Thursday, April 13, 2006

THE GOLDEN AGE?

I'm happy to announce that our friend Charles will be joining in as a regular contributor to this blog. Here is his first piece.
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THE GOLDEN AGE vs THE HAPPY ENDING:
THE REAL CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS?

Dag's recent post mentioned the French director
Jean-Luc Goddard. This got me to thinking about
other French filmmakers, and the tone of European cinema in general.

Isn't it fair to say that one of the
distinguishing characteristics, historically,
between European cinema and Hollywood's film
output, is the concept of the Happy Ending? Our
films end with the hero victorious, boy getting
girl, cowboys riding off into the sunset after
ridding the town of outlaws. The Happy Ending is
so routine that we barely notice it exists until
the rare exception reveals its absence.
Many Europeans I've spoken with over the years
tend to mock American movies for their Happy
Endings. "Life's not like that", they solemnly
declare; "life is tragedy, and its naïve for Americans to believe otherwise."

The unspoken implication (and sometimes not so
unspoken): only an idiot believes that the future
can be better than the past. Life is about
failure, and degeneration. The future holds only
sorrow: it's all downhill from here.

Therefore European films, unless they are
strategically aiming for box office success with
a North American audience, tend to provide
endings that are either inconclusive, Pyrrhic
victories, or outright tragedy. There is genuine
disdain for the option of living happily ever after.

Why is this? Why the different point of view?
I've long wondered about this distinct difference
in tastes, and what might lie at the core of this
difference. I propose that the cause of this
effect is the belief in a Golden Age.

I've grown to hate that term, for the damage that
I see it causing us all, due to its assumption
that change is only negative. Isn't it harmful to
a person's sense of initiative to go around
believing that the best things have already
happened? Doesn't it deflate our sense of
adventure to believe that our discoveries will
matter less than those of the past? Where is the
urge to make a contribution if we truly believed
that we would only be contributing to making things worse, not better?

Surely, belief in a Golden Age is a cage that
traps the soul by chaining our inherent ability
to improve. Belief in a Golden Age is an
admission of only one form of change: decay.
Belief in a Golden Age is an absolute denial of
another form of change: progress.

Denying progress condemns us to a view of life
more as animals live it: endlessly formulaic,
seeing human beings programmed like robots to
merely repeat that which was done before, and
judged by nature by how successfully we duplicate
this "ideal" model established by our teachers.

Our art is an extension of ourselves. The
Traditional Hollywood Ending, as the Happy Ending
is condescending called by its critics, reflects
the North American experience of The New World,
and our success at improvement over the old model
of the Old World of Old Europe. We are treated as
blasphemers for having exceeded our betters, for
having succeeded in making our present better
than their past, as the curious child dares to
add to the foundation of learning its parents
provided him. For as children we recognize that
we live in only a temporary state of inferiority;
if we live up to our potential we can rise higher
than our parents have, we can lead a new life;
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" is
such a common question we pose to our children
that we take it for granted. How universal a
question is it these days? It is not indulging in
childhood fantasy to ask it: almost any answer is
within the realm of possibility. We are not
cursed to live in the shadows of greatness, like
a medieval peasant toiling behind oxen on a
baron's land. And we are definitely not cursed to
repeat the lives our parents led, following in
their footsteps because there is only one trail that remains open to us.

Our increasing clash with Islam seems built on
this clash of beliefs: that man has the potential
to choose his fate, that a loving god like a
loving parent would expect us to discover this
potential; that a truly loving parent, like any
good teacher, would not feel lessened to see the
child improve so as to one day live a greater life than the parent did.

The student must never surpass the teacher: that
is the burden of the Golden Age.

The student can exceed the teacher: that is the promise of the Happy Ending.

Which side are you on?

12 comments:

Conan said...

OH my gosh, great writing. My mind is spinning. Yes that is SO true of the US and I have heard how Europeans act like whipped dogs with their heads hanging down. That was from a European who noted this effect and sees how more positive the American people are. This helps explain it.

Always On Watch said...

Charles,
Dag let me know about your first piece. Welcome!

Right away, I'd like to say that I don't like foreign films. Way too negative for my taste, most of the time.

My British literature class just finished reading Ivanhoe. In our exploring the different levels of the novel, we discussed the importance of taking the best values from the Age of Chivalry (which could be likened to a Golden Age) and applying them to later times, including now.

And in Don Quixote, Cervantes satirizes, among other things, what can happen when a Golden Age overtakes reason and reality.

Now, let's think about Islam. Islam is frozen in lockstep, with no room for accepting new ideas and no ability to be optimistic and no motivation to make life better (Allah's will and all that).

So I agree with you....One aspect of the clash in which we are now engaged is that of progressive optimism and stagnant pessimism. And I fear that Europe is already stuck in the mire of stagnang pesssimism, their ability to "ostrich," notwithstanding.

Excellent and thought-provoking article here!

dag said...

I have to work out some details this evening after our meeting at the library, and then I'll get Charles up and running independently so he can contribute freely. I'm happy to have him. His is a piece I wouldn't have come up with myself, and it's great to have some fresh ideas running throuhg this blog.

I remember reading Ivanhoe, and I think it was Rebecca, the Jewish girl, who stole the show. We in the West have done poorly in our collective history, it's true, but we have also invented chivalry and courtly love and many other things in the thousand years without a bath that some refer to as the Middle Ages. Yes, ours was a harsh history; and it was also the time of great acheivements that we improved upon, and that we continue to improve upon to this day. Scotland, I hate to say, is European in the sense Charles writes about. But I dare say, Europe can and must and one hopes will find the way through the darkness to a new Renaissance. We will find our Scotts. We will have our Burnes. We shall not Waverly.

Compare our own to the Muslims of Cervantes' time when he was captured and had his hand cut off. Many are the days I have rued the Muslim treatment of Cervantes. While we have changed, they have not. They still delight in mutilating writers while we wish so fervently that he had had both hands with which to write twice as many books as he did.

Yes, I'm very happy to have Charles aboard.

Canadian Sentinel said...

Well, I came by to say hello to Charles, but I also see I'm not the only "Conan" around here!

Hello, Charles!

Hello, other Conan!

What say we go hunt down Thulsa Doom? The man is a snake!

On topic now: that was a really good piece, Charles.

I understand the struggle. I've always been cognizant of my own need to be more; more than that which those around me have prescribed. I had actually taken all sorts of advice against my instinct and against that which I understood already as true, just to prove that I was "open-minded", a trait that leftists claim to possess but that they really don't.

I had previously been strong, but had lost my way for a while, manipulated by the "Liberal" state regime from which we've recently freed ourselves, thankfully!

Eventually I realized that I was going to get nowhere following others' advice, for they actually don't know what they're talking about-- they only tell me what they themselves were told... they said life would be easy and not to be too hard on myself, but following that advice made me weak, so I shook off the shackles of intellectual servitude to gain sovereignty of mind.

And I have no regrets. The journey continues.

Life is hard, not easy.

As Arnold says, "When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength."

Without strength, one will be nothing but a victim, or a slave.

Hmmm... you know, there's a lot of followers of a theology which was imposed upon them who really need to break free of the servitude and choose their own destiny, rather than be programmed to simply live to someday blow themselves up...

Moved Elsewhere said...

Well written. Perhaps you construct the links list Dag has thus far overlooked.

Charles Henry said...

Thank you everybody, for the compliments.
I neglected one important point in my piece: to show proper gratitude towards Dag for his kind invitation to post here. Thanks Dag.

Conan, what gets me, is that it’s one thing to give up and accept failure, but it is another to criticize someone else who still wants to succeed. How do you debate someone when their position is, “why do you care so much?”

AOW, do you feel there's a subtle yet important difference between the statements “it’s in God’s hands now”, and what to me is the islamic equivalent, “it’s allah’s will”. To me, the former has always suggested that if even if I fail it’s still important that I tried, whereas my understanding of “it’s allah’s will” means “don’t even try, if I don’t do it for you it isn’t going to happen.”

Canadian Sentinel, good for you for your self-directed change. It would be interesting to discover which came first, your ability to imagine something better, prompting you to change, or the fact that you were changing anyway giving you strength to continue changing.

dag said...

Yes, M.E., I think that a links list is important. There are a number of blogs and other sites that I go to daily that deserve all the credit I can give them here. I still haven't been able to find out why I post them directly. I'll sit down with a more competent person than I am and learn how to do the html codes so I can put up proper links.

John Sobieski said...

I think Europe has a fatal case of ennui. If I didn't think things could not be better in the future, why bother even trying? Fatalism is defeat.

Canadian Sentinel said...

I'm always changing, Charles. I've always been able to see better things in the offing, but in the past often have allowed others to talk me into what they think is the way to go. I took their advice but found that they were wrong, so went back to self-direction.

It's a journey, not a destination.

If we know that something's no good, then we shouldn't go that way, namely leftism, socialism, moral relativism.

There is actually good and evil, but moral relativists don't understand, as their peers won't tolerate divergence from their norm, regardless of all evidence in the real world.

There is a defector from Jamaat ul Fuqra who is always changing and who is exposing the Fuqra, naming names and everything. If you haven't already, check out his site:

http://fuqra.blogspot.com

OSONSFORLIBERTY said...

I DON,T KNOW A HELL OF A LOT ABOUT EUROPEAN OPINIONS BUT I THINK A LOT OF WHAT,S HAPPENED OVER THERE IS THE RESULT OF SECULAR HUMANISM. IF YOU LOOK AT US IN NORTH AMERICA I THINK THE REASON WE SEEM OPTIMISTIC IS BECAUSE OF OUR HISTORY, 100yrs AGO PEOPLE CAME HERE WITH NOTHING AND MADE GREAT NEW LIVES , OH WE,VE HAD OUR UP,S AND DOWNS BUT ON THE WHOLE IT,S STILL THE KIND OF PLACE WHERE YOU CAN COME AND WORK HARD AND REALIZE YOUR DREAMS

dag said...

I write often that America is in the mind. Anyone can be American if they choose to be. No one can choose to be Irish or Senegalese or Tibetan. But we have among us those who are American by birth who are hardly American at all outside their passport details. They didn't come to America by choice, and it seems they wouldn't have if they'd had a choice. I kind of wish they'd choose to move elsewhere.

Always On Watch said...

Charles,
Sorry for the delay in getting back to this post. Easter weekend intervened.

AOW, do you feel there's a subtle yet important difference between the statements “it’s in God’s hands now”, and what to me is the islamic equivalent, “it’s allah’s will”. To me, the former has always suggested that if even if I fail it’s still important that I tried, whereas my understanding of “it’s allah’s will” means “don’t even try, if I don’t do it for you it isn’t going to happen.”

I see a vast difference between Christianity's "It's in God's hands now" and Islam's concept of Allah's will; I agree with your assessment, but would go a bit further. For example, at the most recent, high-death-toll stampede at the Haj, the Saudi government proclaimed (I'm paraphrasing here_, "Nothing we could have done about it. It was Allah's will." I cannot imagine any Christian--not even the most committed Calvinist--saying such a thing after the deaths of many people at a so-called religious celebration. Can you?

The Christian faith places great importance on accountability and consequences (the latter, specifically, of sin). Islam, on the other hand, uses the mantra of "Allah's will" to validate inertia.

BTW, an interesting discussion has been going on at my blog. See the comments at "Amazing Riches." A strongly Calvinist high-school student JS and philosopher-phile FJ have been discussing man's free will.