Don’t Read Anything Before 1980!

Thursday , 23, March 2017 7 Comments

Over at National Review, classicist Victor Davis Hanson explains why millions of people are dropping out of contemporary culture in order to read or create books like those on Gary Gygax’s Appendix N list:

The fall-off in movie viewership is not just due to the advent of cable television and streaming video over the Internet. Nor is the rub that new movies are mostly short on plot, dialogue, and characterization, and long on cardboard-cutout comic-book heroes, explosives, car crashes, and sadism. The problem is also that there are finite ways of portraying a good-looking, young, liberal, justice crusader uncovering yet another corporate or oligarchic plot — by villains with southern accents or Russian tattoos — to pollute the planet, promote white privilege, or hurt justice crusaders. The actors, directors, producers, and studios are themselves multimillionaire corporatists who are trying to convince themselves that they are not multimillionaire corporatists — and this is another reason that some of the public has long ago lost interest in these scripted morality plays….

When everything is politicized, everything is monotonous; nothing is interesting. There are only so many ways one can express existential hatred for Trump, turn the Aztecs into the Founding Fathers, or show disrespect for the National Anthem (Kneeling? Or clenched fist held high? Or just sitting? Or turning one’s back? Or talking over the music?). So millions tune out and retreat to reading what was written before 1980, or to watching movies of a past age or seeking their own tribal ties of the mind.

There is a little more to this than what VDH goes into here. The thing that creates this entire scenario is, first and foremost, a critical frame that posits that everything before 1980 is sexist and/or racist. This mentality is so ubiquitous, it is synonymous with criticism itself. The vast majority of book reviews accept this as a given. Most people don’t notice this because they reflexively walk away from sites that do this without realizing that they can’t imagine it being any other way.

With all mainstream editors and directors operating under this frame, entertainment becomes just another component of the narrative machine. Meanwhile, people that stumble into used book stores come away with relics from a time when stories could be different. A time when (as in the seventies) ideological diversity was not an utterly fantastic concept or when (as in the thirties) fiction could be unabashedly Christian or Western with no caveats, no apologies, and no immediately apparent consequences.

When you’re surrounded by a Greek chorus that is constantly explaining to you why these old stories are beyond the pale, it becomes almost a revolutionary act to pick them up and read them. But more than that, human nature has not changed in the past hundred years. No matter how much we’re lectured, no matter how much we’re told what to like and what not to like, we crave something deeper and wilder than the sort of thing the establishment serves up in its endless circus of tedium.

And they simply can’t compete.

  • Aitch748 says:

    Many of us are shunning contemporary culture because we (white Americans, at least) are sick of being falsely accused of being white supremacists benefiting from a white supremacist system that (somehow) still keeps its boot on the necks of women and minorities, even though America has been, until recently, the freest country on Earth, where you could speak your mind without having to worry about losing your job as a result.

    Yes, this is my morning rant. 🙂

  • keith says:

    It is something that I’ve done years ago, even though I hadn’t thought much about my reasons until fairly recently. I felt no inclination to watch new movies or TV series for several years now, any attraction to those branches of entertainment has been completely sucked out of me. Only loss is, I suppose, that I sometimes feel excluded from conversations withing my own “circle” as I have nothing to say about GoT or Walking Dead or new Star wars or whatever.

  • David says:

    I can think of several action movies I tried watching at home lately which devolved into revenge fantasies and a dose of sadism. Without a character I care about that I can get invested in, it just gets boring.

  • deuce says:

    The makers of our modern “entertainment” are culturally divorced from what made America “America”. Yet, they wonder why Americans are turning away from the un/non/anti-American gruel they’re trying to force-feed us. We’ve had enough.

  • Andy says:

    It’s like someone I used to know once said about a rock singer’s stage banter: “I don’t mind some harsh language, but you can call the audience ‘mother $#!%ers only so many times before we start taking it personal.”

  • JonM says:

    There are also signs of late-stage revolutionism at play. With the right-wing thoroughly blacklisted, they’ve run out of victims and so everybody has to keep racing father and farther to the left to escape being the next one brought before the Committee on Public Safety. Joss Whedon has lost that race a couple of times, fro example. And so where they used to get away with subtle shots at the right, everyone now has to shout louder and louder and make their shots echo from the rooftops. It’s so obvious even intellectuals can no longer ignore it.

  • B&N says:

    It’s not just fiction. More and more people would rather read political philosophy before WWII than anything written since.

    The anti-federalist papers, Hume, Kant, Jefferson, Mill, etc. are just more thought-provoking than Intersectionality Studies.

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