A reader recently called what I do in this column “simple-minded pablum.” Another reader, maybe I could even call him a fan, called it “an interpretive ethnography of our own people.” It’s not, as you know already, an editorial column in the strictest sense. I don’t interpret the news. Most of the time I don’t even react to it.
Pablum, as you probably know, is not something you want your writing associated with. Pablum in its literal sense is pap, which is essentially gruel. Intellectually, that means my writing is thin soup, easily digested and far from nourishing. As I got to thinking about what I do, being as thin-skinned as any writer, I came back to pap, and a South African friend who used to speak lovingly about mielepap, the starchy porridge he grew up eating with stew. It was stick-to-your ribs food that staved off hunger and kept the working man working. I felt better (except for the bit about being simple-minded) and told myself that there are worse things than ladling out white collar grits to the working schleps of our post-industrial town.
Actually, the truth is that I write a weekly bit of prose in a couple hours’ time introducing our newspaper’s cover story, always trying to situate in its cultural context, which in turn obliges me, in this postmodern world, to speak as the “I,” the subject overseeing an object. Occasionally, I try to connect that subject to the I-and-I, if you follow, but you’d have to read every week to notice. I never really know how much what I say matters, or how much you care, or even whether I’m blowing like Coltrane, or Kenny G, or a bag of hot air. Stay with me now.
There are no juried prizes at the Virginia Film Festival. In fact there are no awards at all. There are no red carpets and very few A-listers. It is not a place to make deals or to be seen. But as this week’s feature attests, it is a place to discover films and to rediscover what you love about film. For me that’s Alfred Hitchcock’s subjective lens: a peephole, a person peering through, and the fear that at any moment the camera may turn on you.