For a great many years, self-proclaimed critics have delighted in whining about the decline of our collective morality. They say that our culture and civilization is ever more rapidly spiraling towards the depths of history's latrine, and that our only chance for salvation is to heed the call of a few enlightened observers with the foresight to smell what lies before us. The truth is that half the people you meet are "enlightened observers," and that these prophecies of moral doom are based on a major logical fallacy.
Charles C. Savage tells us such a tale of imminent doom in his article "A Society Unraveling in Film" (signed piece, Feb. 11, 1995). Mr. Savage describes for us the now-legendary scene from Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs in which "Mr. Blonde" brutally tortures a kidnapped police officer to the beat of a catchy tune. This serves as evidence for the "decivilizing," "lifestyle of chaos" and "shattering of our cultural barometer" that lie before us. Let's suppose that Savage is correct that we as a society are losing our sense of right and wrong. If that were the case then Mr. Blonde's horrific torturing would not be so disturbing. We would look at it and say, "That sounds about right. In fact, I was thinking about doing some torturing myself."
While I don't doubt that somewhere in America a crowd of rowdy teenagers cheered at Mr. Blonde's torture (in much the same way that past generation cheered at the success of Hollywood's great train robbers) or that people may laugh (usually) out of (discomfort) at something horrible, Tarantino's movie is so effective precisely because it strikes at the core of our moral sense. Not only is the success of this film not evidence that we are losing our sense of morality, it is strong evidence to the contrary.
Savage argues that the critical acclaim received by Reservoir Dogs and other violent films indicates just how far into the core of our society this moral nihilism has reached. It is hard to believe that someone could be so naive as to think that a "thumbs up" for a violent film is equivalent to a "thumbs up" for violence. But that seems to be his argument. He further suggests that the deleteriousness of today's "cutting edge" films is advanced by the fact that "there are no 'good guys,' no right side to root for." This is called film noir, and it's nothing new. There doesn't have to be a "good guy" for a film to be good, and the posters on the walls of college dormitories to which Savage points just might be in appreciation of a good piece of art, not an endorsement of violence.
But Savage's article is not about film, it's about the decay of our morals as a society, a decay which every mouth with a microphone south of Howard Stern so "astutely" recognizes. If moral bankruptcy is so widespread, then why is everyone so concerned about the state of our morals?
Of course, one might argue that we as a nation are now divided into two groups: the morally devastated Mr. Blondes and the upstanding "Forest," but I don't think that's very likely. The America that sat on the edge of its seat as Mr. Blonde danced, blade in hand, is the same America that cheered Forest on from victory to victory. Perhaps our nation is going to the dogs after all, but a moment's reflection reveals that there's no evidence to be found in Tarantino's brand of canine. Joshua D. Greene '96