Thursday, September 21, 2017

Take my Culture, Please

Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles might be the funniest movie of all time, unfortunately. One of the more enduring anti-white, anti-American cultural tropes, the cool black guy (here leading a diverse gang in) outfoxing the dim white rednecks, around which the story is based, derives from this wellspring along with others. An enduring attitude can be seen taking shape in this movie. Now Brooks says his film couldn't be made today, and it seems undeniable.

It's important to note what's happened: the film contributed about as much as a film can to the shaping of the present cultural and political milieu. And that milieu is one in which it could never possibly be made.

When Harvey Korman's villain sends a motley horde of Bad Guys (bikers, Nazis, pirates, etc) forth to "stamp out runaway decency in the West" I can't help but find it ironic, now.

Mel Brooks was never a guy you suspected of malice. He went after what was essentially the pc of his time. And that pc ain't nothing like our pc. Our pc rules. With an iron fist.

Brooks likes to tell the story of how he got away with simply ignoring the studio's instructions to edit out certain scenes. When the film was released and became a hit, no one at the studio so much as mentioned it.

Today if he somehow got it past the studio in the first place, the industry as a whole would come down on him, along with polite society, cable news, militant protesters and an outraged Jewish community. Moral and financial shake-downs would ensue. The term "political correctness" really does indicate something fundamentally different from the usual restrictions on expression a society and culture might impose on opposition.

This is a whole new world. Virtually all of Hollywood now is on board with the presumed objections to a Blazing Saddles in the Current Year. More remarkable: Blazing Saddles' Current Year equivalent could not occur to the well-conditioned mind of any Current Year Mel Brooks.

We shouldn't lose the narrative thread: cultural-sexual revolution assails prevailing order through free artistic expression, becomes prevailing order, restricts artistic expression.

It was already cool in the Seventies to look down your nose at your "racist" white parents; but they were still in charge, too. That's why comedy was still possible:
The 1974 comedy western starring Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder featured a black sheriff in a racist town. Brooks said it was the racial prejudice portrayed within the film that was the mechanism behind its cultural significance.
"Without that the movie would not have had nearly the significance, the force, the dynamism and the stakes that were contained in it,” he said.
Presumably the setting-up of the white fall guys as bigots would be too much now--a grandmotherly type, for instance, greeting the black sheriff with an unexpected "up yours, nigger" certainly wouldn't fly. Making light of lynching. Anything that might disturb white liberals, er, black folk. None of this would be allowed. The film's essential message, summed up by Gene Wilder's description of frontier settlers as "...people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know . . . morons”, is safe. It would have to be magnified, perhaps. There would be issues around casting maybe. The routine about the busty secretary...are you kidding?

What Brooks is (or should be) getting at here ultimately is that comedy requires a shared point of view between audience and performer. Shared frames of reference, assumptions, language, culture. Comedy is bias. Drama too relies on these shared biases.

Blazing Saddles skewered "racism" but it was made when the country was overwhelmingly white and even in its transgressions assumed a point of view that was white American. And that's precisely the part that would make the film so objectionable now.

Basically, take out the point of view, the bias, the prejudice, the identity of the audience really. We're left with empty gags and sentimental kitsch with nothing to latch on to.  Instead of shared values we have shared cliches.

The film has its own dynamic narrative. It began as an impulse in the same narrative that will (if left unchecked, I assert) eventually require its censoring. Gotta love it.

Mr Brooks shouldn't feel bad. Yes his work would be rejected now. But that's only possible because of his work.

[title lifted from a Bumbling American tweet]

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