Or, The AFI List Project, #24 – E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
This is long overdue and will, unfortunately, be extremely short, because frankly I don’t have a whole lot to say about E.T. It’s one of the movies on the list that I had already watched, but so long ago that I had almost no memories of it.
A few shots had stayed in my head: somehow not the iconic scenes, of bicycles flying and flowers reviving, but the shots in the dark at the beginning and end, with the alien spaceship. And, of course, the first sight of the alien’s heart beating again through the glass (if that is indeed what it was).
Watching it again, I have to admit that I was unmoved – and it may be precisely because I was watching it for academic reasons more than anything else that that was the case. It may also be the case that I just didn’t love the movie.
Is it okay to not be in love with a work of art that for whatever unknown reason is dear to the hearts of many others? The individualist in me wants to say yes, and I’ve been musing on reasons why. A central question of aesthetic philosophy has long been what constitutes taste, and if a person is somehow lacking if they are unmoved by a work of art that others love. The argument has a certain logic to it: if I like something, and you do not, then it would seem that you lack some undefined capacity to appreciate that work of art (and probably other works as well). Or, to put the question more broadly: if something is beautiful, shouldn’t it be unambiguously and universally beautiful? How can an aesthete accept a suggestion of aesthetic relativism?
It’s a question I’ve struggled with for some time, but my nearest answer right now is this. We know that the brain is much like any other muscle: you use some areas of it more than others, and so those areas become more developed. For instance, as you practice a foreign language more, the area of the brain responsible for language learning and retention becomes more developed and speaking the language comes increasingly naturally.
Shouldn’t aesthetic taste be exactly the same? That is, you live your life and have experiences that are entirely unique to you. It seems to me that that should mean that you develop different areas of your brain differently from others; you become more aware of some things than others, and so you are able to appreciate certain things more than other people can (just as they are more able to appreciate other things). The result, it seems, should be widely differing tastes.
This is the briefest sketch, and I need to think more about it because I can see where there might be some obvious rejoinders from aesthetic absolutists. Nonetheless, I’m going to offer it up as something to consider when you’re perplexed by a movie that your best friend loves – or when you love something that someone else thinks is drivel.