“I like violence! I love violence! I hate the weak person that goes, “oh that image, it hurts me!” Why make pictures for them? They are blind.”
-Alejandro Jodorowsky on Incredibly Strange Film Show
In a world that has been spinning before any of our ancestors were even a mere thought, humanity has been and continues to be such a fragile creature. Top of the food chain, though it’s often questionable that we ever deserved such a spot, creators of civilizations, culture, philosophy, as well as war, abuse, malice, and deep-seated corruption, this is us. All of us. The striking and at times, terrifying, duality of our species can be one of the hardest things to make some sort of peace with. Understandably so. It’s far easier to see everything in black and white. The good guy/girl is an absolute saint framed by shimmery light while the bad guy/girl is a monster among monsters surrounded by sulfur and brimstone. But that’s not always real life. Shades of gray are the inevitability of our own existence and few things are better suited to explore this than art.
Great art can give you characters who are charismatic and capable of both good deeds and intense dysfunction. Filmmakers like Jodorowsky and Cassavetes, among many, many others, understood this. The concept of fiction doing this is far from new and so is the fact that many of the men and women behind creating art are, yes, Virginia, human beings and can be severely flawed. I grew up knowing that many of my art heroes were far from sterling humans and you know what? I made peace with it. You can love the art, but just don’t date, room, or for god sakes, let some of the artists themselves babysit your kids. As a Klaus Kinski fan girl, I can definitely vouch that all of the above definitely applies.
While we are seeing more and more open dialogue in Western culture of late about things like sexual harassment and abuse of power, some are already mutating what is essentially a vital thing that we need into a chance to shame people for loving certain types of art. This is bollocks and the kind of knee-jerk reaction nightmare that can plant seeds for truly heinous things, like the PMRC and the Meese Commission.
Those of us who are fully invested in our love of genre film and fiction, and basically any art that is viewed by the mainstream as overall “outre” know this sometimes well-meaning but always misplaced fear and judgment. I once horrified my psychology teacher in high school when she found out I knew about H.G. Lewis’ The Wizard of Gore (1970). She actually said, “How could you like such a film?” which was a backhanded compliment since I was a fairly nerdy, polite student on the honor roll who was into cinema that apparently only killers and other sorts of deviants enjoy. (And damn straight!) Seriously, assuming things about individuals simply due to their taste in art is silly at best and full on ignorant at worst.
Taste is subjective. Personally, films like Terms of Endearment (1983), E.T. (1982), and 98% of romantic comedies are horrific to me, but if they bring happiness to someone, beautiful. Every piece of created expression is in its essence, a form of communication. So the only way art can fail is if it makes zero connection.
The thing that scares many people, even when they are not even consciously aware of it, is that anything you read, hear, or see in art that frightens or offends is because it is something that is hitting close to home. (Note that I didn’t say taste. Most westerns are not to my taste but I am not offended or scared of them by any means.) Maybe not always in a blatant way, but that seed is there. Case in point. If you are offended by horror films, especially when bringing up the ole hoary line about them being sexist, it could very much be due to it revealing something about our own existence and even your own inner demons. We live in a world where if there is a serial killer on the loose, guess who the victims typically are? Women. (A million and one true crime documentaries can’t be wrong.)
It’s not just a horror film thing either. My own personal issues with a lion’s share of mainstream romantic comedies and dramas where women are often relegated to the most boring, asinine, and oh-so-expected roles of wife, mother, lady of the night, or what we’ll phrase here as “she old.” The latter will typically get the smallest of screen time, meanwhile, the corpse from Weekend at Bernie’s (1989) is banging whatever cast off from the Disney Channel that is barely legal to vote in the US. Is it any wonder why I found my own personal gender salvation in the form of silent film sirens, strong female fighters, colorful side characters from assorted Horror movies, and sexually assertive, vivacious she-devils and fun wantons in a slew of cult and exploitation films? Why would I pick Julia “Baby-Eater” Roberts over truly fierce ladies like Gloria Swanson, Clara Bow, Theda Bara, Tura Satana, Ingrid Pitt, Susan Tyrell, Veronica Hart, or Gloria Leonard when it comes to divine feminine inspiration? Also, your mileage may vary, but the male characters in all of the above? WAY more interesting too! Men most definitely get thrown into the bland-o-matic machine too. Bela Lugosi > Ben Affleck.
Gender discussion is a whole other can of worms that I would need infinitely more time, reading, and liquor to tackle, but the point is that the next time anyone wants to knee-jerk in offense, stop and truly think about all of the other perspectives. In a world that is obviously riddled with plagues like classism, sexism, racism, homophobia, and all other manners of abuse — especially from those with power and money, we are all veterans of the psychic wars. (Some way, way, way more than others.) Most of us are on the same page when it comes down to it. We’re all looking for hope, love, passion, and respect. We’re all tired of bullshit and of those who hold us back from culturally evolving. So the next time anyone wants to shame someone about art or loving the artist, be strong, politely remind them that there are eleventy real-life issues to focus on and that enjoying art doesn’t mean you support any assholery of the artist that created it.
Now let’s all keep living, loving, and learning.