an individual, organization, institution, etc., considered to be exempt from criticism or questioning.
I was discussing films on the cult labs forums the other day and at least a few people mentioned their dislike of Quentin Tarantino’s movies. The general consensus seemed to be that he really needs someone to edit his films ruthlessly and remove much of the extraneous content to make the films shorter and more ‘audience friendly’.
At first I felt like chipping in and defending Mr Tarantino’s films. I like his work and while he can be rather self-indulgent at times he’s always been one of those film-makers, like Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman or Paul Thomas Anderson, who can get away with being self-indulgent.
au·teur (-tûr, -t r) n. A film-maker, usually a director, who exercises creative control over his or her works and has a strong personal style.
Certainly his films can go on long scenes of pop-culture obsessed dialogue apropos of nothing and don’t serve to further plot or character development. That said its a major part of his style and while they may not serve any mechanical purpose to the plot they are enjoyable non-the-less and for me help to make his films distinct and unique.
I didn’t step in to the conversation this time however, as much as I wanted to defend his work the alternate views expressed by the other forum members were still valid and more so, it got me thinking about the notion of Sacred cows.
Not literal cows of course, living near the country-side I see many of the beasts on my walks. I never really felt they were sacred and I enjoy a bit of roast beef as well as the tasty burgers enjoyed by Samuel L. Jacksons character in Pulp Fiction. No its more the idea of things we hold to be unquestionable and not to be criticised or critically examined.
For Hindu’s the cow is a sacred animal, not to be eaten or abused. For a film fan there are certain directors who are instantly considered above reproach. Altman, Kubrick, Wilder, Kurosawa or Leone. But then surely art as a subjective medium should allow those who saw the work of any of the above directors and didn’t find them to be the classics mainstream opinion holds them to be? Certainly I know people who find Kubrick’s films too cerebral, cold and detached to be enjoyable. I myself caused some friction when I revealed myself to not be a fan of the French film-maker Jean-Pierre Jeunet and his collaborator Mark Caro. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Pierre_Jeunet
Certainly I appreciate that the films are well put together and look marvellous, but as the audience I simply found them shallow and unengaging. My point of view is probably in the minority but it’s still valid. Amelie, for instance, is considered a bona_fide classic but I found myself bored witless.
Equally, my dislike of Tarkovsky’s ‘masterpiece’ Solaris was also considered ‘odd’ by other film fans but I stick to my opinions in both cases. I simply don’t like them.
Personally I dislike the whole concept of sacred cows. I believe that as a free-thinking society we should never take anything we are told for granted. It’s not just art that has its sacred cows. They can be found in every part of life. This year we saw the death of Margaret Thatcher, to the left the idea of her as some sinister force of evil is a sacred cow while the right consider the idea of her as Britain’s greatest post-war leader to equally be a sacred cow. Personally I held with neither viewpoint. She did some good things in her time in office including curbing rampant inflation and constant strikes, she also bolstered our relationship with America greatly and stuck to her policy’s because she believed they were the right ones for our country. Given the current crop of popularity seekers we have in office now it seems somehow refreshing. On the other hand she opened up the country to a deeply dysfunctional form of capitalism that decayed our economy from within and made us far too reliant on financial services. She also let a huge subsection of people languish on the dole, creating the benefits culture we are trying to tackle today. Basically she laid the foundations for a lot of the problems we have today in this country. So while I didn’t celebrate her death like some, I did object to her state funeral which was far too expensive and seemed to serve more as a PR exercise for the current conservative administration than as a tribute to a former prime-minister.
For us westerners the greatest Sacred Cow is Democracy.
We hold democracy to be the greatest system of government there is. Churchill was right of course, as you only have to look at Communist, Fascist or any other dictatorial regime there is or has been to see how bad any of the alternatives we have developed can be. So why is Voter turnout so low?
In the previous decade there seems to have been a rise, but in the years preceding it there appears to have been a steady drop in the number of people actually turning out to vote. Voter apathy is a serious issue, one that both mainstream political parties seem content to ignore. Part of the problem is that the party political system has become somewhat dysfunctional. As costs of Elections rise the parties need to raise campaign funds from somewhere and big business has never been shy about coming forward with both cash and ‘volunteers’ working on campaigns for both parties. It’s not uncommon for some donors to offer cash to both parties, safe in the knowledge that whoever gets into power will probably owe them one. As a result we see politicians scared to make decisions for fear of offending these potential donors. With many of these influential businessmen also owning newspapers, even if the cash cannot buy influence the ability of the press to influence public opinion means our governments are too weak to take real meaningful action against corporate interests. In fact, with so much of the country’s assets moving into the private sector I find myself wondering why we even bother with government at all. The sad fact is as politics becomes a career and we find ourselves governed more and more by people who have never known any other career outside of politics, we find ourselves with a growing political class more beholden’t to the interests of the people who feed their campaign funds and the people who write about them in the press.
“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Winston Churchill.
The fact is, as a species we unfortunately seem to share a lot of traits with herd animals. Watch any discussion show on telly where the general public gets to air its views and just count the number of people who simply parrot the opinions they heard elsewhere on TV or in the papers. We live busy lives, so we don’t always have time to think as much as we should. As a result we trust in institutions like democracy a little too much. To preserve democracy, to keep it strong we need to continually scrutinize it, we need to keep asking if it’s still working and we need to take the advice of Ferris Beuller and stop to take a look around once in a while. As a sacred cow we take democracy for granted too much and the diseased state of our political system is a result of this.
I tend to scorn ideology, or at least the people who tend to stick rigidly to the ideology they subscribe to. Free market capitalists will tell you that it’s the best system there is, and for some markets this is true. However as a result they try to apply the model to every system with sometimes disastrous results. The best example of this right now is Michael Goves attempt to bring free market principals into education. The free school system he is keen on has already collapsed in Sweden with disastrous results..
I would argue there are certain things in this world that might not be built to make money. Education and Healthcare for example. I could be wrong, and certainly I bet there are plenty who would be keen to prove it. I’m just a natural skeptic. http://www.adamsmith.org/ The Adam Smith institute holds the book Wealth of nations as a sacred cow and tries to hold the principals espoused in the book as being the best way forward for mankind. To me they are no better than Marxists or Fascists. They are too tied to their sacred cows to be able to think freely.
I would say then, its best not to take anything for granted. If someone tells you a certain film maker is a genius, that the unemployed are all scroungers or that immigration is out of control, don’t just nod take the time to look into it and form your own opinions as free from ideological bias as possible. Perhaps it’s time to slaughter some of these sacred cows…