I screened Kubrick’s “Lolita” with three students after school Friday. Afterward, it got me thinking: In recent class discussions on Confucian self-cultivation, I’ve been predicting to my students that soon, due to the trajectory from Kardashians and Sopranos to meth dealers on Breaking Bad, Miley Cyrus twerking, and Lady Gaga wallowing in vomit, we can look forward to a drama in which the protagonist — protagonist, mind you — is a Serial Child Molester.
One has to keep looking for new ways to shock, after all, and to market all attempts to create the viral buzz and hype needed to herd the sheeple onto the latest “if you’re not watching you’re not hip” bandwagon. And since we’ve already done porn-moms, mobsters and meth dealers, our culture marketers can only seek deeper in the human sewer.
So something along the lines of the sympathetic child rapist seems inevitable.
But watching Lolita with my students made me think, “Damn. We’ve already done that. Nabokov and Kubrick did it with Lolita in the 1950s.” I’d probably not read or watch it now, even while knowing it was surely an excellent piece of literature, because other excellencies don’t require sewer-diving. (I passed on watching Breaking Bad, knowing full well my friends who said “It’s great” were probably right.)
The only TV dramas I do watch now are Chinese (though I plan to get into Korean as well). They avoid the sewers without damaging the drama, and I leave them feeling cleaner. One addictive taste (that happens, by the way, to open with my favorite Chinese emperor, Kangxi):
It makes me want to offer a course simply called, ironically, Counter-Culture. What would it teach? Culture before the money-grubbers selling to the lowest common denominator took humane culture down.