There are so many reasons to see or not to see certain things. How do you decide for yourselves whether you should watch or not watch The Walking Dead? If you remember, I recently told you not to watch it: too gory, I said. So what, you probably said. Why aren’t I going to watch Fashion Police anymore?
What you watch turns into what you like to watch and that, along with why you like to watch, helps define your taste in art. I have no problem with a moral or ethical or religious or philosophical reason to watch or not to watch, but I would suggest that there are other criteria to consider. Artistic criteria that will form your taste and that will turn into what kinds of things you make as a working artist.
Zombie, vampire, violent shows exist and no amount of protest is going to stop them from airing, not while people are willing to watch them. To ban them is censorship and that’s what I want to talk about: censorship, which comes from outside forces vs making choices that will develop your own taste, choices that come from within you and will mean something to you and your art.
Disturbing things exist all around us. I know two friends of mine who will not let the Internet into their homes lest it corrupts their young children. I get that. They really are too young to filter much of what they would be experiencing online. But at your age, I would hope you are learning what to let into your lives and what to reject, what to keep out, and what your reasons for those choices are. The choices you make help you to develop taste and your artistic sensibility.
We are all affected by what we see. Good to know there are zombie movies and TV shows in the world. Probably somewhere there are even zombie paintings and sculpture and I can only guess at how many music groups call themselves The Zombies. You need to know a zombie when you see one, know that you are in for an excess of cruelty and gore and dehumanization, and you need a way to decide what that excess does to your artistic sensibility.
The point of art is to take you beyond the material to a higher level of understanding, a way to experience something on a spiritual and emotional level. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever felt bliss or a heightening of your senses or a rush when you looked at a beautiful sculpture, a painting of a sunset, a song sung so purely and heavenly, it is hard to imagine it having come from a human voice. I once thought that the tenor Luciano Pavarotti’s voice must be what angels sound like.
But what if all you ever see are people cutting each other up? Or people being cruel and inhuman to each other? Or only listening to music that sounds sharp and corrosive? I guarantee you will never be able to hear or experience the angel-ness of Pavarotti.
To experience art on the level it is meant to be felt and understood, you need to train. You need to develop taste. That means you have choices to make. You won’t get carried away with soprano Anna Netrebko singing “Addio del passato” from Verdi’s La Traviata if you hate opera, especially if you hate opera because all you ever listen to is head-banging heavy metal. To appreciate Anna Netrebko you have to develop your sense of taste for music, for what the human voice is capable of, and for what good acting is. That means you have to listen to opera.
What you watch is happening to you on some emotional and intellectual level. Your next experience will be built on your last one, and that goes for your emotional life. This is why I say, Beware of what you watch. What you watch, read, listen to is what your future sensibilities are build on. Are you really ready to absorb gory zombies for any length of time? Will you be in danger of turning into a zombie? Not hardly, but you will become a person who is immune to the horrors of life rather than tuned in to the things that heighten our human experiences to a sublime level. It is why Les Miz, about real human hardship, can be so sublime. Victor Hugo, rather than only giving us the depravities of human misery, elevates it to a higher level where we see, feel, and experience hope breaking through. He also makes you feel that the ordinariness of your own life has a larger purpose than just scrambling for that next crust of bread.
I have watched a few episodes of The Walking Dead and I gotta say, it is gross.
I found after I got past the grossness, or at least put it in the background of what I was watching, I gotta say it was compelling and that it is about more than hideous zombie creatures. The writing is good. There is more going on than destroying gross zombies to survive. What will happen next is a good thing in television writing and these writers get that in spades.
How do I know how to choose or not choose to watch? My past experiences with making choices that have helped develop my taste: 1) I watch many television series (I’m still grieving that The Killing was canceled), 2) read and study how to write plays and screenplays and novels which involve plotting, character development, story arcs, and 3) read a whole lot of murder/suspense/thriller novels (along with spiritual stuff.) In other words, what I do regularly has prepared me to look past the zombie craziness and see art.
I have recently vowed not to watch Fashion Police. Why? No zombies, there, let me tell you, but here’s the thing: I love the red carpet at award events. I love to hear how people who know rate what I’ve seen and even though we don’t always agree, at least these people have a frame of reference to talk about fashion as art and can make me see clothes and accessories in a different way. They elevate my awareness of the art of fashion. I don’t even mind that these same people are not above taking cheap shots at those designing and wearing fashion. I get it. To dish is human.
Comedy, like fashion, is an art. I have always liked Joan Rivers, think she’s funny, that she’s a mentor to other women in comedy (I get this from an episode from Kathy Griffin’s reality series―another rude comedian, but without a mean spirit), that she can sometimes fire off a joke at someone’s expense. On Fashion Police, she has taken all the joy out of what the other three on the show have to say and has gone way out on some sleazy, crude limb where she sits all by herself. A little sleaze to get us to see the bottom of the human condition but with no redeeming purpose. Victor Hugo she is not.
The jokes I’m talking about are badly constructed and when she finally gets to the punch line I find myself feeling crummy, like I’ve got indigestion. No more joy at how wonderful/awful the people looked. No more listening to intelligent and knowledgeable comments that would make me see fashion differently. Nope. I am just dwelling on that last non-funny joke and watching as it shuts down the fashion discussion. The fashions and the people wearing them now seem to exist just to set up another crude and unfunny joke. I object. I don’t mind hearing a joke that fails – even Tina Fey and Amy Poehler at the Golden Globes had some jokes that fell flat though I can’t off-hand think of any. (Even now, thinking of those two, I am smiling, glad I watched the show, glad I saw comedy that worked.)
When I think of Joan Rivers on Fashion Police, I feel all frowny and want to change the subject. I don’t feel elevated in any way. I have learned nothing but how it feels to be immersed in smut and I don’t like what it does to me. If I choose to experience much more of that, I doubt that I would be able to take joy in, say, Anna Netrebko’s easy and funny acting style in the comic opera L’elisir d’amore.
It isn’t that smutty jokes are immoral to me. In some religions maybe they are and I respect that, but for me, what happens to my sensibilities listening to that shit (and believe me, this is the least of what she is dishing out to us) I sink down into a place where I don’t want to be for any length of time. (Did you laugh at “shit” or did you roll your eyes or did you frown? Whatever your reaction, you are expressing taste.) I don’t want to pore over this kind of comedy. I want to know that comedy like this exits, know it when I hear it, and that it maybe even serves some purpose I don’t see, but I don’t want it to take the edge off of my taste for comedy that brings me enjoyment like being able to laugh at Fey and Poehler’s well-constructed, funny, and well-delivered jokes. I want to hone my comic appreciation, not dull it. Joan Rivers in this incarnation isn’t honing anything for me, even though I can almost hear her tell me, “Oh, grow up!”, which is funny.
So don’t watch The Walking Dead until you are able to handle all they dish out. Watch it if you must, but do it with awareness. Know what you are seeing and feeling and why. Don’t watch it as a zombie would.