“But to the critic to whom art is important, sacred, and, ultimately, coextensive with life itself, to produce bad art and to condone it – and thereby give rise to further bad art and finally drive out the good – are the two most heinously dangerous sins imaginable.”
– John Simon
“Miss Shepherd is a model (though how, with that dubious figure, I can’t imagine) whose face Bogdanovich found on a teen-age magazine cover. Although her face is absolutely right for Jacy, nothing else is.”
– John Simon
I love the first quote, which nestles in my cantankerous soul. The second one appalls me. Both are from the same person. I read something recently, essentially “If you want to understand me, read everything I’ve ever written.” (I don’t know the author, but the phrase and its variants are common.) I’ve read most of what Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert published; also Jonathan Franzen. Restless, irritable minds; worth the effort to understand. I don’t yet know John Simon, but I’m working on it.
I’m concerned that modern media, shaped as it is by the Internet, is destroying our ability to know or be known. Although certainly we know more about one another superficially. A famous athlete reveals herself as transgender, and millions spew reactions, and react to each others’ reactions. Critics write quickly because their employers need clicks to sell ads. We don’t like the system (“the media”) but it’s the one we asked for (free, ad-supported.) “Going viral” is considered a good thing, although most viral content really is the electronic equivalent of the flu.
The first of my John Simon quotes wouldn’t play on today’s Internet: too many multi-syllabic words, and it argues a point of view that Roger Ebert’s thumb helped destroy. The second one, on the other hand… Juicy. A personal attack, based on a subjective reaction to something superficial, which touches on one of our Big Topics: Sex, Class, Race, Patriotism. That’s gold. That shit could go viral.
The first quote is the one that deserves to last; the second is an unfortunate choice that could have been re-worded to get the same point across (Cybill Shepherd’s limited acting ability hurt her performance in The Last Picture Show.) But today’s media (aka “all of us”) would ignore the first and bat the second around like a kitten toying with a mouse. We’d keep it alive as long as the prey showed signs of resistance, or until something more entertaining came along. We wouldn’t learn anything about John Simon though.
To be certain, we’re talking about stuff that should be talked about (Sex, Class, Race, Patriotism), and modern media has helped raise awareness and speed along social changes. Those are good things. And maybe there’s no way to change our society this quickly without flash fires and the instant, furious debate that disappears the second something else comes along.
To get back to John Simon, there’s a lot more to him than the hateful superficiality in that second quote. There’s more to all of us, if anybody’s willing to pay attention.