My Equivocation about Critics

Though a concern, likely far off into the horizon; the specter of self-regarding critics haunts me every time, I see a hatchet job by a  third-rate mind or a self-serving heart on a work. The self-serving heart is almost certain if the critic is also an author or has an ideological ax to grind. There is something unbecoming about the self-anointed, who exalt themselves on the Moses seat of whatever discipline they deign themselves Supreme Court justice. In the Christian milieu, moral opprobrium and stridency of personal conviction will be conveyed through the most subtle and tactfully polite put down. It is almost European.

However, we cannot be without our critics. The necessity for them became evident when my wife and I went across the Ottawa River into Hull, Quebec in 1981 to see the movie Caligula. I love all things historical. Although I would despise living in that society; all things Roman piques my intellectual interest and forms the historical panoply upon which many of my seminal ideological themes have been formed. And the cast of that ‘historical’ saga included a who’s who of British thespians; Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole, John Gielgud, Helen Mirren.

In those days, Ontario still retained a censorship counsel that often resulted in banning the showing of certain films or the deletion of scenes not considered suitable for wide scale viewing. Quebec lacked those provisions. Having just moved into Ottawa the prior year, this was not known to us. I did not consider looking at the movie reviews.

In a late summer’s evening, we are lined up in a long queue outside a suburban movie house. My wife is about 7 or 8 months pregnant and evidently showing. The man in front of us just looks at my wife’s bulge and at me with the most curious glance and gaze. I don’t comprehend.

When we enter the theater, I volunteer to obtain the snacks while Annie seats herself in the crowded auditorium. The line up is long and the movie has begun and I am getting anxious at missing the beginning. I slip out from the back of the line to view through the window slit into the theater to see the screen start with a quote from Scripture “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” I am licking my chops with anticipation.

I finally get to seat with popcorn and pop, having missed about five minutes. I recall my Suetonius (“The Twelve Emperors”) as it depicts salacious scenes with Emperor Tiberius at his Capri resort or the incident where a soldier is punished, by tying up his member while they pour wine down his gullet and then release it through a slashed stomach.

However, I wasn’t prepared for the five or ten minutes of hardcore orgy scene, which we sat through, more dumbstruck than disgusted. Again, Suetonius speaks of such scenes and thus being historically accurate, we didn’t yet budge from our seats. My problem is that as much as it was lurid and lewd, it was also true. Recalling my Suetonius, I didn’t anticipate an equivalent repeat. Nevertheless, when Caligula led away fellow mail teen-age heir to the throne, Gemellus, presumably for a tryst; we just knew that it wasn’t going to get much better.

Recently married, somewhat green, my mind is haunted in and out of dreams for the next week. I begin to fathom the prurient curiosity behind that most peculiar glance and gaze from the man in the queue in front of us.

Needless to say, I, henceforth, always checked movie reviews.

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