August 05, 2008

NY Times Asks...

...light or dark entertainment?:

So what’s it to be, babes on the beach, or bats out of hell?

There is “Mamma Mia!,” the sing-along cinematic travel brochure that set a box-office record last weekend for the opening of a musical. And then there is “The Dark Knight,” which, safe to say, set no toes a-tapping on its dysphoric way to the biggest movie opening ever, tuneful or otherwise.

The choice, in more elegant Miltonic terms, is between Mirth and Melancholy. It’s one we all make from time to time, if only to put quotidian lives at a fair remove while we spend two or three hours at the movies. A youthful Milton described that polarity perfectly in the call-and-response of “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso,” poems he wrote in 1631 or 1632 that pit the merry man against the pensive one. It’s hard to say who “won,” but there is a hint in the final couplet of each poem: “These delights, if thou canst give,/ Mirth with thee, I mean to live,” the poet writes in “L’Allegro.” In “Il Penseroso,” on the other hand: “These pleasures, Melancholy, give,/ And I with thee will choose to live.” No “if” there; did Milton, even as a green and sighted sprig in his early 20s, throw his lot in with Melancholy?

Dr. Sander says that all plays and movies have a therapeutic function, whether we think so or not. In a way, he said, that makes the moviegoing experience “very much like a dream.”

What’s more, he said, even though “there are people who say ‘I just don’t like to see violent films, I like to see happy films,’ ” and “there are people who are prone to one or the other,” it would be “hard to say one is a healthier form of escapism.”

But off the couch for a moment. Yi-Fu Tuan, a cultural geographer at the University of Wisconsin, writes in his book “Escapism” that culture itself is “the totality of means by which I escape from my animal state of being.”...

Professor Tuan says that “rather more people are tempted to do evil,” and hence the attraction to that kind of escapism. “If we are the agent of death, we’re not likely to be the victim of death,” Professor Tuan said. “It’s not logical, of course.”

Like the great German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper, Professor Tuan sees in culture an essential link to the divine. “We look for some superhero, but in the end, Batman, Superman are both vulnerable,” he said. “So we look to the great figures” in religion. “You can think of the Joker harming Batman. But if you are a Buddhist you can’t think of the Joker hurting Buddha.”

Mr. Pieper writes in “Leisure: The Basis of Culture” that “culture depends for its very existence on leisure, and leisure, in its turn, is not possible unless it has a durable and consequently living link with the cultus, with divine worship.”

No comments: