PROJECTION OF DECADENCE
By T. C. SKEFFINGTON-LODGE, M.P.
ARE we decadent ? Joad has written a book to prove that we are. I am prepared to admit that he establishes his case. That, however, is not everyone's view. If we wished to answer such a question about a past civilisation we should study its culture ; so let us review our own. So far as literature and the stage are con- cerned it seems to me that the signs of decadence are plain. They show themselves, however, only in the " highbrow " sections of these arts. The popular novel and the commercial play are still healthily human and escapist. The cinema, however, which we must consider to be technically a form of culture, has a huge and fairly constant audience which is quite unselective. The majority of films shown are still crude but harinfess. A few are excellent, but an ever-increasing number of the more ambitious ones are lamentable. Where once the Red Indians rode flickering and fearless, men now murder their wives in a psychological way. The hero is no longer rescued miraculously from the fiery stake but drearily gloats upon the morbid sadism of his own diseased and disordered mind. Wodehouse might have been thinking of our super films instead of the Russian novel when he described them as : " Grey studies of abject misery, when nothing happens until page 392, when the moujick decides to commit suicide."
The purposes of drama should be to amuse, to instruct, to uplift or to provide an escape from the monotony and pain of every-day existence by giving vicarious excitement or pleasure. Psychological films do none of those. Of set purpose they are confined to static representation of morbid conditions. They depress, puzzle, degrade and imprison in vicarious depravity. It matters a great deal that leading thinkers and writers have rejected values ; but it is not an insuperable evil. The eclectic culture of one decade generally affects the popular culture of the next. The time-lag, however, gives an opportunity for the process of , decay to be arrested. The cinema, on the other hand, carries its culture direct to the public at large, thus by-passing the safeguard of the time- lag. It was, therefore, an evil hour for western civilisation when the first Hollywood director heard that blessed and misused word " schizophrenic." It does not so much matter that Nigel Balchin should write about this psychotic condition ; at least he knows what the word means. Moreover, a hundred peoiile have read The King's General, that harmless literary mediocrity of Daphne du Maurier, for every one who has read Mini Own Executioner. In any case the people who frequent small Sunday theatre performances, or who enjoy the more amorphous and pessimistic forms of literature, are not in the .main those who must bear the heat and burden of the day in our 'struggle to regain economic stability. But those who go regularly to the one-and-ninepennies are the backbone of this fight, and it is they who are the target of the celluloid campaign. I am against interference in public entertainment, but it would be a healthier world if we locked up the film-directors who seem determined to corrupt the morale of the masses.
Two factors are responsible for decadence. The first is physical science. Science, not because it has fathered nuclear physics and hence Nagasaki, but because it has invaded the sphere only proper to philosophy. Science is no longer mechanical and determinist. That phase of it only gave birth to Communism, the enemy of democracy. When it passed to its latest phase it became more dangerous, because it destroyed our spiritual defences. At one time search for truth was directed towards discovering the ultimate
nature of reality. Whether the subject was a drop of water or a human personality, the interest lay in what they were. On a purely
physical plane it is now clear that the question is unanswerable. Science can say just how ultimate particles behave ; it can describe and predict the most abstruse antics of their fundamental dance. But the dancers themselves are masked phantoms.
The second factor is psychology, not the bogus balderdash of Hollywood, but the authentic stuff of. Freud. It can describe con- ditioned reflexes and analyse to its component parts the most intricate of neuroses. But it cannot say who or what it is that is neurotic. A popular belief has developed that science (including the quasi-science of psychology) deals with all realities. Thus, since science only recognises behaviour, the fallacy that behaviour is the only reality is widespread. Many great physicists would repudiate
this error, and it is directly contradicted by the theories of Jung. Nevertheless it is embraced by many who do not even know its origin. But if we no longer believe in, the existence of personality the idea of responsibility becomes meaningless too.
The psychological film is the product of the amorality which necessarily flows fronithe repudiation of the concept of responsibility.
It is also the apostle. Because actions divorced from actors can be neither good nor bad in themselves, and because the psychological film deals only with morbid behaviour—conveying by inference the impression that that is all which there is to convey—they exclude
values. They therefore exclude judgement. But the worst evil is the denial of good ; and this denial is a necessary consequence of
the denial of values. Positive sin is bad but susceptible to pardon.
Denial of values is unique sin: the Bible knows it as "the sin against the Holy Ghost." A very different film from the type about which
I am writing is the recent one of Oscar Wilde's The Ideal Husband.
It seems strange now to remember that Wilde was once thought to be very wicked. Yet, when one sees this delightful and witty screen play, how either unreal or venial the sins of fifty years ago seem. Then to be thought " fast " was a shattering humiliation. Today Hollywood (and even Elstree) would make us believe that the sadism of Heinrich Himmler coupled with the morbidity of Othello is a matter for melancholy pride in the possession of an " interesting " neurosis.
I am not advocating theft or adultery, or even good honest •murder for simple profit ; but at least these are positive sins which flourished when wickedness was thought to be wicked. We are now approach- ing the nadir of decadence when sin will be defined as the projection of a neurotic delusion of inadequacy. The old melodrama was crude ; but it was a crude presentation of real values. The hero was distinguished from the villain because the one was good and the other bad ; not because they gave " different reactions to different chance stimuli." The" new vogue in the cinema purports to repre- sent pure behaviour. Incidentally it fills even its self-appointed task with a scientific crudity which easily excels the artistic crudity of Victorian melodrama. All psychotics are schizophrenics ; never a case of paranoia or a homely manic-depressive. It is all too clear that this peculiar epidemic is solely due to the fact that news of other mental disorders, with less excitory names, has not yet reached the story-writer's room.
The best argument against Nihilism is that it has created the atom bomb and the psychological film. It discourages us from being happy, or amused or unselfish. If we accept the Nihilists' invasion of the cinema, that is to say if the sturdy mass of the nation allows itself to be inoculated with the ultimate cynicism, most of us will perish, and the small remainder will become slaves of the Com- munists. Of the Communists, because, although they are materialists, they believe in something and believe in it passionately.
Democracy was founded in belief in God and the divinity of the human personality. Repudiate this creed and democracy becomes meaningless in theory and defenceless in practice. No power from without can destroy our inheritance ; but the Trojan horse from filznland carries, not armed men, but a poison which is destroying our 'souls.