The taste of nothing in your mouth when you leave the movie theatre, trying to convince yourself that you really enjoyed what you have just seen (and at a quick $60 romp for you and two kids, popcorn included, you'll convince yourself you enjoyed anything), is due to one reality: movies cost too much. They don’t need to cost too much – that’s another issue – but they cost too much, and as a result the studios make sure they appeal to as wide and broad a public as humanly possible. And the minute you do that, in as diverse a culture as ours, things get... bland.
It’s the same reason that Americans are so cautious about discussing real politics in local coffee shops: no one wants to offend.
The problem is that in order to have any bite, art, like politics, pretty much has to offend somebody. Has to. If it doesn’t, it will get steamrolled anyway.
Example: Pat Boone singing Love Letters in the Sand can’t be said to offend anyone. Not really. And it was a huge hit in 1957. But Elvis came around the same year, offending almost half the country with his gyrations as he wrecked his vocal chords shouting Jailhouse Rock, just as punk came around to give Air Supply a knock twenty years later, praise Jesus.
More: in the early 1880’s, one of the most popular novels around was a thing called Hester, by Margaret Oliphant. Don’t even bother to look it up. Will Roland marry Hester? Will Catherine throw a tea dance? Will the two families come together? Fortunately, rescue was in the offing: a weirdly tasteless polyglot of farce, low comedy, and poetry called The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which was to give us the declaratory and blasphemous line, “All right then, I’ll go to hell.” Offending, I believe, everyone, perhaps even Satanists.
When I’m in an optimistic mood, I suspect this proves that people naturally rebel against too much good taste and decency; witness William Burroughs, the films of John Waters, the Rolling Stones, James Brown, all impressionist paintings, Debussy, and even Tennessee Williams.
Right now, I’m in a darker mood. I believe that as a society, contrary to popular belief, contrary to political blowhards trying and shock us and talk radio trying to outrage, we’re currently stuck in one of the longest and most entrenched ages of dangerous conformity.
There is no new music in my kids’ playlists that rebels against or speaks to any real subject of importance. Mostly it’s about romance, boy-girl stuff, and reflects absolutely nothing about the time and place in which we live, or even the deeper questions about boy-girl stuff.
There are certainly no novels that threaten our status quo, no movies that are going to challenge (none that can reach an audience, anyway; those movie studios I mentioned earlier have to get their money back somehow, so the latest superhero trash edges out everything else), and you’re sure not going to hear real political discourse on cable television. We even have commercials on the air about not judging... anyone. Being fair to everyone. No labels.
Nice idea, but in our political correctness and fairness to all, we are listening to Love Letters in the Sand, and as long as no one takes our iPhone away, we’re going to continue to be happy to do so. But there's a downside to this, perhaps even more dangerous than the class of 2017 listening to Taylor Swift in the Golden Meadows Senior's Home of the future.
The downside is that the only exception to the rule that I can come up right now is the current idiot running for President. He certainly offends everyone, and that, I suspect, is his real appeal. He’s the Sex Pistols to Air Supply, and I am left to wonder how I wound up on the side of Air Supply.
Maybe I know. Right now, I’m scrawling this in a Starbucks, the dulcet tones of singer Jack Johnson washing over me from their speakers. I ask myself, isn’t this the guy who did the Curious George soundtrack? Yes, it is. Which I bought. For my kids. And I listened to it in my car for my own enjoyment. See, it was just so easy...