Ozymandias is wearing me out
It’s time to broaden our literary horizons
One thing that bothers me in movies is how characters always seem to reference the same few works of Western literature, making them appear mysterious and cultured. I don’t mean to dismiss the writings of an entire culture… but honestly, I’m kinda bored.
For example: When David, Michael Fassbender’s character in Alien: Covenant, quoted Ozymandias, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was overused.
I freely admit I’m guilty of this myself. (Notice my Icarus reference at the end of my poem, We All Know Different Suns.) I remember being taught to throw in subtle references to Greek/Roman mythology or Biblical analogies to give my writing a more sophisticated feel. My teacher explained it as a way to reward people who understand the reference, allowing them to feel included in an inside joke shared between the author and reader.
The problem with inside jokes is that they are, by nature, exclusive of other groups. So if Western writings are the inside joke, then the implications are disturbing for our increasingly multicultural world.
I guess that’s another way David’s character is so sinister in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. He is classically trained (I suppose “programmed” is more accurate) and by default a telling reflection of his human creator’s ideal.
At their most innocent, these repeat references feel like an easy way out — lazy writing. With centuries of world history and a limitless wealth of internet resources, we have all the tools we need to discover obscure cultural ideas that could shed new light on the themes we’re exploring.
A big reason the acclaimed anime film Your Name is my favorite movie of the year so far is because the metaphors are completely fresh to me as a non-Japanese person. And yet they are presented in a way that anyone can latch onto the nuanced emotional truth of the story.
The bottom line? I’m sick of Western ideas automatically being equated with wisdom, refinement, and education. No offense to the great writers of the West (believe me, I can appreciate). But let’s broaden our horizons, k?
Originally published on adrianpatenaude.com.