A Scene from Green Book

I recently watched Green Book which was pleasant, humorous, and generally good. I was astounded by Viggo Mortesen’s performance, as I had not seen him explore the boundaries of acting as creatively as he did here. My focus is not on him, however, but on Don Shirley. There is a scene in the movie which may be interpreted as either good or evil depending on the perspective one takes upon watching it. The two primary perspectives I wish to explore are Hollywood’s agenda and a Christian/Catholic perspective of the particular scene in mind.

If seen in light of Hollywood’s push for homosexual equality, the movie scene, wherein Don Shirley, played by Mahershala Ali, is caught in a suggested sexual relation with another man, may be praised for its inclusion by the LBGT+ advocates. Indeed, there is a great push for depicting homosexuality as something to be accepted as good. We live in a country where equality is ipso facto good. Thus, although Shirley’s biography makes no mention of explicit sexual relations, Hollywood jumped on board about the implication that Shirley might have had a sodomistic caricature. Of course, we do not know whether Shirley was actually homosexual, or if he was only perceived as such due to caricature stereotypes in he 1960’s? Whatever the case, the scene fits the bill for the homosexual agenda, despite the rumor of its inappropriateness. 

It may be said that such a depiction of the musician is historically inaccurate, as it is purported that the homosexual caricature is false. But, why would Hollywood care about this inaccuracy when it brings in the money, and, of course, is it not perceived to some that homosexual couples deserve equal marriage status? The scene only lasted a minute or two, so how bad could such a scene really be?

It may be worrying that even the mere suggestion, despite whether it is certain or not, should give movie directors permission to make that suggestion an obvious agenda, thereby giving false impressions to its audiences. The question may be asked, ought Hollywood to have this permission, no matter the subject at hand (e.g. homosexuality, global warming, warfare, etc.)? 

Hollywood would have us avoid this question as an ‘ought’ (i.e. a ‘modal question’). For, indeed, Tony Lip shrugs off Shirley’s behavior, as if shrugging was a virtue. Hollywood’s post-modern hero would, of course, be falsely virtuous, once again fitting the bill for their obvious agenda. We may not say that the movie is moral insofar as we are to mimic Lip’s shrugging, but we are certainly invited to consider Lip as heroic insofar as he acts in this way. This ‘virtuosity’ is not the kind found in Christianity, and in its perspective, Hollywood’s agenda for homosexual equality excludes the equality of whole virtue, at least in this particular scene.

Depending on the perspective one brings in watching Green Book, its historical inaccuracy may be praised or condemned based on the views of the homosexual ideology and/or the Christian (namely Catholic) principles of virtue, respectively. The difference of perspectives between the two sides lends itself to the issues arising in historical cinema between accuracy and agendas. Ought one to be sacrificed over the other in particular cases? Why or why not? This is the question at hand. 

America as Dionysiac and Apolline: Part 2

In my previous part, I primarily talked about the Dionysiac quality of art and its relation to Donald Glover’s ‘This is America.’ I also proposed questions which the video seemed to ask. Henceforth, I would like to talk about how Glover thinks America has “Apollinely” provided a solution (i.e. an orderly solution) to the violence in America and how he participates in the solution that he critiques.

Juxtaposed against the Dionysiac background of the video, and interrupted by the murder scenes, Glover participates in a dancing which breathes of intentional exaggeration. It critiques an American answer that is yet not known to us. In other words, Glover pokes fun at what America provides as a solution to the issue of violence, even before he explicates what that answer is.

As to the answer itself, we may look, in one instance, to the lyrics of the song, for they begin to reveal the Apolline answer to the problem of the violence. In the second stanza, partying is literally a gift asserted as something anyone, who the personal pronouns ‘we’ and ‘you’ refer to, desires. The stanza as a whole hints that partying is entertaining for everyone who has the potency to be involved. The lyrics are Dionysiac insofar as they are hard to make out. Indeed, at times, the lyrics are softly sung, and our focus is directed away from them.

Where, then, is our focus? As the song unfolds, it becomes clearer that entertainment itself is juxtaposed to violence in some manner, for our focus reverts immediately back to Glover’s dancing after the murder scenes have taken place. Furthermore, several school children smoothly dance alongside Glover as erratic violence takes place behind them. The first 12 lines of the seventh stanza lend themselves to the importance of fashion, which entertainment in America often entertains. Think of the celebrity. Is his importance and fashion not popularized in America?

In this frenzied and chaotic video, there seems to be a orderly solution of sorts. What couldn’t be more convenient to the American in responding to violence than entertaining himself with the pleasures of the arts? Is not pleasure a solution to the depressing news of violence and such? In other words, the dancing of Glover (and the school children) seems to be symbolic of the pleasures of the arts as characteristic of the American entertainment industry. The pleasure in the arts, insofar as it is a solution to the frenzied reality of violence in America, constitutes an Apolline answer as such. Whether it is a good one or not is another topic for a different discussion.

The exaggeration exerted by Glover throughout the video, again, thus makes fun of this answer, although we do not know explicitly why he does so. We can hypothesize that he does so because to seclude ourselves from any awareness of violence is imprudent in itself. If this guess is true, then we need only look to the murder scenes to experience their shock, for if we are shocked, then, perhaps, we are not paying attention to the reality of violence in America. Of course, part of the shock comes from the fact that we are not expecting such a video from such an artist to depict the violent scenes. But, therein lies Glover’s genius in shocking his audience either way, for the Apolline answer becomes evermore apparent.

Do you agree with my interpretation thus far? Why or why not?

The last point I wish to make is this: if Glover pokes fun at the Apolline answer here, then do you not think it ironic that Glover is a celebrity himself? For do we not also prefer his Apolline dancing over the violence due to the fact that he is a celebrity? Perhaps, in this sense, we are like the school children following his footsteps. Additionally, is it not ironic that the video is itself entertaining (at least, to some people)? What do you think of this irony? Is Glover intentional with it? 

I have provided a link to the video below for the reader’s interest, if indeed he is interested at all in the matter: www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYOjWnS4cMY

America as Dionysiac and Apolline: Part 1

Whatever is said of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical perspective of the world, it gives rise to a particular view of art that bodes valuable interpretative power. In The Birth of Tragedy, he speaks of the Dionysiac and the Appoline qualities of art which by their nature go beyond it to the inner life of man in relation to the world around him. I would like to explore each quality in relation to Donald Glover’s ‘This is America’ in order to yield insights in both Glover and Nietzsche’s works.

In Nietzche’s philosophy, the world is often chaotic and requires both order and an Order-er. That which is frenzied or chaotic in art is Dionysiac, so-named after the Greek god of wine, which was often used in frenzied celebrations. That which is more orderly in some manner is thus Appoline, so-named after the Greek god of music, prophecy, and medicine, which were considered more orderly things in the Greek culture. The latter notion necessitates the capability to recognize most distinctly those things which are ordered. 

Whatever operation(s) of the mind it takes to order something, that is, for example, to make it clear to the listener the notes of a song, or to the audience the scene changes of a play, or to a reader the end of a paragraph and the beginning of another, or to the party-goer the beginning of the party and its end, is considered for Nietzsche the “principium individuationis” or the principle within inner man to perceive/recognize things and persons as individuals. As a principle, it is natural to man that he can recognize things or even do the opposite at times. 

If man by nature orders things, then the suspension of this order gives away to the Dionysiac, that is, the frenzied experience of the world to commence. Individual things become un-individualized, for as they are perceived, they cannot be distinguished from one another. The party-goer, for example, might remember having arrived to the party, thoroughly enjoying it thereafter, but, perhaps, little more than either of these facts. A similar case may be found with the frenzied violence occurring in the background of ‘This is America,’ for before we can perceive what is happening, the scene has changed, and we must either replay the video or move on.

Compare the background of the video to its forefront. We have shocking murder scenes representing historical instances in recent times. In other words, the background literally becomes the forefront evermore intensely. The two murder scenes could be treated as moments when in the Dionysiac we are called to something more Appoline. What could satisfy our desire for order here? A call to be aware of violence in America? A call to be aware of the effect(s) it has upon Americans? A call to fight violence? Do we not desire peace in this otherwise chaotic and violent world? The call for the Appoline presupposes the Dionysiac, but I wonder if the same is true for vice versa

Nietzsche argues for how both the Dionysiac and the Apolline are necessary for one another. That way, neither are privileged. Where there is too much of one, unwanted events may occur, such as the violent murder scenes here, and artists often invite the other to take its place. Keep this idea in mind for part 2. In it, I will explore America’s typical answer to all of these questions and how this answer might itself be problematic.