With the dollar low, debt high, terror everywhere and freedom nowhere; anxiety isn’t hard to come by and even harder to escape. Most of the anxieties are the work of a political and cultural elite that likes to think that it is best fit to govern, when it is actually every bit as inept as the worst Ottoman and Imperial Chinese bureaucracies. It is especially dangerous to speak out against inept elites, because the inept kind are also the most insecure. Instead the anxieties must be sublimated, spoken of only in fantasy critiques of inept governments, corrupt cities, rampaging invaders and bold criminals who can only be restrained by assertive individuals.
Art is more than aesthetics, it is the stories that a culture tells itself, it is the loves and hates, the hopes and fears, the bright dashes of color and the oppressive tones of shadow, it is the note that lifts and then sinks reenacting the drama of life. It is the space where even the unspoken things can be spoken indirectly. It is a place where hunters slay fell beasts, maidens drown themselves for love and where the tribe reminds itself of its strengths and fears. It is a place of many lies concealing a few dangerous truths. The dangerous truth that our culture’s art conceals and reveals is the truth that we are at war.
H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds begins by drawing a picture of a complacent world of men who give little thought of what might be out there, who pay no attention to the “envious eyes” of the invaders that “slowly and surely drew their plans against us”. We are aware and unaware of being at war, of passing men and women on the street who are slowly and surely drawing up their own plans against us. In the movie theater, we revisit that terrible knowledge that we are engaged in a war with no natural end under a hundred disguises. We recreate September 11 in our ten-dollar nickelodeons every summer and look to the sky. But it isn’t aliens we are watching for. It’s planes.