Easyrider and Its Critics

Bernard Shaw’s Quintessence of Ibsenism was first presented in 1892 as a lecture to the Fabian Society in London. Shaw’s justification for bringing the theater into discussion with people chiefly engaged in government, politics, economics, and the law was his belief that the drama has a significant influence upon the individual life and the life of society. “Art,” Shaw wrote, but he was speaking primarily of the theater, “should refine our sense of character and conduct, of justice and sympathy, greatly heightening our self-knowledge, self-control, precision of action, and considerateness, and making us intolerant of baseness, cruelty, injustice, and intellectual superficiality and vulgarity.” A formulation like this was possible eighty years ago as it of course no longer is; today, its language must seem to verge on quaintness. We nevertheless recognize that Shaw is voicing a conviction which in transmuted form is still very much alive for us. Certainly it is some such appreciation of the high moral function of the theater that warrants our appeals for government support of the stage and makes the basis of our contempt for the philistine and commercial theater.

And his statement of the high purpose of the dramatic art makes plain why Shaw found it appropriate to talk about Ibsen to a group of people whose first commitment was to political and social improvement. For if it is the purpose of the theater to instruct us in character and conscience, then clearly all men of character and conscience, all persons devoted to the public good, should be informed of the way in which the theater is discharging, or might discharge, this important duty.

There can be no question that were Shaw addressing himself to present-day affairs he would put the film under quite as strict scrutiny as the stage, or even stricter, and not merely because the movies reach so much wider an audience than stage plays but also because he would be bound to respond to the special force of the visual as compared to the predominantly verbal medium. Indeed, I have only a most formal hesitation in borrowing his authority for the opinion that no art now exerts more moral influence than the films, and that for the present generation, and particularly among our best-educated young people, more than personal character is being formed by our film-makers: a culture, a society, even a polity.

It is as an exemplification of this power of moral and social instruction that I wish to discuss Easy Rider. But perhaps I should first say what I mean by instruction in this context. I do not mean overt pedagogy, and I do not even mean what the famous director Jean-Luc Godard presumably had in mind when he was speaking at Harvard recently about his film See You at Mao, and said, “The movie is like a blackboard. A revolutionary movie can show how the arms struggle may be done.” Easy Rider is not at all a film of this order. Although it is highly tendentious, it wears the mask of disengagement; its atmosphere, in fact, is that of a pastoral. Its method is that of implication and suggestion rather than that of assertion. Its notable achievement lies in its ability to communicate states of feeling: it is through its skill in the creation of emotion and mood that it does its work of persuasion.

An air of purposive mystification, a sense of the existence of tensions which are perhaps made the more significant by never being named, is established from the start of the film. Easy Rider opens with its two main characters, Wyatt, played by Peter Fonda, and Biilly, played by Dennis Hopper, having crossed the border from California into Mexico to do business with a Mexican peasant. Both the young men are long-haired, one of them bearded, and both wear clothes which, like their style of hair, at once authenticate their dedication to freedom. Both are riding simple motorbikes. It is of some importance, I think, that Fonda and Hopper are the leading actors in a film which they wrote together, with some unspecified assistance from Terry Southern, and which Hopper directed. Easy Rider represents an unusually direct statement on the part of its authors: there are no paid “stars” to intervene between them and us, no interposition of an alien personality or will.

The business on which Wyatt and Billy have crossed to Mexico is the purchase of heroin. At least, we conclude it is heroin although it could of course be cocaine—it is a white powder and the two men sniff it. Apparently the purchase is satisfactory, because they then go on to their next rendezvous: a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce meets them at what seems to be the edge of an airfield, and a sallow and sleazy man of about forty—we notice that he is close-shaven and wears city clothes—gets out and takes their supply of drugs, in exchange for which he gives Wyatt and Billy a wad of money which they will later stash away in their bikes. Before this unalluring character drives off and out of the film, he takes his own revitalizing snort of the powder he has purchased. Although he is doing precisely what the two young men had done just a moment before, his use of the heroin is made to seem ugly and furtive whereas theirs has been presented as an exercise in connoiseurship—apparently with dope as with sex it is the style of the agent which makes for the moral meaning of the act.

As a first gain from the sale of the heroin, the simple motorbikes on which Wyatt and Hilly were riding at the start of the picture are replaced by a pair of the biggest, flashiest, most expensive motorcycles ever to fill the male American heart with envy. It is on these splendid vehicles—Fonda-Wyatt’s is decorated with a splash of American flag—that the two men now begin their beautiful journey from California to near New Orleans, where their trip will be suddenly and violently cut off. It is a handsome travelogue, this West to East tour of the Southwestern United States. And we are no doubt the more moved by the loveliness and variety of the country because it is offered to us as the stage on which two people already certified as heroes of dissidence are about to act out their fate. Too, this is an America whose purity has not been polluted.

The landscape of Easy Rider would seem to have known no human desecration other than the building of the highways which Wyatt and Billy ride— they pass no cars, no buses, no billboards or roadside stands or motels. When there is any form of human encounter, which is rare, it is played for its symbolic meaning.

Thus, the two young riders stop at a lone ranch for repairs on one of the motorcycles. The rancher is shoeing a horse, and in his barn the wheel on which the camera fixes its editorializing gaze is that of a wagon. But even the farm itself is something of an anomaly in Fonda and Hopper’s vision of the American West: we have been shown no other such instances of human enterprise. And indeed, the rancher inhabits a boundless universe; the land is his as far as the eye can see—what the film appears to be asking us is why, in an America this big and empty, we crowd as we do in our cities. He receives the two strangers at his table and within his family in the kind of openness and trust which consorts with the freedom and openness of the life he lives. His wife serves him in sweet docility, surrounds him with the happy-faced children she breeds for him. In a brief colloquy over their meal—in the idyllic imagination of Easy Rider farmers eat their meals at picnic tables set outdoors—Wyatt inquires whether all this vast spread belongs to the farmer, and he receives his host’s assurance that it does. It is a good life to live, is Fonda-Wyatt’s comment, and it is of course our response as well.

A counterpoint to this scene is provided very little later in the film when Wyatt and Billy, once again on the road, pick up a traveler—his style is not unlike their own—who takes them to his rural commune. Until now, Easy Rider has engaged in considerable conscious evasion: it has not told us where its two main characters come from or where they are going, what drug they have trafficked in or what use they plan to make of the money they earned by its sale, or, for that matter, what in their previous personal or social experience has brought them to their present condition. But now the film becomes not so much mystifying as surrealist. The commune contains some thirty or more young people and a few small children who all live together in what is no doubt meant to represent an entire goodness and harmony, each pursuing his concern. Playacting appears to be one of the group occupations: we see bits of miming in the manner of the guerrilla theater and even a rude outdoor stage. There is also a prayer scene similar to the Thanksgiving devotions in Alice’s Restaurant; I took it, perhaps wrongly, to be an appeal for rain to water the crops—for it is a gentle point of this commune sequence that these young people would wish to grow their food but do not know how, their unnatural modern upbringings having cut them off from the vital springs of life: dazed but intent, they stamp barefoot upon the unharrowed, even unplowed, ground on which they have dropped the seed. Drugs are not mentioned; for one viewer, they were nevertheless omnipresent in the appearance and behavior of the members of the commune. There is a moment when the camera circles the group, moving slowly from one vacant-eyed face to the next: they are the faces of madness, of a perhaps irremediable break with reality, or so they looked to me, but I am afraid that what I saw was not necessarily what the makers of the film intended. Before Wyatt and Billy again take to the road, they have an innocent naked romp in a nearby stream with two of the commune girls.

The beautiful journey resumes. At the end of each day’s run Wyatt and Billy camp at the roadside. We do not discover them buying or preparing their food, washing themselves or their clothes, or even actually building the fires over which they sit at night, quietly smoking their pot, quietly getting stoned. The inessentials of life have been eliminated to reveal life’s essential joyous simplicity— obviously the two men supply each other with the kind of companionship in which marijuana is said to make its happiest effect: at any rate, they laugh together for no apparent reason. And if there is any doubt in the viewer’s mind as to what it is that provides this nightly relaxation, it is nicely dispelled when the two men offer a cigarette to a drunk they have picked up who refuses it in terror—hasn’t he, he asks, enough trouble already with the booze? Wyatt can reassure him: this anodyne has no devil in it as whiskey does.

The new member of what now becomes a trio of riders had joined them in the jail of his Southern town where he was sleeping off a binge. Riding into the town, Wyatt and Billy had playfully got entangled in a parade and been arrested. After a night in jail, the third young man, an ACLU lawyer, arranges for their release. Gentle, liberal, idealistic, he is the defeated son of the big man of the town, whose power is to be withstood only by drinking— the symbol of the son’s remembrance of joy is a football helmet cherished since boyhood. Wearing his helmet, he hops a ride with his new friends: he is bound for a brothel in New Orleans. At a modest restaurant the trio attracts the attention of the sheriff and some cronies of his who mobilize a quick brutal hatred of the hippie outsiders; that night, as the three men sleep at the roadside, the sheriff and his people sneak up on them—they manage to kill only the local lawyer. Just as the sheriff stands for American xenophobia and violence, the lawyer represents, we must suppose, the soft liberal underbelly of American establishment. Well-meaning but misguided, he is first to succumb to a repressive social authority with which he had attempted to live and even deal, blind to its implacable enmity.

The pop music which functions as a kind of Greek chorus to the mounting doom of Easy Rider carries much of the emotion with which Wyatt and Billy receive the death of their new friend. They now undertake to complete his journey for him, and they go to the brothel in New Orleans, where they join up with two young prostitutes—but not sexually, only in comradeship. The four go together to the Mardi Gras, then continue the day in a cemetery where they get high on pot and liquor. By the time Wyatt distributes the LSD he has in his pocket, the girls are too intoxicated to care what they are taking. The inhabitable world vanishes from the screen: as in one of Dr. Leary’s psychedelic celebrations, the film now is given over to describing the psychic states induced in Wyatt, Billy, and the two girls by the acid. We watch them writhe among the gravestones, suffering the apparently joyous agony of their self-willed release from the limitations of our reality-bound consciousness. When one of the girls takes off her clothes, no one has use for her naked body: with the help of drugs Wyatt and Billy have transcended more than our society, more even than their minds: their bodies. Easy Rider celebrates not only a pretechnological but also a presexual, or at least a pregenital, world.

But they have not transcended death. The acid trip over, the other journey across an America which once was, and presumably might still be, must once more begin. The two men get but a short distance beyond New Orleans, however, when they are overtaken on the deserted road and shot down, in coldest blood. Whether it is the same sheriff of their previous encounter or a counterpart who commits the murder, I am uncertain. But it cannot matter. What matters is that we have been shown vigilante America at work, out to destroy whatever loves freedom and is different from itself. The film ends in a bloody dawn, with Wyatt’s and Billy’s smashed bodies lying in the road. We understand that their murderers will go unapprehended.

This is, I think, a fair synopsis of Easy Rider, though not uncharged with my adverse feelings about the film. But it is necessary for me to make plain that although, while I was in the theater, I was aware of weighty reservations on the score of its moral content—they were provoked from the very start of the picture, by the sale of the heroin—I was also considerably seduced by it. It is not difficult for me to identify my seducer— ironically, it was America. I say ironically because, even apart from the fact that the point of the film is its attack upon America for failure to fulfill its promise to us, the America of Easy Rider is largely a pictorial illusion. The landscape it spreads out for us is mythic—I had almost said epic—in its lack of industrialization, of technology, even of population: I daresay there are still sections of the Southwest where one can travel big distances without seeing a billboard or a hamburger stand and where such farms as there are exist in isolation, but I doubt that one can travel from California almost all the way to New Orleans on main highways that are this totally bare of other humans and vehicles. And yet no other film that I can recall has so poignantly reminded me of the beautiful heritage we have in this country. It was the American land which seduced me in Easy Rider—and this would seem to suggest that I too, like the makers of the film, am caught in the dream of a country unscathed by modernity.

But the longing for an unravished land is obviously not a new emotion for Americans. It appears in our literature even before the existence of what can properly be described as a technological society, in the work of Cooper, Thoreau, Whitman, and of course Mark Twain—when Huck Finn lit out for the territory he too, even in his time, was trying to escape the restrictions of civilized modern life; and in our more recent literature it has played a decisive part in the imagination of Hemingway. For all of these men the unspoiled forests, prairies, mountains, and rivers of America make not only the setting for their quest of freedom but also the actual condition by means of which they discover their wholeness and worth as human beings. Easy Rider leans heavily upon the charm and authority of this literary tradition. But the unravished countryside which makes the landscape of its dream of the free life has, in fact, no integral relation to the film’s representation of freedom—it is nothing but landscape. Its beauty is used, or misused, to validate the only freedom of which Fonda and Hopper have any genuine conception, that which is imputed to the drug experience. It is a first and basic dishonesty of Easy Rider, that is, that it proposes more than a kinship, actually an equivalence, or at least an interdependence, between the fulfillment which may be sought by moving beyond the frontiers of civilization and the gratifications which are sought in extending the frontiers of consciousness by the use of drugs.

But a dishonesty of this dimension requires other deceptions to sustain it. The search for a new frontier beyond which life will have retained its old innocence is, to be sure, recurrent in American literature, but we know it is not our sole American dream, nor ever has been: there has always gone along with our nostalgia for the fair and innocent land another dream, that of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby—the American dream of happiness through power and wealth. This was the conqueror’s dream, and today we direct our sternest disapproval to those who submit themselves to it. Wyatt and Billy are so clearly presented to us as the very antithesis and negation of the predator’s America that when at the end of Easy Rider they are destroyed by the forces of darkness, we are meant to feel that more than individual lives have been wiped out: virtue itself has been defeated.

Gatsby, we recall, tried to buy his transcendence over limiting social circumstance by bootlegging: Fitzgerald conceals from us no part of Gatsby’s moral implication in this way of getting rich. Wyatt and Billy try to buy their transcendence over limiting social circumstance by trafficking in drugs, but they are made to bear no moral responsibility for their way of getting rich—unless we were perhaps to argue that their death at the end of the film is a punishment for wrong-doing, in which case Easy Rider would have to be accused of having vested its moral authority in cold-blooded murderers. The transaction in heroin is indeed embedded in moral obfuscation. We see the expensive white powder being given to the man in the RollsRoyce, we never see to whom he gives it other than himself: we are never shown, say, the schoolchildren in Los Angeles who will become our newest statistics in heroin addiction and death. Certainly nothing in the film suggests that the money with which Wyatt and Billy undertake to escape this tainted world of ours is itself tainted—the sale of the heroin behind them, Wyatt and Billy represent the film’s appeal on behalf of America’s lost purity.

And just as the filthy business in which the heroes of Easy Rider make their wad is somehow disinfected by the presumed decency of their intentions in life, just so their recourse to heroin and LSD is somehow obscured by the innocent pleasure they have from marijuana. In general, the enlightened public now makes a distinction between marijuana and the other drugs which have come into wide use. In fact, the argument, not that all drugs should be legalized in order to take them out of the sphere of criminality, but that marijuana should be legal because it is harmless, rests on the belief that the use of marijuana is a quite separate activity from the use of “real” drugs. The evidence of Easy Rider, however, is against such a distinction. For Wyatt and Billy pot seems to be the basic daily fare which makes life supportable for them between their adventures with more potent medicines. We see the two men sniff heroin only once, at the start of the film; their practiced performance with it nevertheless makes us fairly sure that this is not an initial experience. Similarly, their composure after their bad acid trip suggests that this is not their first excursion in LSD. It is difficult to see how the young filmgoers who chiefly make up the audiences of Easy Rider can fail to conclude from the example of Wyatt and Billy that the sniffing of heroin and the taking of LSD are simply alternative to smoking pot, or, at least, that the taking of these more drastic drugs can be slipped in and out of at will, between joints, dreary medical injunction to the contrary notwithstanding.

Nor can we place more confidence in the socialeconomic import of Easy Rider than in its moral instruction. The film implies that spiritual freedom depends upon an escape from technology, and it gives us the happy rancher in example. In his barn a horse is being shod, and we are shown the wheel of a wagon—there is no farm machinery, there are no farmhands, and the rancher’s sons are too young to help him. Apparently we are to believe that it requires only one man plus a horse and wagon to put a great tract of land under cultivation. We could perhaps accept a simplification of this sort as merely an aesthetic concentration, were it not for the extreme social and political disingenuousness of the film as a whole, including, as a prime instance, its assumption that one has only, like Wyatt or Billy, to be the target of evil forces within our corrupt society to be oneself wiped clean of all corruption. This curious assumption of course established itself in American liberal thought in the McCarthy period, when one had only to be the object of McCarthy’s malignity to be warranted as forever blameless.

As in a traditional Western, Easy Rider divides the world into the good and the bad guys. But what gives Easy Rider its chic is its definition of good guys and bad in the sentimental terms which are at present being sanctified by left-wing thought: good guys want to be left in peace to live out their lives of natural freedom, bad guys want to impose their way of being upon others. In the revolution of the seventies the contending social forces are, of course, no longer labor and capital. They are the passively virtuous and the actively wicked. In Easy Rider the proletariat, with its auspicious place in history and its decisive role in determining the fate of mankind, is transformed into a pair of mindless cop-outs (not to say criminals) for whom there is neither past nor future, imagination, curiosity, desire. Symbols of what we are to suppose is the idealism and aspiration of this revolutionary day, Wyatt and Billy lack the energy to create anything, comment on anything, feel anything except the mute pleasure of each other’s company.

But the muteness of Easy Rider not only accurately represents the anti-intellectualism of the contemporary revolution, it is also essential to the mythmaking impulse of the film. By this I mean, simply, that were Easy Rider more verbal, more given to the exposition of its ideas, it would be more accessible to the skeptical intellect. For example, the pivotal point of the film, or at any rate what many viewers have taken to be its moral climax, depends upon our interpretation of a sudden statement by Wyatt—the statement consists of three words. Wyatt and Billy are once again about to hit the road after their acid trip, and Billy murmurs something about their having made it. To this Wyatt replies, “We blew it.” This utterance might perhaps indicate that Wyatt thinks their journey has failed in its spiritual intention, or it might even suggest—which is not too different—that Wyatt has come to recognize his moral responsibility for the drug transaction. But nothing in the film supports such interpretations, and I am myself inclined to believe that the ambiguousness of the statement is a deviousness, and that it was formulated to allow the viewer to draw from it whatever moral conclusion would make him most comfortable. By staying with so few words and refusing to explicate Wyatt’s summary assessment of his and Billy’s quest, the authors of Easy Rider concur in an adverse moral judgment of the central characters of the film, if that is how we prefer it. But at the same time they protect the central figures of the film against adverse judgment so that they can be retained as examples of innocent victimization. And it is as examples of innocent victimization that Wyatt and Billy of course enter the pantheon of contemporary heroic dissent.

Here, then, are some of the lessons taught in this popular film, and an enticing brew of the fashionable, the false, and the pernicious they are. How are we to respond to such an offering? Surely not by legal censorship, which in America doesn’t even raise questions of the control of moral and social ideas, only of what may be thought pornographic or obscene, and which in countries where it does treat such questions necessarily operates to suppress anything which challenges the assumptions of the official culture. But the rejection of censorship implies that we put our faith in moral and social intelligence either as exercised by the artists themselves or by those who receive their work.

It is a piety of our art-loving culture that between moral and social intelligence and artistic intelligence there is an inevitable congruence. Easy Rider is demonstration that this is not so. As an instance of the art of film-making, it is much to be praised: it is well played and well directed, imaginative, adroit, visually pleasing, and undoubtedly fulfills the intentions of its authors. But these positive qualities not only co-exist with grave deficiencies of moral and social intelligence; they give authority to the film’s false view of the moral and social life. If Easy Rider were less attractive as a piece of filmmaking, we would not need to be concerned about its influence. It therefore rests with us who receive the film to exercise the moral and social discrimination which the authors show themselves unable to exercise. In particular, this responsibility devolves, I think, upon those whose work it is to tell us how well the theater is fulfilling its high mission of instructing us in character and conscience: the critics.

It is my sense that more than any other group within the critical profession the film critics have the public’s attention—for instance, less than a week after the warm critical welcome that was given the film z, it was impossible to get a seat in the theater at eleven o’clock in the morning. I was out of the country when Easy Rider opened; but from the reviews I have since retrieved I have the impression, certainly not of general unqualified approval—only Penelope Gilliat of the New Yorker would seem to have given it that—but of a response in which any critical unease engendered by the film was always eventually, and effectually, buried in the reviewer’s need to concur in what was taken to be its invaluable social message: it was as if Fonda and Hopper’s observation of Middle America’s hatred of anything different from itself and of the American capacity for mindless violence constituted an insight of such freshness and magnitude as to render paltry or carping any adverse judgment the critic might be moved to make on the film s validity as a document of American life. Except for Paul Schrader in the Los Angeles Free Press, who boldly ridiculed Easy Rider for its indulgence in stale left-wing ritualisms—and it is worth noting that with the publication of this review Mr. Schrader’s connection with the paper was terminated—even critics who, like Richard Schickel in Life, spoke of the air of self-congratulation in which Wyatt and Billy have their being, or, like Joseph Morgenstern in Newsweek, mocked the sententiousness of the film, raised these objections in a context of appreciation.

And even Mr. Schrader went but half the course. Although he did indeed firmly denounce the nondimensional politics of Easy Rider, he mentioned not at all the means by which Wyatt and Bily financed their journey. The oversight, however, little distinguishes his reception of the film from that of the other reviewers. To be sure, Vincent Canby of the New York Times wrote: “After all, Wyatt and Billy, the heroin pushers, may be the same kind of casual murderers as the southern red necks.”Stanley Kauffmann of the New Republic wrote: “In cold factual terms, Fonda and Hopper are pretty low types—experienced drug-peddlers, criminal vagabonds. . . .“ And Joseph Morgenstern, again in Newsweek, wrote: “Neither of these two riders ... is conspicuously innocent. They’ve gotten the money for their odyssey by pushing dope.”But these comments, which at least announce disapprobation of drug-trading, are curiously brief unreverberant-they scarcely describe a rousing opposition to the film’s own bland acceptance of drugdealing—while the other reviews I have read fail to make even this small obeisance to the moral occasion. For Dan Wakefield, writing in this magazine, the drug in which Wyatt and Billy traffic is cocaine—he is positive in the identification. And extensively and eloquently outraged as Mr. Wakefield is by the bad treatment hippies receive at the hands of their fellow-citizens, he finds it possible to concentrate the whole of his judgment of Wyatt and Billy’s drug transaction into a single sentence of narration: “The two hippies . . . make a highly profitable sale of some cocaine they score in Mexico to a sinister-looking connection in Los Angeles, and waith the money stashed in the red-white-and-blue Stars-and-Stripes painted fuel tank of Wyatt’s motorcycle, they take off east for New Orleans ...”

In fact, later in his piece Mr. Wakefield makes explicit his faith in the two central characters of Easy Rider as figures of virtue: “Why,” he inquires, “the needless death and destruction of these fairly innocuous, generally pleasant, and harmless young men?" But it is left to Miss Gilliat of the New Yorker to bring the moral and social-political concerns of the film into most reassuring accord with each other. Of Wyatt and Billy she writes: “By smuggling dope across the frontier and selling it to a gum-chewing young capitalist disguised as a fellow-hippie, they make enough money to live life their own way.”With a stroke of the pen, that is, Miss Gilliat certifies the heroes of Easy Rider as proper symbols of the lost freedom and decency of American life: they are genuine hippies rather than capitalists disguised as hippies, and they do not chew gum.

We are accustomed, of course, to the reluctance of our critics to submit to rigorous examination any political or social idea which offers itself as enlightened dissidence. It is indeed by its accessibility to whatever is opposed to established values or whatever may be regarded as innovative thought that criticism defends itself against the imputation of academicism and brings itself into the full current of strenuous contemporary life. Are we to conclude, then, from Mr. Wakefield’s or Miss Gilliat’s unperturbed acceptance of drug-dealing and from the self-effacing comments upon this enterprise on the part even of the critics who oppose it that drug use has made good its claim to radical-ideological status?

I do not think so. I think, rather, that what we are seeing in the less than satisfactory response of the critics to Easy Rider is their obedience to the modern injunction against moralizing about art. Quoting from Shaw, I said that the language in which Shaw described the function of the theater could only sound quaint to our contemporary ears. I meant that such outright moralizing puts us in mind of a culture in which there could be good firm working formulations of right and wrong and in which there were wise men, teachers, whose job it was to guide us through the few possible areas of doubt. Obviously, our sense of our own times is just the opposite of this. So extreme, in fact, is our awareness of the absence of such rules and of the lack of such persons, and of the consequent need for each one of us to improvise his own morality, that we have all but lost sight of the dynamics of culture. We forget that codes for the guidance of our moral lives are constantly being proposed for us by the culture.

In the fashioning of these codes the artists-especially, nowadays, artists in the popular media-have a primary role. But the role of the critics is far from negligible. It is the critics who are supposed to warn us not to be seduced by art and who are delegated to ask questions about the reliability and and worth of the codes which are being offered us. Theirs is always, if you will, a moralizing function. It is today, when they seem to be most moved to forget this responsibility, that they are perhaps most to be recalled to it. □