Excited, obsessive, and sixteen - my high school friends and I had to be the most passionate and off-the-wall kids to ever haunt the hallways of Middletown South. By the end of 9th grade I think I had inspected every Horror, Sci-Fi, Cult, and Foreign section of every video store in Monmouth County (no joke). Whether it was a Peter Sellers/Blake Edwards vehicle, something by Jean-Luc Godard, or a 70’s George Romero film that you can only get as a bootleg, I just had to see it. I remember forcing a roomful of people to watch Murnau’s Nosferatu (an scoreless VHS version no less) at 2:00 AM one morning. I remember watching North By Northwest in high school and thinking I was going to throw up because of the intensity of the airplane sequence. I remember my elation and bewilderment after watching Badlands on VHS, then rushing over to the VCR in order to rewind the tape and watch it again - immediately.
For me, it was and is all part of this grand notion I got in my head as a kid that "I KNOW NOTHING". Now don't take that in a negative, self-deprecating way - think of it as enlightening; or progressive even. As deeply 'into' things as I get, I can never shake the feeling that I'm only scratching the surface. And that's where the fun is. Most people are unconsciously against this (while unfortunately some are consciously against it), and very quick to state their uninformed opinion. Not knowing everything is an exciting feeling, for as intense as a piece of art can be to me, I will always have a quiet inner-dialogue telling me "if THIS is out there - and you didn't know about it before ... well, shit - anything's possible!"
When I was young and I would read Michael J. Weldon’s essential ‘Psychotronic Video’ magazine, the descriptions of (and even just the titles of) some of the films would strike such a chord of fascination in me, it was like there were entire worlds of meticulously executed art out there; art that was SO dark, or SO intense, or SO wild that nothing I had seen before was like it. Getting to those “worlds”, as well as paying attention to the journey, is where we learn things.
Other people I've encountered seem to have some sort of (self-imposed) WALL OF COOL in front of them that not only preserves their cool exterior - but also creates a surface impenetrable to all things fascinating. That's a waste of life. And to put it bluntly (and to paraphrase Harlan Ellison), that's what makes someone "one of the slaves".
Once, in high school, before I had figured much of this stuff out, my friend Jason and I were discussing (as we often did) favorite films. Jason mentioned The Usual Suspects. He admitted to its popularity (this was the 90's, folks) and then said something that's really stuck with me:
"I get physically affected at the end. It's like a feeling washes over me, and it happens every time I watch it. I can't argue with that feeling."
His admission to undecided adoration was eye-opening - how much do we choose what we tell people we like? The question is always on my mind. Although much of its usage is light, I believe the term "guilty pleasure" to be quite insidious. While it can be humorous to refer to things as a "guilty pleasure" the idea that we are afraid of exposing our true feelings about art to each other is far too real and horrifying for me to accept usage of that phrase. People crave intellectual superiority over art and over many of the things they see. People often want to break down the things that are presented to them in such a way as to prove that -
A) They know exactly what they're looking at.
B) It's just not that good.
or, alternate for B):
C) It's stupid.
Now, as anyone can see, when this WALL of COOL is up, and A, B and/or C are in effect, there can be no feelings of enchantment or wonder had by the spectator. People's self-importance and fear have blended into a sickening muck of ignorance. For it's the truly ridiculous and even evil things that get the OK - look at where the film industry is, or turn on your TV (if you dare) - THESE are the things that the masses approve! Worst of all is what happens to art that is the work of true passion. Great art, art that the artist was desperate to make, art that has profound personal significance; is often the main target of this moronic, pseudo-intellectual behavior. It is the individuality and uniqueness of things that make them an easy target for the Terrified Mind.
The Terrified Minds will tell you “it's OK to express yourself - as long as it is the same as everyone else's expression.”
Call it what you will, but it makes me MAD.
You don’t have to be a part of it; and you don’t have to help those who want you for a slave. Help yourself. Help those in whom you see authenticity and substance. The genuine are persecuted now and desperately need validation and protection. Our society’s chance at birthing another Thomas Edison or Ray Bradbury stands in direct opposition to our ability to build another shopping mall; filled with the same stores, that are filled with the same crap, as every – other – stupid – mall in the country.
The world is rejecting beautiful things and burying them because it is too afraid to think for itself.
And, to quote Harlan Ellison again: “It’s a dumb world.”
And like I said – You don’t have to be a part of it.