By now, it’s become a parlor game: which movies, even from the recent past, could and would not be made today? “Blazing Saddles,” for sure, and perhaps even “Pulp Fiction,” for their relentless use of the “n-word.” Any film with gratuitous female nudity: say goodbye to almost everything from the 1970s, ’80s and into the ’90s, including films as disparate as “Serpico,” “Species,” “Last Tango in Paris,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “American Pie.”
Time was when Bowdlerism and pecksniffery were alleged to be characteristics of conservative Christians and small-town Babbitts: reactionary squares from Squaresville, who couldn’t handle a little overt sexuality or transgressive humor from the likes of Lenny Bruce. These days, the censorship comes almost exclusively from the perpetually outraged cultural-Marxist Left. Like their Soviet, Chinese, and Cambodian forebears, they cannot abide anything that does not conform to their world-view right this minute, and therefore must constantly update their “Index of Forbidden Books, Films, Words, and Cultural Artifacts.”
Whoops—there goes Dustin Hoffman’s star turn in “Lenny.” And Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar for “Pulp Fiction.” And Phoebe Cates’s magnificent bosom, which gave hope (however fantastic) to nerds across America that someday they, too, might actually see such wonders in the flesh. And pretty much everything else since the great cultural revolution of the late 1960s overthrew the Production Code and sent the Legion of Decency scurrying off into the sunset. If they can come for Mark Twain and Joseph Conrad, they can come for anybody.
Now they’re back and, as revolutionaries everywhere are wont to do, they are hanging their parents and desecrating the graves and monuments of their ancestors. Because their zeal knows no bounds—because, by definition, too much zeal can never be enough—they are now set loose upon the past, the better to erase it so that a brave new world might be born.
Recall, if you will, that the World State’s motto in Aldous Huxley’s future dystopia is: “COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.” Although first published in 1932, the work is even more timely now than it was in the period between the wars, all three words having taken on vastly different, and more sinister, shades of meaning in the interim. But you can’t hatch the New Socialist Man without breaking a few eggs, so what’s the loss of a few old, dead, cultural totems when set against the inclusive paradise that is sure to come?
Let’s be clear: the assault on the past—on the Western and American past—is something more than simple cultural vandalism. After all, the original Vandals kept a great deal of the Roman Empire even as they and the other northern barbarians transformed it, eventually, into the nation-states of Europe. No, the negation of the past—even of its own past—is something the Left must accomplish in order for it successfully to school the populace of the brave new world in the brave new ways. As with Islam and the French Revolution (in which cultural Marxism has its roots) the new world demands a new beginning, with a Year Zero against which to measure time henceforth. It cannot countenance the memories and the trappings of the old ways, and so they must be extinguished, eradicated, and exterminated.
This puts the so-called cultural conservatives in a bind. The old bluenoses must now defend elements of the culture they might well have hated, and still do hate—but refusing to protect them is to align themselves, however unwittingly or unwillingly, with their mortal enemies on the Left. (Their situation is akin to the moral dilemma of the #NeverTrumpumpkins, who have abdicated binary morality in favor of selective “preenciples.”) It’s all the more galling when you consider that the Left hid behind “free speech” when it was in their interest to goad the larger culture toward change, but now cannot abide “hate speech,” which is, when you stop to think about it, exactly the same thing.
But in order for our culture—our entire culture—to survive, we must defend it in whole, lest it be torn down around our heads piecemeal. As I note in my latest book, The Fiery Angel:
We proceed, then, from the premise that the past not only still has something to tell us, but it also has something that it must tell us, if only we will listen. That while we stare intently toward the future (the will-o-the-wisp of the Left), it is to the past to which we should be listening—for it alone holds the sum total of the human experience in its dusty, bony hands . . . . True, it wears funny clothes and ofttimes speaks in deceased cant or embarrassing jargon, spouting long-forgotten catch phrases with little or no meaning in the present. Then again, so did our younger selves. And how foreign do we consider those dapper young fellows and radiant girls to be, even as we age? The past is, as the saying goes, the thing what brung us.
The future is unknown, and always must be, in this temporal sphere. It is also as silent as the tomb—even more silent, in fact, since if we read, and listen to, and observe the artifacts of the past, we can hear them speaking to us. The future has no artifacts: no poems, no symphonies, no paintings, no films, no soaring architecture to both house and inspire. It may have them, someday—but then again, it may not.
Is that a chance we should be willing to take? We know what kind of future the Left has planned: nasty, brutish, and short, except that instead of a state of nature in which every man’s hand is against all, and all against his, it will simply be a Stalinist State of Huxleyian proportions, in which everything that is not prescribed is forbidden, and overseen by battalions of Nurse Ratcheds, ready to administer psychotropic drugs or a lobotomy, as the case may be.
As the Chief Bromden says in the opening lines of Ken Kesey’s great novel, “They’re out there.” And they’re coming for you. So what are you going to do about it?
Photo Credit: Thomas Cole via Wikimedia Commons