There is a famous scene in the first Matrix movie where Neo is going to meet the Oracle and he sits in her waiting room/apartment. As he sets he speaks with a few children who might be the One as they practice One type activities. A little boy is bending and unbending a metal spoon apparently telepathically. When Neo inquires as to how he is able to do this he says(I'm paraphrasing)
"I'm not bending the spoon. There is no spoon."
In the context of the Matrix the young man is giving Neo a piece of wisdom. The entire Matrix is a false construct so there is no spoon. No apartment, no cities, no agents. No limitations. The only limits to Neo's abilities exist in his own mind.
This crossed my mind as I thought about Todd Phillips this week.
Mr. Phillips is the director of the new film Joker. Previously he had made his bones directing ribald if not outright risque comedies like The Hangover and Old School. He said in an interview that he was glad to be leaving comedy behind because "Woke culture has ruined comedy." He seemed to be insinuating that the new , activist audience made it impossible to truly push boundaries in comedy. Now Mr. Phillips isnt' the first person to state this opinion but he is the first one to my knowledge to sight it as his reason for tucking tail and running.
This comment made me think about the limits or lack there of in writing and art. I write crime and mystery stories. My stories tend to be violent bloody affairs. I like to say it's not an S.A. Cosby story unless someone is getting cracked in the face by a wrench. However I've never felt there was an arbitrary barrier to my creativity like the Monty Python Spanish Inquisition busting into my writing room and slapping me with a pendulum when I write about skewering someones eye with a hat pin like a gum drop.
There seems to be this new pervasive attitude that is permeating popular culture that because someone complains, calls you out or comments on something in your book or movie or stand up routine you ability to create art has been stifled. You freedom of speech is falling under the jackboots of SWJ's and snowflakes.
Bovine fecal matter.
Let's return to Mr. Phillips for a moment.
He said that comedy is dying yadda yadda yadda. Really...?
I watched the new Patton Oswalt stand up special where Mr. Oswalt minded humor out of the tragic death of his wife and the attempts of he and his daughter to deal with their grief. Not only is the joke side splittingly funny (google Polish Women Of Doom) but it is also bitterweet and heartwarming.
Is there anything darker , more sensitive than the death of one's spouse? Yet Mr. Oswalt is able to find the humor in the grief process. He, as my mother used to say, laugh to keep from crying.
Now why can't Mr. Phillips find a way to mine a similarly dark area for humor? I don't know. Far be it be for me to say he isn't talented as Mr. Owsalt. But maybe , just maybe he isn't as driven. Because squeezing a laugh out of death is hard freaking work.
But I can hear someone saying right now..
"Yeah but I bet some snowflake out there is offended by Patton's joke and went to tweet about it on the Internet blah blah blah."
That's okay. In fact that's more than okay. It's actually a good thing.
When I was a kid I use to watch old black and white movies on our local stations late night movie showcase. In some of these movies black actors were depicted as overly superstitious , cowardly , stupid and untrustworthy. Black people in the forties and fifties didn't have an appropriate outlet to express their displeasure with such depictions. But now they do So do women. So do LGBTQ individuals. So do many other marginalized people.
If you want to write about controversial subjects go right ahead. If you want to use racial epithets in your work have at it. The First Amendment guarantees your right to do so. It also guarantees everyone else the right to comment on it.
When I hear people like Todd Phillips or Shane Gillis or Sarah Silverman or Quentin Tarantino or S.Craing Zahler or Lil Duval or Dave Chappelle or Dan Mallory or anyone else complain that people are too sensitive nowadays or that people are trying to make certain subjects or words off limits all I hear is.
"I want to say whatever rude crude maybe insensitive possibly racist misogynistic homophobic thing that pops in my mind and I'm too much of a gossamer skinned cotton candy boned baby to take the back lash."
There is no goddamn spoon. There are literally no limits on what you can say in pursuit of your art and your version of your truth. There are however consequences and repercussions. But until the day that someone comes to drag you off stage like Lenny Bruce or put you in jail like Oscar Wilde save your complaints. A little social media condemnation isn't the same as being in prison for saying words.
Speak your truth even if your voice quakes. Then be man ,woman or person enough to deal with the consequences. Art is not for the weak of heart.
There is no spoon......
Now if you excuse me I have to go finish a chapter where someone gets beaten to death with a shovel.......