Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Schlock.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. If you plumb the recesses of history, you find a recurring theme: a groaning about the terrible state of modern entertainment. The ancient Greeks thought their best playwrights were all dead, and wrote comedies about journeying to Hades to fetch some for an encore performance. Voltaire in Candide represents a Venetian senator (or a Florentine aristocrat, or whatever) complaining about the tawdriness of Virgil and Milton. The popular literature of Medieval Europe and Japan was achingly nostalgic; King Arthur and Orlando Furioso were already mythical figures of the shadowy past by the time their stories were committed to paper. W.S. Gilbert put it this way in The Mikado: “The idiot who praises with enthusiastic tone/ all centuries but this and every country but his own.” It never changes: the distant past is good, the recent past is passable, and the present is crap.
But can it be that all human artistic endeavor are always and everywhere growing worse with each passing year? Well, maybe. I don’t think, for example, that a new long poem that will rival Dante’s Divine Comedy or Homer’s Iliad is coming. The epic has probably had its day. We’ve been making movies for a hundred years now. Do the best examples lie in the past or in the future? I’m not sure how to bet; in another fifty years, will we still make movies, or will art have moved on to something else? Huxley jokingly suggested “feelies” to replace “talkies” in his Brave New World; the joke doesn’t sound so funny anymore, does it?
“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” said Someone famous. That goes double for popular entertainment. I’ve given up comparing this year’s movie to last year’s, this year’s sword romance to last year’s, this year’s pop music or fashion or dance craze or pedagogical video. I’m too old to apologize for liking “Spock’s Brain.” Anyhow, if I live long enough, I’ll see Star Trek revered as “classic” like Howard or “pioneering” like H.G. Wells. In a thousand years they’ll probably make schoolchildren write reports on the importance of Commander Data during Robot-American History Month.
So just relax and enjoy it when they come for your childhood. Youth is fleeting.