Last night, while procrastinating when I should have been writing, I stumbled across the following clip.
I don’t know about you, but I found that profoundly moving and inspiring in a way that is very rare today. I can’t really describe it any other way but goodness; the sheer, uncomplicated goodness of the clip simply radiates from it nearly every second. The simple plight of being too nervous to perform, the kind, unaffected advice offered by the guard, the beauty of the image of a Marine standing in reverence before one of the giants of his nation, reading and taking inspiration from the immortal words of Lincoln, and finally the raw power of the song itself, performed with every ounce of Jim Nabors’ considerable talent.
This is goodness, the raw, naked kind that fills you, warms you, and lifts your heart. It shows not only great talent, but also great good-will, a fondness for its audience that wants to leave the viewer happy, feeling saturated by the sheer good being expressed. This is the True America compressed into a few short moments of film.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather have that eight-minute clip than the entire run of The Sopranos or Family Guy or any other recent television show. Because, while the writers of these shows may be very talented indeed (I haven’t seen more than a few clips of them, which are all I want to see), they’re not using their talents to produce anything worth watching. Ambiguity, crassness, debauchery, evil, cruelty; that’s what you’re directing your skills to showing? Well, the writers of Gomer Pyle might not have had your talents, but they sure used such talents they had a hell of a lot better! It’s like the difference between Picasso, who used his great talent to cynically cater to the whims of the elite and make a fortune, but who confessed that he didn’t consider himself a real artist, and Bougereau, who simply sought to find and express beauty without caring whether it was ‘in fashion.’
Most people prefer The Sopranos to Gomer Pyle, just like most people prefer Picasso to Bougereau. That’s their choice, but I think they’re wrong to do so. I think we are all too often dazzled by displays of talent into forgetting to ask “wait, what are they actually saying?” Sophistry, the use of cleverness and subtlety to obscure the truth, isn’t confined to oratory. In any art there are two facets: goodness and beauty. A good work that isn’t beautiful is simply a bad piece of art. A beautiful work that isn’t good is something detestable and dangerous. Great art is both. Simple trash, like you find in the average modern art gallery, is neither. Many things today are either good (expressing truth or virtue) without being beautiful (being unskilled and boring), or beautiful (being done with talent and inspiration) without being good (expressing evil ideas). The clip from Gomer Pyle is, in its modest way, both. That sets it head and shoulders above most of the stuff we see today.
I didn’t mean to turn this into another piece complaining about the state of the modern world. It just goes to show how desperate I (and, I think most people) are for some simple goodness. We’re so glib, so cynical, so soft and jellified that we hardly know what to do when we run up against something solid and real and excellent. For me, I find it to be like a cold draft of water in a desert; it’s wonderful, but it also reminds me of the fact that I’m in a desert, and that even modern shows that I like usually don’t have this kind of raw goodness to them (about the only exception I can think of offhand are some parts of Avatar: The Last Airbender).
I hate it. I hate the fact that this sort of thing has become so rare. I hate the fact that so many children are growing up without ever encountering it. I hate the cynical, sophistic mindset that says what we have now is an improvement because it’s ‘better written’ or ‘more true to life.’ It’s like the critic who claimed that an obscene, pedophilic photograph counted as ‘art’ because of its ‘lighting and composition’ (and no, I did not make that example up). In both cases it may even be true, but so what? It doesn’t change the fact that its ugly, crass, and devoid of virtue.
I’m frankly sick of giving nasty bits of dreariness a pass because they’re well-made or clever. Give me something good, for pity’s sake, if you even know how!
Vive Christus Rex!