Waking up, grabbing my phone, and seeing a half dozen unread emails is one of the easiest ways to get my anxiety rolling. One of the only things that will put me in panic mode quicker is seeing tons of Twitter notifications blinking on my phone, post-nap. My first thought is always, "oh god, what have a tweeted that's pissed someone off now...". Well a few days ago, I was met with that panic after one of my mid-day naps, but it wasn't me that the Twitter-verse was after.
With the release of the movie, "Us", came tons of think pieces - the keyboard philosophers sure had plenty to say about it. I saw the movie on Saturday, and had to spend a couple days thinking about all of the concepts Jordan Peele explored so intricately, and so brilliantly. I'm still thinking about the symbols in that film, as a matter of fact. You'll never hear me say that I'm too smart for anything - art is all about interpretation, and the best art (in my opinion) takes a while to fully digest, as was the case for "Us". Not everyone thinks that way, though. Someone I follow on Twitter (whose name I've redacted) said the following:
...and this is where the tweet storm came in. This tweet got hundreds of likes, and its fair share of "unlikes", as well, including several tweets that mentioned my name. I guess the phrase "Beethoven's symphonic algorithm" made a few people think of me, and I was asked to jump into the ring of discussion. As much as I do my best to stay out of social media drama and nonsense, I was compelled to throw in my two cents into a now very LONG Twitter thread:
The initial tweeter didn't use the word "formalism" at all, as you can see, but the idea that art is intrinsically over someone's head has, in itself, been a significant trope in Russian classical music. The Soviet leadership wanted to make sure that all art was for the people. It seems fairly innocent, and maybe even equitable on the surface, but composers who wrote music that the government deemed over most people's heads, or "formalist", were publicly denounced, and sometimes even punished! I found this article if you're interested in reading more about the Soviet fight against musical formalism.
All in all, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and I'm not going to sit here and say that the guy who compared Jordan Peele's "Us" to the complicated nature of Beethoven's music is right or wrong. I WILL say, though, that Beethoven's music is remembered and revered because it was personal - the only algorithm really at play was his life experience, and how that came through his art. We have to maintain that same energy when we consider the depth of contemporary art, INCLUDING featured films. Defining a movie, a piece of music, a book, or anything as "[not] meant to be enjoyed by all" is dangerously close to Soviet's battle against what they saw as formalism - let's let the past teach us about the present.
It's very interesting that a film with people dressed in RED, and a conversation surrounding it, made me think of Soviet Russia (remember learning about the "Red Scare"?) If you haven't seen "Us", I highly recommend it. Here's an excerpt from the film's score that instantly grabbed my attention in the theater: