There are three titanic hoaxes, a cultural triad no human has ever enjoyed for even a millisecond: poetry, opera, and ballet. Each claims a massive, often hysteric following, each rakes in substantial moneys, each has an obscenely enduring history. And each remains a whole and utter fraud. A diabolic punishment, an all-devouring lie. These items are, if not distinctly evil, at best con jobs on a galactic scale.
Small and fey. Poetry is simply poor punctuation. A poem is a thought unworthy of a paragraph, random words tossed on a page, literary lint. Poems are Laura Ashley prints for the mind, unicorn dung. They possess none of the time-honored virtues of fine literature: You can't curl up with a nice trashy poem. Poems are rarely adapted as miniseries. Your parents would never forbid you to bring that Jackie Collins poem into the house; a volume of Millay seldom falls open to the good parts. People never bicker over who should play Tiresias in "The Waste Land," Valeri Bertinelli or Pam Dawber.
Why are poems composed, or perpetrated? To break up the page in The New Yorker. Without poetry Ann Beattie would smush into the cartoons, and the eight parts on ice-making would hurtle against the windbreaker ads. Without poetry, high school girls in corduroy jumpers and black leotards might have to make some friends. Emily Dickinson never left her cottage in Amherst, and with just cause: No one asked her to. Don't invite Emily, she might recite one of her things. Scholars swear that Shakespeare didn't exist, that his verse was penned by Ben Jonson or Marlowe (under a pseudonym, so they wouldn't be blamed). Has anyone ever got lucky after pulling, "Hey, babe, read any good poems lately?"
As with operas and ballets, all poems are identical. If you must, skim two lines of any poem, shudder and know the truth. That's right, they all mention "love's fragrant bower." And silvery snowflakes and autumn's pungent grief and echoing silence and little cat feet. You never have to read another; like the actors in Platoon, you have tasted hell and survived.
Why then the hordes of seemingly worshipful devotees, the slavering for Domingo, Pavarotti, and other nuclear accidents? These clutching fans, these howling acolytes, all these people are paid off, a claque. The opera legends and their families disburse handsome sums, every Verdi recording includes a coupon for a full rebate. This is the only plausible conclusion; no one would experience opera voluntarily. Opera may well be a fundamentalist plot to discredit gay men. (Don't buy the smoke screen—real homosexuals like Gypsy.)
Dancers are likened to athletes, but organized sports are also a hoax, with the minor entertainment dividend of watching Olympic track starts trip. Dancers are athletes minus the good stuff—the endorsements, the urinalysis, the scratching. Some insist that ballet exists as a girlhood phase, easing the transit from horses to bulimia. But ballet was concocted, of course, to discipline children. At Christmastime, toddlers fidget, lusting for toys and treats. To calm the rumpus, parents wield a grisly stick—"If you don't behave, we're all going to Nutcracker." Civilization is founded on hoaxes, on false fun, on educational playthings. Torch the concert halls, nuke the toe shoes, shred anything in pentameter - who'll notice? Subdivide La Scala into a multiplex, ban the Bolshoi—only art museums are allowed, as they provide gift shops. All that should remain of High Art is T-shirts, mugs, and calendars. Stop faking cultural orgasm — go watch TV!
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