I have been doing a lot of mulling lately over a particular question of the vision of The Philistine: why, with the mountain of culture artifacts growing higher each day, do we spend so much time sifting through the debris of the past? This is not a question that has been asked of me by other people, so I suppose it isn’t like people are clamoring for an answer, but I have still been turning it over in my mind. Most pop culture sites deal with the work of the moment – likely because that will garner the most views and keep things most relevant. While we certainly do not ignore things present, they tend to take a backseat to our remembrance of things past. So, in keeping with our habit of giving you things you haven’t asked for, I proudly present: a defense of reviewing old things.
There is of course a practical side to all this delving into the past. Contrary to popular opinion, none of us here at the Philistine are independently wealthy (or even dependently wealthy). We don’t get free advanced copies of things to review. Accordingly, we are stuck doing what we can. Most of the time I cannot make it out to movies when they premiere. I would love to review new episodes of current TV shows as soon as they air, but I don’t even have TV (and not because I’m one of those obnoxious faux-intellectual hipsters who’s all like, “TV IS MIND CONTROL”. I would love to have my mind controlled by television, I just can’t afford it.) So, I rely on retrieving older things: shows on Netflix, books from the library, and the like.
But beyond mere monetary concerns (what do you think we are, Philistines?) I think there are sound, defensible reasons for doing so much cultural salvaging. First of all, the sheer volume of cultural artifacts produced in just the last century is simply staggering. With the increased leisure time brought about by technology, more and more people have turned their hands to producing art (or, so often, pseudo-art) in its various forms. From a pseudo-scientific, producer based mentality this is wonderful, as everyone needs to release the artist inside themselves blah blah blah. But as a consumer it can be a tad overwhelming, to say the least. So one function of the Philistine is to act as tour guide for you, our loyal audience. It can be very hard to know, swimming in a vast sea of culture, what is worth holding on to and what will be swept away by time’s tide, flotsam and jetsam destined for history’s bonfire. No one can be an exhaustive guide to all culture, but we strive to point things out that are worthy of your time and attention, both things good and things hilariously, transformatively bad. I for one have been very enlightened by the various pieces written by my fellow authors, from David’s lists of under the radar movies to Peter’s numerous reviews of contemporary books.
Even more than being mere tour guides, we at the Philistine take seriously the idea that, as Christians, we are to act as stewards of creation; this charge certainly includes taking care of, or curating, man-made culture. In this sense our very real job is simply to love beautiful, worthwhile things, and share that love with you. This doesn’t sound very practical, and of course it isn’t. But the gospel doesn’t operate on logistics and calculations; at its very center lies an act of immense foolhardiness and impracticality, the incarnation. It is enough for us to cherish works of value and to speak our love to the world, even if no one is listening. As Robert Capon says in The Supper of the Lamb, which may as well be The Erstwhile Philistine’s charter document:
[The world] needs all the lovers— amateurs—it can get. It is a gorgeous old place, full of clownish graces and beautiful drolleries, and it has enough textures, tastes, and smells to keep us intrigued for more time than we have. Unfortunately, however, our response to its loveliness is not always delight: It is, far more often than it should be, boredom. And that is not only odd, it is tragic; for boredom is not neutral—it is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness.
In such a situation, the amateur—the lover, the man who thinks heedlessness a sin and boredom a heresy—is just the man you need. More than that, whether you think you need him or not, he is a man who is bound, by his love, to speak. If he loves Wisdom or the Arts, so much the better for him and for all of us. But if he loves only the way meat browns or onions peel, if he delights simply in the curds of his cheese or the color of his wine, he is, by every one of those enthusiasms, commanded to speak. A silent lover is one who doesn’t know his job.
The real world… is indeed the mother of loveliness, the womb and matrix in which it is conceived and nurtured; but the loving eye which he celebrates is the father of it. The graces of the world are the looks of a woman in love; without the woman they could not be there at all; but without her lover, they would not quicken into loveliness.
There, then, is the role of the amateur: to look the world back to grace. There, too, is the necessity of his work: His tribe must be in short supply; his job has gone begging. The world looks as if it has been left in the custody of a pack of trolls. Indeed, the whole distinction between art and trash, between food and garbage, depends on the presence or absence of the loving eye. Turn a statue over to a boor, and his boredom will break it to bits—witness the ruined monuments of antiquity. On the other hand, turn a shack over to a lover; for all its poverty, its lights and shadows warm a little, and its numbed surfaces prickle with feeling.
Or, conclusively, peel an orange. Do it lovingly—in perfect quarters like little boats, or in staggered exfoliations like a flat map of the round world, or in one long spiral, as my grandfather used to do. Nothing is more likely to become garbage than orange rind; but for as long as anyone looks at it in delight, it stands a million triumphant miles from the trash heap.
That, you know, is why the world exists at all. It remains outside the cosmic garbage can of nothingness, not because it is such a solemn necessity that nobody can get rid of it, but because it is the orange peel hung on God’s chandelier, the wishbone in His kitchen closet. He likes it; therefore, it stays. The whole marvelous collection of stones, skins, feathers, and string exists because at least one lover has never quite taken His eye off it, because the Dominus vivificans has his delight with the sons of men.
Enjoy the graces of the world, whether they be new or old. Love that which is lovely, redeem that which is not, but ignore the boring stuff. That is our goal. We are dumpster divers questing for hidden treasure. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.