Wednesday, July 30, 2008

QUALITY, QUANTITY, TASTE, and NICE

I grew up in a family in the American Midwest. What that meant was that I was encouraged to get along, conform to convention, and trust in authority. That might mean the same thing elsewhere but in Minnesota there is a prevailing spirit of “nice”. No that is not meant to suggest something is wrong with being nice, nor is it meant that people are not actually nice. It is also not to suggest that I was ever told to like something I didn’t. In fact, people are encouraged to vote or act upon their conscience but, not to publicly at least rock the boat. So Minnesota Nice, as it were was the cultural language I grew up with. People said Hi How are you but really meant I acknowledge your existence and am now concluding the discussion. People weren’t mean, just ultimately spoke differently than they were communicating the meaning. For example, I’d broken my leg in an accident, it hurt, my body was unused to lugging about a giant cast, while I hopped around using crutches. A person said to me, wow that looks painful, and it was, so I said so. They looked disappointed and my parents reprimanded me later. They said, nobody really wants to know if it is painful. I was thereby causing them discomfort by being honest. I love my parents, this is not directed at them or rather not intending it to be so. But there was in there a spirit of this area that meant that the popular culture spread more via conformity to popularity than by quality. You heard something was good, so it must have been, but there was no guarantee of such a thing.

But rather than adjust my taste to this mass conformity, I simply saw it as the way they were, and not myself. People thought I was weird? Yes. But not weird in an axe wielding homicidal maniac fashion. More, someone who obviously doesn’t fit in the puzzle of mass culture. I had to get used to being an outsider. And being an outsider of popular culture was no easy thing. And some might suggest that when a person is forced to follow a different path they encounter new things that the general society does not. But more than just new or different, being constantly told what you like, whether in terms of medium, or genre, or style or format, you learn quickly what you like, and become aware of why you like it. Popularity might argue that people need never have to defend their taste, but quality might argue that regardless of what you like you experience it more deeply due to a higher level of appreciation.

But being different does not, however much you might be told it does, mean that quantity of success or popularity equals quality. Many people enjoy porn, it makes a lot of people money, a lot of money. No one I know argues that even within the genre itself that there is much difference between the best and the worst of pornography. Erotic literature and nude photography are obviously not included even though either might drift into the waters of pornea.

With all that said, I like many different things, appreciate why I like it, and am happy to discuss it. What I am not willing to do is go into detail about why I dislike various products of popular culture mediums or why I should like or not like the same. However different a person’s taste is, I suggest that we all have a right to our individual taste. Someone I know argued that ABBA was the greatest popular recording music group ever. I would not debate greatest because it is a nebulous concept. Do you refer to sales? Or musicianship? How knowledgeable do I need to be to make that assessment? I am perfectly content that people like their music. Do I? Well I find their music to be rather boring, and in the genre they play not particularly spectacular. But beyond my taste not being excited by ABBA I am wholly of the mind that there is nothing wrong with enjoying their music. But that is not enough. People WANT their taste to be THE taste. And that just isn’t so.

Am I saying everything is equal in quality? No way. I am saying that the vast majority of people enjoying something are not qualified to dissect the quality of one band to another, beyond simple questions of taste. And where taste is involved, people tend to think that their taste is best.

And so that brings me to my real point. Just because you like the taste of something does not mean it is the best there is. All it means, is that you like it. And it doesn’t matter a damn bit if others like it. All it means is that if popular enough you shouldn’t have a problem finding more. Enjoy what you enjoy, do that which pleases your taste, and leave it at that. Otherwise you will confuse mass culture for high culture.

Here is where you may find more of me:

My Poetry Blog
My Comics Blog
God Blog
PopThought.com
My Space

Opening Salvo

    Who we are is a culmination of many things, three of the most important being how we were raised, the era we were raised in, and where we were raised.

    Culture. We are immersed in it everyday, being exposed to its devices at home, on the road, at work, and at play. We breathe deeply of the aspects we enjoy about it, and exhale that which we no longer need or desire.
    The etymology of the word "culture" goes back to the 15th century and has a variety of uses. In Anglo-French Middle English, it meant to "prepare, or cultivate land." Before that, the word was rooted in the Latin word cultus which, of course, comes from "cult." In the vernacular of the day, cult merely meant common worship. So as a derivative, culture gives rise to "those characteristics which define and form the everyday existence of a group of people."

    As much as we like to think of ourselves as individuals, we identify with those who think similar to the way we do; whether it be through religion, politics, music, dress, desires, or dreams. The splintering of culture can go on forever, until, if you choose, you can find like-minded people who want to be identified as Latvian Environmentalist Inbred Gambling Gothic Cowboys who meet monthly for the Sushi Eating and Box-Kite Flying Competition.

    At its root, all cultural phenomenon is very specific and localized, but as it disseminates to the populace, the appeal becomes homogenized until it reaches a critical mass, and then, is gone. One has only to witness the current Hanna Montana craze which is so popular among the pre-teen set. I mean, Ms. Cyrus’ face is everywhere, from posters, to clothing, gizmos, trinkets, folders, pencils, baubles, magazines, books, and of course, CD’s (which gives her access to radio, television, and the internet).
    But take heart, me buckaroos, for that too, shall pass. Latest reports from "The Mouse" is that Miley's show may be in its last season as the 15-year old star is looking at future goals in her carrier. One of which includes *gaspwhowouldhavethunkit*, a Hanna Montana movie on the big screen!
    Small blessings abound for the fact that it is the nature of culture to re-invent itself every few years, even if it is largely in the form of spin-offs and sequels... This ability shows up in all areas of life and influences every way of thinking. Particularly language.

    IMHO, in our hyper-text habit of condensing words, we sometimes forget their original intent. For example: to be a “fan” of something (music group, sports team, etc.) is to express a loyal admiration of whatever is the object of your devotion, such as, "I’m a huge Braves fan!" What we don’t always realize is that the word "fan" is merely a shortened usage of the word "fanatic," so when one is saying how big a fan they are of this or that, what they are really saying is that "I’m a fanatic!"

    When is the last time you trusted a fanatic?

    But, once again, that is the way of culture. It moves, evolves, shifts, undulates, and changes with the times. Here, at Poplitiko, myself, along with the other contributing authors, will attempt to look at not only specific cultural trends and settings, but also general directions that cutting-edge thought and inventions will lead us to. It is this love for examining the mechanics of culture which brings us all together in our desire to find out what makes culture tick and how it affects the societies and individuals it influences as American and world-wide cultures continue to mesh, and in some instances, clash.

    In that sense, I guess you could say that we are all fans.

Cya.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The first look

INTRODUCING POPLITIKO

There are many instances throughout human existence where someone is moved to try something new. For whatever reason they do it, a new pathway is grown, and possibilities for change are enhanced. I know someone who never wishes to try sushi. And that is fine. But for that cultural objection to another culture’s food, they miss out. Comic books used to be viewed as mind numbing children’s books, and bad ones at that. But not all of them were, and as comics matured, so have some people’s views of them. But there will always be people who view comics as a poor medium. But story telling is throughout the creative mediums of culture, whether to create, reflect, dive into, or just look at, we have a common interest in story telling. We want in this blog to chat about anything that our culture, and our culture’s mediums discuss. We hope by doing this we can engage the reader, grow our own store of knowledge, and to interact with people who might otherwise never tried the sushi, and would have loved it.

If you like sushi or not is not the point. That you might like it and never know that is the point. Poplitiko is a gathering of friends who want to know more about the world they live, share ideas, and appreciate the stories the mediums of our culture tell.