Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Taken by Teachout

I really like Terry Teachout!
Here are excerpts of an essay of his that was distributed on line sometime this week.:

Terry Teachout: In a strange land

• Art doesn’t have to be true to life to be good, but when a work of art is true to your life, it strikes a special chord. ...... For my part, though, I haven’t seen many movies that seemed true in any significant way to my personal experience. ....
In Hollywood, ordinary middle-class life is a state to be escaped, not examined. Unlike their novel-writing counterparts, American filmmakers are almost never willing to set a serious drama in a believable-looking small town, or even a medium-sized city located anywhere other than on the East or West Coasts. To them, the vast expanse of terra incognita known in New York and Los Angeles as “flyover country” is little more than a breeding ground for cross-burners, serial murderers, and Republicans......
• I thought of The Apostle and You Can Count on Me as I watched the Berkshire Theatre Festival’s revival of Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles, a play that is greatly admired for the similar precision with which it portrays the lives of a group of bright young men and women of upper-middle-class privilege. What struck me most forcibly about its characters was the near-complete extent to which they were insulated from anyone unlike themselves. Needless to say, I live in their world, but I was born and raised in a different one, and I never need reminding that most Americans neither talk nor think like the members of the urban verbal class with whom The Heidi Chronicles is populated.
• Of course it’s perfectly possible to make serious and memorable art out of the lives of such folk. (Whether or not Wasserstein succeeded in doing so is another matter, one that I’ll be taking up on Friday in my Wall Street Journal drama column.) Besides, it’s a truism that authors write best when they write about what they know, and given the transformation of America’s elite universities into instruments of meritocratic change, it’s increasingly less likely that our college-educated artists will know much about anybody else. Back in the days of John P. Marquand and Louis Auchincloss, these institutions served as finishing schools for the northeastern upper class. Now they act as search engines that locate and recruit young men and women of promise from all across America, then indoctrinate them with the cultural assumptions of the New Class. Instead of going back where they came from, there to leaven the cultural loaf and in turn to be influenced by local opinions and customs, the successful products of the meritocratic machine are more likely to migrate to New Class-dominated cities and suburbs, where seldom is heard a contradictory word.
• This being the case, I expect it’s a fairly safe bet that the plays and films of the coming decade will look less like You Can Count on Me or The Apostles than The Heidi Chronicles. Nor is that the worst thing in the world: I like witty repartee as much as the next critic. Yet I can’t shake the lingering feeling that such plays are written in a foreign language that I speak fluently but in which I do not dream.


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