely understand those of us that hew more towards the modern day Groundling mindset of “is it good?” My friend and I both fire up contemplating the Bard and we took his then girlfriend, a classic example of someone who avoided the plays in school, to the Scottish Play. What happened next, the lady exiting the play swearing that Shakespeare sucked is on us.

I remember my comment at the time as – “Look, the Scottish Play is the thickest and densest play in the whole canon and if we’d thought it out we’d have taken you to something easier first as a set of training wheels.”

She remembers that I also said it more pithily – “Basically, we smeared you in chum and kicked you off the boat, sorry.” I’ll steal that for the mostly true movie about me. Anyway, the story had a happy ending when other plays proved more accessible to her after the fact.

Importance got me in the door of the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. And I get to say that the combination of not really wanting to throw elbows at tourists crowding the room, that the painting is a 3’x 2’ poster and a much more interesting Titian of Saint Sebastian hanging on the right wall and the trip wasn’t wasted. The Smiling Lady has more impact peering up from that dusty coffee table book none of us open.

Bringing this back around to Black Panther, I walked into the movie trusting that the Disney story machine will come extremely close to paying off the hype. But, this comes at the tail end of six months of having to skip nearly every social media post reveling in the apparent importance of the movie and an equal amount from the other side pulling the similarly corrosive yes, but (I did mention Sargon of Akkad above) bullshit that is also rooted in being declared important. All I need to know for my own personal meaning, my preferred synonym, is that Black Panther represents a new to me hero that I had yet to discover that will find things to speak to me. If successful, I will find things to learn from this movie and smile more when friends present their personal meaning in ways that I understand.

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