The Nature and Purpose of the Entertainer
“…the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”
Hamlet Act 3, scene 2, 17–24
First: the academic bits— (and a bit of philosophical waffling)
In that passage, I believe Shakespeare is speaking in universalities more than specifics. Nonetheless, when most of us today read that speech and/or apply it to our own artistic philosophy, in our minds we substitute the concept of “society” for “nature”. So holding the mirror up to nature (as ‘twere) becomes nothing more than a license to ridicule and exaggerate people, things, or ideas that we disagree with. I’m not sure that’s what Shakespeare had in mind.
But even beyond that, one might be so inclined as to grant that “the very age and body of the time” is referring to Society. This may be so, but the Modern Entertaining Arts have lost sight of the “big picture” of their purpose. And further, simply Showing society what it looks like does not require a worldview or imply that by said showing, a message is meant to be delivered.
In other words, we limit the power of art by stuffing it into the box of our own view of Society (and what Society needs, in our not so humble estimation).
Put yet another way: the world of the Modern Entertaining Arts is full of small-minded (but big-headed) creative types who mistakenly think they are fulfilling the Artist’s greatest mission when they display this or that fad sensibility or political philosophy in their work.
And let’s not mince words, the “artists” who do this are mostly of the Leftist persuasion. They self-righteously insist they are holding up the mirror to Society as an excuse to ridicule and demean anything that has the hint of Traditional Morality, Christianity, or Rightward-leaning philosophy. [authors note: for the sake of clarity, I would describe Rightward-leaning philosophy as any system of political theory which values Liberty more than Egalitarianism]
There is a strong desire amongst those of us who actually espouse the tenets of Traditional Morality, Christianity, and Rightward-leaning philosophy (though they be such pariahs) to strike back and demand entertaining arts that reflect our values.
So, where does that now leave us? At a bit of a stalemate with Shakespeare, I’m afraid. He was perhaps right that the divine nature and purpose of the Artist (in perfection) is to simply act as a reflection of Nature without filtering that presentation through our own prism of viewpoints and vice. However, we cannot transcend our own Humanity. And so how we view things is inevitably transmitted through the art we produce.
Therefore (circling around the long way), we arrive at the conclusion that the existence of overtly Liberal or Conservative works—whether they are self-consciously that way or not—is but a natural consequence of the fallen state of being of Mankind. While the Divine Ideal would be an Artist free of worldview, the reality (that having a worldview is a large part of what makes us human) precludes us from adopting that Divine Ideal. What we are left with then is an understanding that the Modern Entertaining Arts will have some unavoidable viewpoints that bleed through.
Next: Let’s put our feet back on the ground and get down to the nitty-gritty—
Leaving the airy, theoretical world and it’s academic arguments, let us return to Earth for a more grounded discussion about the state of the Modern Entertaining Arts and what could improve them.
The real problem is (given that Earthly Art cannot always be completely free of viewpoint,) the lack of diversity of viewpoint in the Modern Entertaining Arts.
When was the last time you saw a movie in which a Christian or a Right-ward Leaning individual or a Businessperson was the Hero?
Better yet, forget about heroes. When was the last time you saw a movie in which a Christian or a Conservative or a Businessperson was even portrayed in a slightly positive light? [And movies that are made expressly to espouse a Christian or Conservative message don’t count]
If you can name one…you can probably do just that: name one only. This proves my point. At best you may be able come up with a handful. A handful out of the hundreds of movies you have seen. There’s something very wrong with that, don’t you think?
Let’s reverse the experiment: How many movies can you think of that portray a Christian or Conservative or Businessperson Character as:
.) the villain
.) a hypocrite
.) any combination of the above
Don’t try to name them all, you’ll be listing movies all night.
Now then, there are two similar, but slightly different responses to these issues you will hear from people who don’t think it’s a problem…
1.) There’s no market for “conservative” or “traditional” mainstream entertainment.
2.) “Conservatives” and/or “Traditionalists” just don’t provide quality entertainment.
The rationale behind argument #1 is that Hollywood (and the Entertainment Industry in general) is a business. Money is the bottom line. If they thought they could make money by providing conservative/traditionalist entertainment, they would be all over it.
Adjusting for inflation, take a look at the top-grossing movies of all time. Within the top fifteen you will find movies like The Sound of Music, The Ten Commandments, and Ben-Hur. “But…those are like…old.” OK, how about the top-grossing movie of 2010, then? A little family-friendly adventure called Toy Story 3.
The point is, movies with a more traditionalist bent… or in the very least, movies that are not purposefully ridiculing or ignoring traditional morality have always packed the most behinds in the seats. And they still do.
With Reason #1 demonstrably false, let’s take a bit of time to look at Reason # 2: “ ‘Conservatives’ and/or ‘Traditionalists’ just don’t provide quality entertainment.”
Sadly, this assertion has a little more heft to it. The reason being, that consciously political works aren’t usually very good. This is true of entertainment that leans rightward as well as entertainment that leans leftward. So while Conservative entertainment is of questionable quality, so too are overtly Left-Wing works.
The key to successful, quality entertainment is to create a fictional universe in which your chosen worldview can be sensed – without beating people over the head with it.
Allegory is a bit tough to pull off, since by it’s nature it is a little more on-the-nose. But if handled skillfully it can go very right (see: The Chronicles of Narnia) and provide beautiful word and thought pictures that illustrate belief. If handled poorly (see: the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman) you end up with barely disguised bitter antipathy towards things you don’t believe. There is always, of course, the muddled middle where we find things like Harry Potter (so, would that be the ‘muggled’ middle?) which, though ridiculously rife with Christian symbolism, can’t seem to decide what it really wants to be (a religious allegory or a secular hero-myth with postmodern trappings).
Still, it is even more difficult and requires more artful skill to weave a tale infused with your beliefs that is not overbearing, but instead gently and subtly points back towards those beliefs.
And that is why we need religious and traditionalist artists to step up and create.
We are daily barraged by anti-Christian and anti-Conservative messages. It is only just and fair that we push back a little. But, in conclusion, it is the opinion of this writer that said pushing back ought to be done with finesse and the creative artistry which God has granted to us.