Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Not a snob, not a low brow, just me.

Someone once told me that until they’d seen my collection of movies, books, comics and music that I was an elitist snob. But that after seeing what I liked they had no clue what or who I was. Along side of Marx Brothers comedies was Jackass the Movie, alongside of Edgar Allan Poe and Lord Dunsany I read John Norman, and pulps, my comics covered the breadth and length of the history of comics without any sort of niches, except for Jack Kirby, Moebius and Timothy Truman, and my music spanned all genres and styles. The music was what they saw as the final straw. Alongside of Opera, I shelved Death metal, alongside of Motown I shelved Jazz, and there was Country music, Punk, and all sorts of things they’d never even known existed.

Now, this is not to announce to the world that I have an enormous collection. Because outside of the books I gathered during my years preparing to teach, I have relatively small collections of whatever I have. It is not because I am or was opposed to size of a collection being large or enormous, just, in the first ten years of my marriage my wife and I moved over a dozen times. And that sucks. And bringing books and such with you sucks too. So over time when I can trade down I do, when I can buy what I like in a format that is great I do.

But what I am, and what they could not understand, is a person who believes that all forms of music, literature, dance, drama, film, and games should have equal respect if done well. I am not saying all is equal in terms of quality, but in terms of how one should respect another’s work, in terms of giving all arts a fair chance to express their goals and final product.

As a reviewer, despite my training in Academia to read and write reviews of works in a critical fashion, I found it nearly impossible to dislike most anything in print. Oh yes, there are many pieces of crap in the world of creative arts, but when I was given great works alongside them I never wanted to poop on the bad for fear of missing out on an opportunity to promote something that was really good. That doesn’t sit well with numerous people who read critical reviews. And I accept and understand that. However, I can still do my thing and the people who don’t like my thing can go look elsewhere for the heavy critiques, the definitive reviews, and of course the snarky crap that seems to be everywhere.

This isn’t though a piece about reviewing, nor my collection. However much they’ve been referred towards.

I am saying that when looking at great works and not so great, it is no crime to enjoy anything. We are not bound by any rule that says Rob Schneider movies must not make you laugh. We are allowed to enjoy King Kong beating the crap out of Godzilla, despite the clearly fake effects, despite the horrid voice acting. What you enjoy is just that.

So, am I therefore a(n) universalist regarding culture*? Of course I could be, there is nothing wrong with that, but no. Do I think all expressions of creativity are equal? The performance artist who covered her nude self in chocolate pudding and read poetry decrying misogyny certainly caught my attention, but it was nothing nearly as powerful as any of the songs by Tracy Chapman about the same subject. Both expressed something important, perhaps personally to each woman performing, but one was better. I think taste is involved but the quality of one presentation was simply better.

I am trying I guess to explain that people might assume that people who like punk music won’t like country or disco, but people might also assume Opera is great and still like the Three Stooges, Nascar, and other fine things in life. Like what you like, high art, low brow, mass culture, popular culture, critical nightmare, or critically acclaimed, what you like is in your soul, don’t second guess your own taste.

* But with only one exception that I’ve noticed (not going to talk about it now at least), I am a(n) universalist regarding foods from all cultures. I guess there is more than one reason I am chubbers.

Here is where you may find more of me:
My Poetry Blog
God Blog
My Space
My Comic book recommendations Blog


Brynna said...

It is interesting that you mention that having tastes in many different things isn't bad.

Except, in my own admission, I am an elitist when it comes to quality of movies. I love the old stuff, even the cheap effects stuff (MST3K I just adore as well as Original Star Trek), but I don't like slapstick/crude humor comedies. I feel as though if I'm going to watch a cheap movie, then I might as well watch a cheap movie with subtitles on the bottom.

You mean movies aren't supposed to have words on them? What?

Thus, I come to your point about the "equal respect if done well". Exactly. But who decides what is done well? You who like comedies, or me who likes dramas?

If you find it nearly impossible to dislike most anything in print, that means you like almost everything.

But I do enjoy your opinion on how it doesn't matter what people like, but that they are allowed to like anything they want.

Excellent article.

alex-ness said...

thank you my dear.

Similarly themed to your comment, I received an email regarding this post from someone I'd much rather posted a comment, asking if I am not truly having my cake and eating it too. Suggesting as I am that there is something to define such as quality at the same time as saying people should like what they like. My point is quite the opposite. I am not saying you should only like good things, but that taste is more important than "quality". It is wonderful to decide what has quality and what does not. Go for it. Do that. But if you like beer and pretzels games, or football, do that, enjoy that! If you like good things great. Like em. But if you are pretending to enjoy stuff you don't understand, or pooping on other stuff you actually do like you are missing the point. Life is too good to get hung up on labels, especially when we are talking about subjectivity.

I am no expert but I think that when I laugh at a movie that intended that to happen, I am happy and they succeeded. If an expert critic tells me a movie sucked and has no moments of humor and I find otherwise, then that critic has failed my sense of taste.

I think everyone in life would be happier if they did things without regret or pretense, and this blog entry is an attempt to encourage that.

kurt wilcken said...

I might have quoted this to you before; but Peter Schickele used to preface his radio show by saying it was "dedicated to the proposition that all music is created equal. Or in the words of Duke Ellington, It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that certain je ne sai quoi. Or if it sounds good, it is good!"

alex-ness said...

you might have, but it nonetheless retains value.

I think effort and inspiration and ability equals great stuff. Regardless of the medium.

Steve Chaput said...

People who don't know me are often surprised to discover that I read comics. I don't why a Librarian wouldn't read them, but it seems odd to them.

Depending on my mood I'll read everything from Stephen King to Louis L'Amour, from True Crime to Richard Preston writing on ebola. One day I'll sit down and watch back to back episodes of Gene Autry and then switch over to OnDemand to see what is being shown on FearNet.

Blame in on growing up with two parents who read quite a bit. Although both my parents had only high school educations, both loved reading and there were always books & periodicals around. I never remember my parents trying to discourage me from reading anything (well, maybe pornography).

My father loved westerns & 'war movies', while my mother comedies and mystery/suspense films and we spent hours sitting in the living room watching together.

Derek Handley said...

It's a great thing to be able to enjoy and display your enjoyment what you like, rather than feeling you should only show on your shelves what is considered good. As a teenager, I tried too hard to conform to other people's ideas, and ended up owning books and albums I didn't enjoy but which I thought I needed on my shelves, while hiding other things. Thankfully, I grew out of that. Now "Stars and Stripes" and "Full Metal Alchemist" jostle for position with "Watchmen" and "Akira", "World According to Garp" sits beside Terry Pratchett's latests, and Kylie Minogue and Bach both have space on my hard-drive, because I enjoy them.

It's a much better way to be.

There's good in many things, if we let ourselves appreciate it. Thanks as always for sharing your thoughts.

alex-ness said...

I haven't always been so open about my taste. I wouldn't shelve anything in public view rather than shelve items I didn't like. But I know numerous people who if Wizard says its hot very soon it will be seen upon their personal shelf.

I am a little that way though with Art, if I am told that an artist is good and is out of my taste range I will still be interested. But that is not out of trying to conform and much more towards trying to understand. I am very excited to understand.

When you visit Minnesota Derek I will take you to the Walker Arts Center, it is fabulous and eye opening. (And accessible.)