The Tyger Extinguished: Film Arts Malaise
Paul Schrader, director and screenwriter of incendiary films and purveyor of abyssal Calvinist darkness, founded our great organization. He imposed, through this organ, some of his furious will on this staid campus. Blake’s Tyger is a worn and fanciful but appropriate avatar for the organization, considering its role in the history of the college as a site of agitation, its place not merely on the cutting edge but as the cutting edge, slicing through the cold congealed consensus that strangles Calvin College. Now the fire is out, the tiger no longer inspires fear, no longer bears the spears of the stars, no longer strides above the lake of fat in which we are all daily swimming.
I am the general secretary of the Film Arts Committee, at this point more like a coroner or the groundskeeper of a grave than a patriot in some great cause. This causes me some sorrow, but it is more a sobering reality than a nightmare to be confronted. In a Calvin College where the library shelves are lined with films of all kinds, where ubiquitous campus Internet floods hardcore pornography into darkened rooms (we can all have a laugh at the network censorship later), where a showing of A Clockwork Orange or Akira need only be prefaced with a polite disclaimer about their grotesque yet highly truthful and artistic content, there is no place for a burning Tyger. There is no point in trying to keep up Schrader’s legacy, since the nature of our organization is such that we can sway no one and barely raise an eyebrow from students.
Oh, sure, we delight in the occasional concerned letter we receive, which always pays due deference to discernment and all those other despicable pieties. Nonetheless, we are at a point where we can offend no one, can advance no cause, cannot be the straw that broke the camel’s back. That being the case, we can only entertain, give people a proper spectacle inaccessible on their puny laptop screens. Perhaps this is rank cynicism, but it is time to decide the fate of our organization. For those who love to retell old tales, and I confess to being one who fancies myths–see my above invocation of Schrader–we have enough reason to keep this funeral service running a few more years. After all, we have more than other student groups have, namely a proud history. And yet it does us no good, since no one outside our confines knows about it. Before my fiancée Jacqueline revived the group, it was in its grave. It remains there still, only now it has an audience.
What is the role of film as a medium at Calvin College? Should we not aspire to a nobler mission than showing films that appeal to vanishing minorities of people and entertaining them for a few hours a month? Is there no way we can escape from just being another “content provider,” an artsy wing of the Student Activities Office? I doubt that there is. A deep malaise has settled over Calvin College, and we are not immune. Stagnation is the order of the day, and we overburdened debt slaves work feverishly in our classes without the time or motivation or energy to care one whit about the fact that Calvin is decadent and static, much less to rectify the situation. Cinema is a powerful art form, hybrid and impure, popular and subversive all at once, charged with the ready familiarity of kitsch yet capable of a kind of transcendence. It is, in the words of Alain Badiou, “the last place populated by heroes” in a world of commercialized familiarity and smallness. Does that mean there is hope for us, that we can by the sheer power of the product we are offering, recover our dignity and relevance? Sadly, I think that the world of Calvin College is far too small and too commercialized and cold for even the greatest films to pierce.
I fear it will fall to another organization entirely to change this situation. Only a concentrated and determined effort by students to awaken and push away our dizzy complacency will make a difference. We need a real union of students, and perhaps it is in this slim chance that we can find hope for Film Arts. As a provider of respectable entertainment, a pleasant night out for slightly more motivated folks, we are useless. As one organ of a broader movement, we can, with some luck and a tremendous amount of work, galvanize this corpse.
Of course, to create such a movement at such a time, a real union of students that will work hard for change, is like wishing for rain in a desert. We might just be better off becoming the Calvin Circus Committee and learn to dance with a bear. I hear it’s the next big trend in what employers are looking for in students. Surely our résumés will be the talk of the human resources world. Healthy résumé, healthy person.
Hey, there’s an idea. If we want to be helpful and popular, just help people pad their résumés. Sell off administrative titles to raise money! Wait until budget cuts have claimed Chimes as well as Dialogue and start a semaphore club, sending letters to the editor via waving flags on rooftops. At least you can’t do that over the Internet yet.
In all seriousness, we could at least get a tiger mascot. Might be useful for gladiatorial games. Because, barring a miracle of human effort or divine intervention–and I am skeptical of both–we will not live to see our college’s lot improve.