In the inaugural piece for her new GQ series “The New Canon,” Natasha Vargas-Cooper writes the following:
Whether reverence for movies from a bygone era is rooted in merit, nostalgia, or neurosis about film being an inferior medium to literature, movies keep pace with social mores of a time and deserve to be free of the tastes and prejudices of people who grew up without Quentin Tarantino.
Am I crazy, or is Vargas-Cooper completely full of incoherent shit? I really want to know! Every time I reread the intro section of her article, I question my sanity a little more. Is it an elaborate prank? Is she trolling her readers? Or does she really believe that “any movie made before, say, 1986 has received its due respect”? Is she just trying to flatter the ignorance of her audience? Or is she trying to look edgy and populist in a way that, as Glenn Kenny rightly points out, is about half a century behind the times?
Mind you, I’m just addressing the article’s first five paragraphs and their philistine manifesto. The rest of the piece, discussing Terminator 2, is pleasantly written and generally inoffensive, hardly appropriate for the first skirmish in a culture war. Where are the bold claims and aesthetic gambits suggested by her introductory bravado? She really just echoes what everybody’s been saying about T2 since it was released two decades ago. Could it be that she’s all bark, no bite? Or that she has no idea what the hell she’s talking about?
Take a sentiment like this: “[I]t’s an obligation that every generation must take upon itself in order for art to thrive: tear down what’s come before and hail our own accomplishments as good enough. Otherwise we exist in a sort of dead time, retreating back to the nostalgic and sacrosanct.” Why, it’s like she took a handful of somewhat iconoclastic ideas, then mashed them together without worrying about whether or not they made any kind of sense!
Because yes: it is good to question received wisdom. (Duh.) But no, it’s not good to “hail our own accomplishments as good enough”—i.e., settle for mediocrity. This seems obvious. Is this obvious? I mean, why would any person with a modicum of critical thinking skills ever want to trash everything that came before the past 25 years, let alone use that desire as a battle cry in a GQ article? (And on what planet does being open-minded cause us to exist in a “dead time”?)
I could go on and on about Vargas-Cooper’s ridiculous bullshit—her reference to nonexistent “purists” who refuse to discuss Paul Thomas Anderson; her framing of the series as a wacky but noble experiment; her apparently belief that militant anti-intellectualism and blatant ageism are radical ideas—but I’d be wasting my breath. The point is that we have enough blind spots as it is; we don’t need to validate them! And for Natasha Vargas-Cooper, the lesson is that you can slaughter sacred cows without slaughtering your own credibility.