Tuesday, May 13, 2003

"ONLY FOOLS ARE SCANDALIZED." (Mother Paula Cordero, fsp)

The much-esteemed and always compellingly lucid Amy Welborn has a very thoughtful consideration on her blog today about the problem of representing sin in entertainment. How do you realistically show bad choices -- the primordial stuff of drama -- without promoting those bad choices? She uses the example of the cable series Six Feet Under to illustrate her point.

"6FU features a homosexual character - one of the brothers who owns the funeral home, a guy named David. David started the show in the first seasons closeted and repressed and struggling - and much of his struggle came from his religious faith (an aspect of his character which has been dropped of late). Over the past two seasons, as he has come out, the show has showed him in a relationship - a difficult one, by the way.

Is the inclusion of this character a "promotion" of homosexuality?

I'm sorry, but I just can't get my head around that concept. If David were an angel - perhaps the only nice guy on the show who spends his days feeding the poor while everyone else hung out by the pool, or if his relationship was the only good one on the show...or if the portrayal of gay life were somehow sanitized...you might have a point. But it's not. David is still uptight, is actually far less sensitive to his client's needs than is his heterosexual brother, and always has the bottom line in mind - is perfectly willing to push the most expensive casket on the wall, while his brother worries about the cost to the family. David has been involved in aspects of gay life that are destructive and shallow and are portrayed as such. David's relationship is problematic, to say the least. Alan Ball, the creator of the series, who is a homosexual man, has no fear of playing with gay stereotypes or showing the diversity of gay life, even the negative aspects.In other words...as a character, David is three dimensional."

I have been wondering a lot lately whether this creative "problem" is purely a post-sexual revolution animal, or whether it has always been a problem for Christian artists.

Did the fellows who painted the rape of the damned on the walls of the Cathedral of Orvieto have a colloquium first about whether their images might end up salacious instead of salvific?

Did Dostoevsky worry about making his murderer too sympathetic, by telling Crime and Punishment largely from the murderer's point of view?

Was Hawthorne worried that by making Hester Prynne a strong and resolute woman, people might also think he was endorsing unwed motherhood?

My sense is, these artists did not worry over these things. They just decorated their world from whatever was inside of them.

It seems to me to be a particular burden we put on artists today to have to doubt themselves. Maybe they have been infected by the climate of their world, and if they ust start decorating, they might unconsciously be emitting more pollution?!? All the time they are trying to vent the creative impulse, they keep having to question themselves, "Is it good? Is it good? Is it good?" (And by "good" I don't mean technically. That's a given.) I find this tension in my Act One students and even more sometimes in the faculty, and I wish I could be sure that it doesn't get in the way of the storytelling. It seems to me more akin to fear than freedom.

I'll meet Amy's Flannery O'Connor reference, and ante up another one that seems applicable here.

"About scandalizing the 'little ones.' When I first began to write, I was worried about this thing of scandalizing people, as I fancied that what I wrote was highly inflammatory.

I was wrong - it wouldn't have even kept anybody awake, but anyway, thinking this was my problem, I talked to a priest about it. The first thing he said was, 'You don't have to write for fifteen year old girls.'

Of course, the mind of a fifteen year old girl lurks in many a head that is seventy-five, and people are everyday being scandalized not only by what is scandalous of its nature, but by what is not. If a novelist wrote a book about Abraham passing his wife Sarah off as his sister - which he did - and allowing her to be taken over by those who wanted her for lustful purposes - which he did to save his skin - how many Catholics would not be scandalized at Abraham's behavior?

The fact is, in order not to be scandalized, one has to have a WHOLE view of things. Which not many of us have...

I mortally and strongly defend the right of the artist to select a negative aspect of the world to portray. And as the world gets more materialistic, there will be much more such to select from."
(The Habit of Being)

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