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The Artist

"The Artist" is a great film about a silent film star who refuses to make the transition to talkies and is faced with a young actress whom he helped get started and who is now the star that he has ceased to be. The film is almost entirely silent and in black-and-white, so it has the authentic feel of an old movie. The lead actress, Berenice Bejo, does a decent job, but the star, Jean Dujardin, has an excellent, oscar-worthy performance.

As related to the Middle Ages, this movie shows something that we all know from experience since our youths, but which most Medieval folks never experienced. The main character rises fast in the days when motion pictures were new, then falls even faster when motion picture technology advances and he is unable to adapt to the change. We post-moderns can easily relate to this scenario. Medieval folks, however, could not. In our age, technology advances rapidly. I am not yet forty years old, yet the changes that have taken place in my short life have been incredible. I now have this web page; when I was born, the web did not exist. I am now typing on a lap-top computer. When I was born, lap-top computers did not exist. I can call people on my little cell phone which fits easily in my pocket; three decades ago cellular telephones were much too big to fit in someone's pocket; four decades ago cell phones were only fantasy, used by television and movie spies like Maxwell Smart and James Bond. These new machines - computers, cell phones, etc. - improve my life a little, but they do not change it radically, but for some people they do change life radically. Joseph Schumpeter wrote about "creative destruction". When a new product is invented, it replaces an old product, and the industry that produced and sold the old product is destroyed. The invention of the train, and then automobiles and airplanes, destroyed the stagecoach industry. The invention of the telephone destroyed the telegraph industry. The internet seems to be slowly killing the newspaper industry. One thing replaces another, and those workers who cannot adapt are left behind and find themselves unemployed. There were some technological advances during the Middle Ages. Eye glasses were invented. Clocks were invented. Windmills were invented (this might seem unimportant, but it is important because windmills were one of the only sources of power before the use of steam and the harnessing of electricity). Horseshoes were invented (this might seem unimportant, but it is important because horses have fragile hooves which can easily break on rocky European soil). There were other advances and development, especially in architecture. These changes did not happen rapidly, however, and in each case they did not deprive anyone of employment. The eye glass industry did not replace any other industry, rather it was so entirely new that there was nothing like it to be destroyed. Clocks made sun dials obsolete, but the making and selling of sun dials had never been much of an industry; I doubt that anyone was long employed as a sun dial maker. During the Middle Ages, there was no "creative destruction", therefore a movie like "The Artist" would be incomprehensible to medievals.

Now I ask the question: which is better? In the Middle Ages, a craftsman could spend his whole life doing the same job, perfecting his skill, and teaching his son to do what he did, just as his own father had taught him. There was stability. None had to worry about unemployment due to changes in technology. Nobody had to adapt so as to keep up with new inventions. Life today is very stressful, because changes take place so rapidly. Few are the sons who do the same job their fathers did; fewer still are the men living today who expect their own sons to follow in their foot-steps. Most Americans change jobs, and even change professions, repeatedly in a life-time. So which is better? Though I like the Middle Ages, I believe that creative destruction is a good thing. The Middle Ages were stable, but they were also stagnant. There were inventions and technology did advance, but it happened at such a slow pace that centuries were required before any significant improvement took place. For the few who had strong, healthy bodies and strong wills also, the Middle Ages were good, because they could work hard physically, and survive the diseases and other life-threatening problems that were then common, and if they were strong-willed, then they had the determination to succeed no matter what. I repeat, they had the determination to succeed no matter what. We should not compare post-modern grapes to medieval apples. A grape is smaller and less filling than an apple; such is the reality now; such was true a thousand years ago. We should not say that because grapes now are less than apples were then, life in the Middle Ages was better than life is now. People today with strong healthy bodies, and strong wills, succeed very well in life, perhaps even better than such people did in the Middle Ages. The many weak, defective individuals alive today, those with psychological problems, or physical handicaps, generally live worse today than the strong healthy people did in the Middle Ages, but comparing such weak people today with strong people in the past is not a good comparison. Better would be to compare weak people today with weak people in the Middle Ages. Weak people in the Middle Ages died young, because survival was difficult. We might look at the weak, defective, psychologically impaired, and physically handicapped people today and say that people in the past were better, but the more appropriate comparison would be to compare today's weak people who live poorly with yesterday's weak people who died. Which is better, to live poorly for seventy years, or to die young? I am a weak person, and I am glad to be alive, so I would say that the world is better today than it was a thousand years ago, and I like movies like "The Artist" which show a man suffering because of his inability to adapt to rapid change. At the end of the movie, with the help of a woman who loves him, the star rises out of his nadir and lives well again.

In the previous paragraph, I wrote that life in the present, post-modern age is better than life was in the Middle Ages. Now, I want to quality, or limit, that statement. In some ways, the Middle Ages were better than the post-modern age. In the Middle Ages, people lived with purpose, whereas now life seems to have no purpose. In the Middle Ages, society was orderly, and every person had a place where he or she could feel comfortable. In the post-modern age, it seems that every individual must make his or her own place in the world, and if he or she fails to do this, then miserable unhappiness, depression, self-loathing, and hatred will ensue. In the Middle Ages, governments left people alone, simply because they were unable to control people as much as governments today can. Today, unfortunately, the government interferes in the lives of its citizens and thus we are less free. I believe that in many ways the Middle Ages were better than the post-modern age, but in one way - the advance of technology and the world capitalism which pushes this advance - the post-modern age is an improvement over the Middle Ages.