Some deep, deep truth here:
So, you know, A Charlie Brown Christmas is relatively upbeat. The kids are terrible? Lucy is bossy? Congratulations, you are able to comprehend the basic themes and characterizations of an animated cartoon.
 So much of contemporary aesthetics is "I can recognize the basic themes and characterization of this work, therefore my view of it is valid." Especially when followed by "I will use these themes as a means of explaining why my view of the world is basically correct, with passing reference to the thing I'm talking about." Also:
The striking thing about A Charlie Brown Christmas is that it could never, ever have gotten made in our own smug era of Open-Mindedness b/w Transgression. The culture warriors—or preemptive fear of the culture warriors—would have suppressed the whole project, from both sides. It's an all-out scathing leftist attack on commerce and capitalism, built around a faithful recitation from the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to St. Luke. It would be unimaginable if it hadn't already been on our TVs, decade after decade.
People, as cultural critics from Kierkegaard to the present day could easily recognize, don't want to think; if something comes pre-digested and claimed by one side or the other in the culture wars, all the better: there's no need to ever engage with anything that might challenge your views or (heaven forfend) make you recognize that having a 'view' to which things conform or they don't is part of the problem. Ironically, what makes A Charlie Brown Christmas last is that it's built around those two views, both of which are treated seriously, two statements whose purpose is to alienate the audience, rather than coddle it; coddling, especially in the name of realism, is the great aesthetic fault of our age.

(The philosopher Hilary Bok has a section in her book on moral responsibility on guilt. Her quite appropriate realization is that guilt is a practice that looks like taking responsibility but is built around refusing to take it: you can look like the sort of person who has serious moral character while letting yourself off the hook for actually changing your behavior. In the same sort of way, contemporary aesthetics uses realism as a means of avoiding the hard work of building and changing character: 'I have thought very deeply about my shortcomings and will now tell you about them: doesn't that make me insightful?' The observation, even if precise, cannot mean anything absent a larger world that gives it meaning or purpose, but no one's very interested in that; it's how you can have great, deep characters on a formulaic show (e.g. Mad Men).)

No comments: