Sunset essays

In the pilot, Matt and Danny are recruited to run the late-night live sketch-comedy show they had previously quit four years earlier after their mentor Wes Mendell (Hirsch) goes on air with a hastily improvised screed clearly modeled after Peter Finch’s famous freak-out in Network. The tirade has a distinctly ersatz, greatest-hits feel to it. It’s telling that three decades after Finch was mad as hell/not taking it anymore we’re still whining about the same old bullshit Finch was railing against. Having Hirsh yowl the line, “That remote in your hand is a crack pipe” illustrates how little we have evolved since Network , both in terms of the depths to which our culture has fallen and the language we employ to document its decline.

In the mid-18th century, the philosopher Edmund Burke hypothesised a connection between aesthetics and fear. In a similar vein, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke proclaimed: ‘beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror’. To put this association to the test, I, together with Kendall Eskine and Natalie Kacinik, psychologists at CUNY, recently conducted another experiment. First, we scared a subset of our respondents by showing them a startling film in which a zombie jumps out on a seemingly peaceful country road. Then we asked all of our subjects to evaluate some abstract, geometric paintings by El Lissitzky. Those subjects who had been startled found the paintings more stirring, inspiring, interesting, and moving. This link between art and fear relates to the spiritual dimension of wonder. Just as people report fear of God, great art can be overwhelming. It stops us in our tracks and demands worshipful attention.

Sunset essays

sunset essays

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