Universal Truths

  • by Pete O'Brien
  • 01-02-2022

Tony loves Maria, but the Sharks hate the Jets.

Romeo and Juliet, Hero and Leander, Qays ibn Mulawah and Layal al Amiriya, Abelard and Heloise, Princess Orihime and Hikoboshi; the list goes on. What do they have in common? They are all star-crossed lovers. Some are myth, some are fiction, two are very, painfully, real (Abelard and Heloise). They span the globe with a common story of the passion of love and how difficult it can be.

And, ultimately, they represent a problem to the modern world.

The weird progressive trend that has been gaining momentum in the past several years not only has raised the specter of censorship, in the form of charges of cultural appropriation, it is challenging the very question of universal truths. If you aren’t an American Indian should you be allowed to play one? If you’re Japanese, should you be allowed to portray a Chinese character? If something is written by a white male, how can it have any relevance to a black women?

A few years ago (okay, more than a few), the late actor Charlton Heston was asked what he thought about a movie that had just been released: Romeo and Juliet. It was set in the modern day - 1995 - with Los Angeles serving as Verona (Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes were starring). Specifically, Heston was asked what he thought Shakespeare would think. Heston answered that Shakespeare would be thrilled. As he pointed out, the attraction of the story is the universal appeal - every man and woman on the planet, no matter where and when, would be able to understand the story. Setting Verona on top of modern day LA was just part of that, the telling of a universally understandable story. 

Is there an audience anywhere in this quadrant of the galaxy that wouldn’t empathize with Tony and Maria, while also tapping their toes to Leonard Bernstein’s  music?

Not anymore: now it seems Hollywood is insisting that everyone’s culture, well, almost everyone’s, is sacrosanct. If this were carried to its logical conclusion, any telling of Romeo and Juliet would have to be in Verona. Of course, being only upper class European families, it probably isn’t even worth telling. After all, what percentage of the global population do they represent? It is as if to say that only a Dane would be able to play Hamlet, and it wouldn’t matter anyway, because the internal conflict that is tearing the young Prince apart would really only be understandable and relevant to a Dane. And a prince, for that matter.

While we’re at it, should we not watch Kurosawa’s Ran, his masterful retelling of King Lear?

The issue is, of course, far more than simply Shakespeare, or young love, or a prince driven mad by a desire for revenge, a nobleman egged on by his power-mad wife to murder his own king. Would the horror of war in Euripides “The Trojan Women” seem so unfamiliar to Afghan families that in the past four months have been forced to marry off their young daughters to Taliban soldiers? Would anyone who has ever faced a conflict between justice and the letter of the law not find common ground in Sophocles “Electra” or “Antigone”?

These stories - the reason why we all had to wade through them in high school - teach us truths, things that will resonate with us no matter the year, no matter the country, no matter our lot in life.

Yet, these stories, and hundreds of other, represent a problem in the modern world.

The progressive trend that has been gaining momentum in the past several years not only has raised the specter of censorship, in the form of charges of cultural appropriation, more importantly, it challenges the very question of universal truths.

And there is a reason for that: in each case these stories tell us the consequences of actions that deny these truths: the two young lovers will die, kings will die and kingdoms will fall when hate conquers love, when justice is denied. And the progressive power grab is destructive.

6,000 years of history show that people have not changed, that power corrupts,  that petty dictators are more readily corrupted than nearly anyone else, and that the more that power is centralized, the more readily it corrupts those who wield that power.

The progressive movement clearly doesn’t like that, so it is attempting to silence the lessons of history and the lessons of our myths and literature. They wish to silence the past, and more importantly, the lessons of our past - all of humanity’s past; they wish to silence the truth.

1600 years ago St. Augustine commented that we must: “Accept the truth from no matter where it comes, for ultimately it comes from the mouth of God.”

But then again, the progressives seem to want to silence God as well. We mustn’t let them. The truth is right in front of us, we need to keep a firm hold. It’s right there in some of the greatest stories ever told.

Two households, both alike in dignity,
    From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
    From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
     A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life.