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Bewildering Stories

John Hawfield writes about...

The Cultureless Society

Don, good morning!

So I finally found a film which I’ve been looking for, on DVD, called The Man Who Laughs, based on the Victor Hugo book. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s an old silent film starring Conrad Veidt (1928 — nine years after he made The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) where he plays a nobleman’s son that is abducted by a political enemy, who has a “surgeon” carve this monstrous, demonic smile on his face (imagine the Joker circa Ceasar Romero — only wider and showing perfect teeth) turning him into a freak. Good stuff, eh?

So I’m recommending this film to a couple of college kids that work with me (my two-man crew) and talking about how cool the images are in it. Then you have the whole metaphor of the laughing man. And wouldn’t you know it, they couldn’t get past the fact it was a silent movie and how “stupid” silent movies were.

Hmmm — stupid, huh? Well that negates all of my Fritz Lang movies (like Metropolis, Spies and even M — though not silent it came out of that period), the Murnau movies (Nosferatu and Faust) are no longer scary, even his film The Last Laugh, which is probably the most important of the German expressionist films, is just a load of crap.

Anyway, my point is that these films are vital to the history of film. If one can’t enjoy them for their story-telling through the use of images (and at times over-acting), then at least appreciate and study them for their history.

Which brings me to what is really gnawing at my behind. Remember one of the guys I was telling you about from our little writers’ get-together? The one that didn’t know who Kafka was? Yeah, that guy. Well, he has also stated that he doesn’t read any of the old writers (or masters) because they are no longer valid in today’s world and that furthermore writers do not need to study what they did. This is also the same guy that believes that there are no rules what-so-ever to writing and that everyone should just write to please the audience.

Now this is coming from a guy who has never been published, never taken a creative writing class, has only been “writing” for about six months, and rejects any bit of advice on how to phrase things within his story. Hmmm —

Well of course he self-publishes a vampire novel (which I’ve seen. It’s the most cliché’d crap you’ll ever read and poorly written at the same time) that is available as print on demand and I guess off of Amazon. So now, he is now a “true” writer since two people were dumb enough to buy a copy. He’s actually holding a seven-hour book signing at a local café.

This trend of self-publishing is insane! Who is to say it’s worth being published? And what next, self-proclaimed doctors? (oops — we have them already: Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura...)

Are you wondering what the hell I’m running on about, yet?

I guess my point is that most people in this country (especially the younger generation coming up now) just don’t appreciate art and beauty and are so self-gratification oriented that they are unwilling to put in the time it takes to “pay your dues.” You have an audience for film that prefers their images to be explosions and a batch of writers that don’t believe images belong in writing at all. Everything has to be a simple, declarative sentence.

It’s a bloody McDonald’s society: everything has had the nutrients processed out of it, and we are told that it is good — so it is.

Take care,


The Man Who Laughs (or “The Laughing Man”) is reminiscent of the name of a popular French cheese, La Vache qui rit (“The Laughing Cow”). Does the story have anything to do with Edward Stanford’s “Crafting a Smile” in issue 193?

Anti-intellectualism is one of the most enduring American traditions, hence the attitude of the co-workers you cite. It’s closely allied with another tradition: making a fast buck, as well as with an itinerant institution: the “snake oil salesman,” who plays a role in the opening of The Wizard of Oz. Hence the unlettered vampire novelist who wants to write without reading: he’s a self-proclaimed charlatan who doesn’t even realize he is one.

Your screed, John, echoes in its own way Jerry Wright’s editorials decrying the sorry state of education. But why even bother to denounce these phenomena? Aren’t they self-evidently self-destructive? Well, no: if they were, we wouldn’t be talking about them; they pay off — in the short run.

The short run is living from one paycheck or “bottom line” to another. It has to be done, but if that’s where it stops, what happens to progress? Improvement and innovation require research and development: in a word, education. That’s what pays off in the long run, but it takes a serious investment of time, effort and resources. Some people can’t make it, and we can sympathize with them. However, some can make an effort but won’t; that’s very hard to understand.

Hang in there, John, and don’t take any wooden nickels.


Copyright © 2006 by John Hawfield
and Bewildering Stories

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