The Argument

Little coffee shop, upstairs nook
With good pastries, good company, good books,
Rich conversation, literary dictation.
One friend’s dissertation
Just published—her own treatise—
Her girlfriend’s a genius:
Smartest couple I’ve ever known
And literature is our creed,
So we sit here and read.

The other guy is alone:
This man’s just approached us out of nowhere
Oblivious to our recalcitrant glares
And he swoops in now, leading
With an unfunny comment on the book I’m reading.

Reluctant introductions: I’m struck by his daring—
If that’s what you can call unabashed staring—
But as he sits
I admit
I’m suddenly wary
‘Cause I notice the front of the shirt that he’s wearing:
Some TV show merch he’s proudly bearing.
He points to the book I’m carrying,
And when he says, “I love that show!”
I confess some enmity starts to grow—
And internally I start swearing
When he says, “Haven’t read the book, though.”

Conversation is initially slow and half-hearted
But it’s not long before he gets started:
“I think books are boring. Just my opinion…”
He opines as he surveys his dominion,
Following some unsexy,
Erudite comment made by me.

Not a good start, I think,
You’re already too close to the brink,
And across the table, my friend stares at me,
Silently begs me, Easy….
A telepathic warning that I am ignoring.
Still, I resist the urge to ask if directors reading
Movie scripts before forming
Summer blockbuster masterpieces that he so greatly adores,
Is just as much of a terrible bore.

The food is delicious, and he, while settling into his seat,
Boorishly sits and eats
As my two friends, slightly bitterly
Hold court on some anachronistic aspect of literary history,
When this guy suddenly insists,
“But those are all old-fashioned stories!
Books are just too out-of-date
To compete with modern cinema in this day and age.”

My friend throws me a glance.
She, like her partner, knows there’s a chance
I’ll be off on one of my rare but fun rants,
but I shan’t;
My lips are sealed;
I just want to enjoy the meal.
And although this guy is starting to get my goat,
I have no intention of rocking the boat.
Although it’s becoming a little bit tougher,
Because, since he’s invaded our conversation,
He has no idea how he’s making me suffer.

“Printed books are a thing of antiquity,
Just snooty authors self-righteously
Ignoring digital media—it’s practically regression
Compared to cinematic expression.
I don’t understand it one bit.
I think it’s time we all should commit
To progressive, modern alternatives.”

And try as I might,
I cannot retract my claws from this fight.
“By definition,” I begin,
“Classic literature,” I continue,
“Is widely acknowledged to have qualities that endure—
These are all-time literary masterpieces; their places are secure
In history.”

“So you don’t believe in the value of any movies?”

“On the contrary, actually;
I’ve seen many movies
I think are masterpieces:
Those films that have stayed in my memory,
The cinema that’s been acclaimed critically.
They’ve got great stories, music, characters.
And their impacts? Morals? Such takeaways!
But still my interest turns sour
By the end of two hours.”

The debate briefly abates
As we clean up our plates.
But as he continues to flirt,
He smugly asserts:
“Shakespeare said it first:
‘Our battle is better than yours, our men more perfect.’
Visually, films help us better explore morality—
On-screen portrayals of life and reality.
How can Dickens explain all that?
Hemingway? Edgar Allan Poe?”

I’m becoming aware
That I’m staring,
I’m completely flummoxed, from bottom to top—
It takes all of my effort for my jaw to not drop.
Maybe it’s the Henry the Fourth he misquothed
Or I’ve reached the limit of times I can scoff,
But I’m seething with impatience
And the asshole within my conscience
Cannot be silenced.

“Look, uh, pal, sorry, I don’t mean to bore you,
But listen to me, I implore you.
Reading books is not like hearing lines ,
On TV, or in movies, or even stage lines.
There’s a reason books still last,
Despite your preference for a plot more fast.
Plus, even the worst films can assuage haughty critics
Who exaggerate artistry for box office analytics.

“By the way,
Why do we think it’s okay
To change the characters from what the author said
And make them Hollywood glamorous instead?
Trying to up profits with banal sex appeal
And create a warped version of the American ideal?
I think that’s fundamentally sick.
Do we need to clarify here that it’s all just an editing trick?

“What are we, fuckin’ six?
Do we actually think that people look like this?
Do we believe there are still real Gorillas in the Mist?
That virtual Na’vi shared a genuine kiss?
Are we still so stunned by flashy graphics
That we’re accustomed to static
Stories for the sake
Of scenes frenetic?”

Still, to his credit, despite my derision,
He keeps firing off clichés with relentless precision,
Like a sniper using nonsense for ammunition.

“You’re so sure of your position, but you’re just close-minded.
I think you’ll find that your trust
In archaic texts
Is just as naive as the trust
Of medieval scientists.”

“Wow. That’s a good point. Let me think for a bit.
Oh wait, my mistake. That’s absolute bullshit.

“Literature adjusts its subjects from the time it’s written:
We still read Chaucer but don’t reside in fourteenth-century Britain.
If you can prove that all literature is null, then I will change my mind.
I will spin on a fucking dime.
I’ll be embarrassed as hell,
But I will run through the streets yelling,
‘That’s enough! Take literature and burn it!
Books are irrelevant!
And though their memory
Is oft recreated in a film adaptation
We somehow forget that small affectation!’

“You show me that it’s all a waste of time,
And once I’ve realized the error of my ways,
I will fuckin’ prostrate myself on Eadweard Muybridge’s grave.”

Everyone’s just staring now,
but I’m pretty pissed and I’ve dug this far down,
So I figure, in for penny, in for a pound.

“Knowledge comes in many forms, yeah,
But only in active pursuit.
So it won’t be found
By people sitting around
Their TV sets
Losing their wits
Wholly and slowly,
Saying, ‘Toss me the remote!
If we watch this show
Surely brain cells will grow!’

“If you must watch movies, you should watch The Lion King.
That movie is so great
Because it’s based upon a 400-year-old play—
Still popular to this day—
Based in turn on a saga from 1200 A.D.
And future adaptations of the tale are very likely.
Because throughout history
There’s no mystery
Of why
Some tales turn out to be
Eternal.

“Does the idea that books might be knowledge frighten you?
Does the idea that one afternoon flipping through pages might enlighten you frighten you?
Does the notion that there might be better stories than films so blow your illiterate noodle
That you’d rather just sit there and blather on with staunch disapproval?

“Aren’t these enough?

“Just these words?

“Just these
Beautiful, complex, wonderfully imaginative, written words?

“How do they so fail to hold our attention
That we have to diminish them with such conventions
As bad dialogue, sex, and explosions?

“If you’re so into your Shakespeare, lend me your ear:
‘Study is like the heaven’s glorious sun,
That will not be deep-searched with saucy looks;
Small have continual plodders ever won
Save fuckin’ ruining beloved books.’
Or something like that.

“Or what about Ebert?
‘Movies are the windows
Within walls.’
And fine, if you wish to glorify Abrams and Michael Bay
In an obsequious, hipster, bottled-up and labeled kind of way,
Then, whatever, that’s okay.

“But here’s what gets me going:
I am a transient, inconsequential, mortal human being.
I have one life, and it is short and unimportant.
But thanks to all the books published through the ages,
I get to live within the pages
Written by the greatest minds of every generation.

“
Pages of meticulous lines,
Pages of plot and theme and prose and rhyme,
Pages offering insight into all of time—
Instead of arguments with hipsters who’d rather stifle
Every word ever printed since the Gutenberg Bible.

“So if perchance I have offended,
Think but this and all is mended:
We’d as well be ten minutes back in time
For all the chance you’ll change your mind.”

[Everyone, go watch Tim Minchin’s “Storm,” upon which this poem was based and structured.]

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