Sunday, November 06, 2005

A War We Can't Win, Inc.

I'm a bit addicted to Yahoo news blurbs _ the little headlines on their homepage. These outrageous teasers seem aimed at itinerant web surfers looking for cheap thrills. One link caught my eye this morning: "Tuberculosis likely influenced Orwell's '1984.'"

There is a distrust of high culture in A. mainstream journalism and B. the American middle class. In "high culture," I would include serious literature. The work of this Dr. Ross, while intriguing, when it's capsulized on this Yahoo site just feeds the above prejudices _ particularly of B. The way it's cast, it seems that many (or even all) great works of literature were written by the sickly, demented or insane (Shakespeare's syphilis?). The notion that something like "1984" could only be written when, this article suggests, Orwell was not in his right mind is disheartening. Of course, further down, a Stanford professor says that sickness was only a small part of Orwell's creative drive. But that is "further down."

I am leary of this kind of biographical study _ that of the "disease muse." I think it reinforces a negative stereotype that further marginalizes artists _ this time as "sick" and possibly "crazy." It drives the average American away from great literature by allowing them to bolster their laziness and suspicion. "I don't have to read 1984. I don't have to understand it. Orwell had TB. He was crazy."

[And what about this passage?
"In the 19th and early 20th century, tuberculosis -- also known as consumption -- often struck artists and authors who lived in crowded, germ-filled slums. In many cases, infected people slowly wasted away, giving the victims a romantic cast, as seen in the film 'Moulin Rouge.'"
A sneaking glimpse into the bald inner life of ace reporter Randy Dotinga?]

Our mainstream culture does not challenge our citizens intellectually _ that is a rhetorical statement of the first order. This article is a subtle attack on the creative impulse and a reinforcement of America's intellectual infantilism _ the reluctance to face painful feelings and questions. Yahoo provides many soothing entertainment alternatives on its home page.

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