Some Thoughts on Culture(s)

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88 Responses

  1. Avatar j r says:

    The stuff that puts me on the defense is when people say my tastes are not organic or that no one can sincerely like high culture stuff>.

    The first thing that I should point out is that no one is actually saying this. What people are reacting to is the implicit sense in your writing that your tastes are necessarily reflective of some higher form of appreciation for the arts, while everyone else is just geeking out and indulging their inner twelve-year old or gawking, slack-jawed at explosions and CGI. It comes across as a bit of an affectation.

    The problem I have with your take on culture is that you often lament the loss of things that aren’t even lost. We are probably past the high point of jazz’ evolution and proliferation of styles, but there’s still plenty of great jazz being played and recorded. Just like there’s plenty of classical music and opera and dance and theater being made all across this country right now. Just like there are lot and lots of indie movies and indie bands. When you realize that this is the case, the criticism that we are losing something culturally just starts to ring hollow.

    Underneath it all, what I really see from you is a lament that the things you don’t like don’t occupy some universally recognized position of superiority. Like I said, on the other thread, I like a lot of the same crap that you like (although I’m not much of a theater buff) and dislike a lot of the same stuff (although I love sports), so I have a bit of empathy. At the same time, I do not care at all that my tastes aren’t celebrated and may even come across as a bit anachronistic. Why should I care? To quote Jay Z, “respect the game; that should be it/ what you eat don’t make me…”Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to j r says:

      I’m going to (respectfully) agree with JR’s comment here. It’s not that your interests in those things, it’s the lamenting that other people don’t like them more. It feels a bit like concern trolling.

      As for history, I don’t consider the BBC very ‘high culture’ either. Anything is a step above the History Channel, but that is a very low bar.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Maribou and I have started watching Cadfael and, lemme tell ya, it’s the middlest middlebrow that ever browed.

        That said, it’s the most downright soothing show I’ve seen in years. It oozes Stuff White People Like spores and you feel yourself congratulating yourself for watching something like this instead of something with spaceships or guns even as you giggle at the costume dramaness of it all.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        As a history major, I have to say though that the more realistic folks in the field (myself included) value people like Ken Burns and the late Stephen Ambrose. They make history interesting and accessible for the masses and that is definitely a net good, as long as it is accurate.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Ambrose was pretty cool, sans the Confederate apologia.

        I don’t know how anyone can hate Burns. He distills massive amounts of scholarship and testimony into a form so palatable that people who don’t even listen to jazz will watch a 1200 minute documentary about it. His Civil War documentary was spectacular, and I enjoyed The War even if it has some problems. Baseball was clearly a labor of love, even if I got bored with it at some after the 1930s.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Imagine someone writing such a piece about a flavor of ice cream.

    Personally, I think that people who eat ice cream with nuts in it are much, much more sophisticated than people who eschew, and don’t chew, cashews.

    When you go to the grocery store, how many flavours like vanilla or chocolate or strawberry are there cluttering the shelves when there’s a forlourn ghetto devoted to, maybe, one row of macadamia nut and another for butter pecan. How much pleasure are other people denying themselves? How many experiences are they missing out on? How many opportunities have they flat out *MISSED*? Worse than that, this childish attachment to the flavours provided by varied and sundry beans or fruits (or, shudder, both) is taking up room that would be better off populated by ice cream with walnuts, almonds, peanuts, or chestnuts.

    The worst is that, when I point this out to the bean eaters and fruity people, they start yelling at me like *I* am part of the problem.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

      I suppose this goes to how valid you think cultural criticism is or not. I admit that I probably went overboard in my sneer and that was wrong and mean-spirited but all scenes and cultures have their languages and vocabularies and this is not going to appeal to all people. Sometimes the language or vocabulary of a scene/culture is just going to rub off on someone in a really wrong way.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I refuse to believe that not participating in a scene/culture means that you can’t get enjoyment out of what they like.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Well, it gets us back to the whole “is this a matter of morality or is it a matter of taste?” question that is fairly important.

        If something is an entertainment, being upset that someone has a different taste than you do is fundamentally silly. It’s, like, not even wrong.

        There are ways to explore issues and talk about how, sure, on the surface it looks like a simple entertainment, but it’s coarsening the culture and corrupting the youth and, therefore, we need to engage in, if not censorship (because that’d be overboard), some social signalling that indicates a broader disapproval of coarsening entertainments (but not to the degree that we come across as Church Lady types).

        But I’ve read enough of those kind of essays complaining about D&D in the 80’s and complaining about rap music in the 90’s to respond to the 2015 incarnation with anything but the same raspberry that I used back then.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @jaybird

        I think the answer to your question is that it’s complicated and often a mix of both or neither and tricky.

        I obviously don’t think Dungeons and Dragons is immoral in a “This is going to turn our kids into Satan worshippers” kind of way. I like Dungeons and Dragons, it is pretty neat and encourages creativity. I also don’t dislike hip-hop for spreading anti-authoritarian attitudes. I probably agree with Fuck the Police more than disagree with it. I just don’t feel very authentic listening to much hip-hop because I am a bookish Jewish dude from the suburbs.

        What I dislike is going to play some games and having it end up being a bunch of science and computer types cracking jokes about how people who study the arts and humanities are not really intelligent because of their fields. I fully admit that I would probably flunk out of an Engineering program but that doesn’t mean studying Drama or History are bullshit studies.

        I’ve also been perplexed by attitudes I’ve seen in SF and Fantasy fans about how art more or less stopped with the pre-Raphaelites and that non-representational art is not really art and just a con game. How can people who like fantastic and wonderful worlds have such a dismissive attitude towards things that are just more non-representational in their presentation? How can people who study theoretical science and math find Picasso or Serra too out there? I suppose we all have our contradictions.

        When it comes to taste/morality it can be different though. I’ve seen some meme floating around facebook that says something like “If you came to my house wearing pajamas, I won’t judge you because I will probably be wearing pajamas too.” I sort of go against this and the increased wearing of PJs and lounge wear in public. I generally feel kind of gross if I wear PJs too long in the morning or put them on too early in the evening instead of relaxed.
        I also think it is a matter of respect to show up places (including in public) dressed appropriately.

        What if someone thinks that clothing is just another way in which we all just rush to judgment and that the world will be a better place if we all just relax around in PJs without caring about appearance? If I say “that is simply not to my taste”, I can see how it can become a form of judgment.

        People are weird. I know people who will gladly mock climate change-deniers and anti-vaxxers and then suddenly get huffy about how Doctors are “ableist” if they make a suggesting about losing weight to a patient. I find this odd to say the least.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        What if someone thinks that clothing is just another way in which we all just rush to judgment and that the world will be a better place if we all just relax around in PJs without caring about appearance? If I say “that is simply not to my taste”, I can see how it can become a form of judgment.

        For you it frequently is a form of judgment, and a moral one (or one related to manners), as you demonstrate quite clearly in the paragraph that immediately precedes you saying, “I can see how it can become a form of judgment.” You know, when you said, “I also think it is a matter of respect to show up places (including in public) dressed appropriately.”Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        What I dislike is going to play some games and having it end up being a bunch of science and computer types cracking jokes about how people who study the arts and humanities are not really intelligent because of their fields.

        See it as an opportunity to give a speech about the grand tradition of theater that dates back to the earliest days of geometry. It’s an opportunity for quality (poetic!) smack talk. Rise to it.

        I’ve also been perplexed by attitudes I’ve seen in SF and Fantasy fans about how art more or less stopped with the pre-Raphaelites and that non-representational art is not really art and just a con game

        What if they were complaining about music stopping in the jazz era and were complaining about the childish pop music that the kidz are listening to these days?

        I also think it is a matter of respect to show up places (including in public) dressed appropriately.

        Respect for *WHAT*? This is important.

        I used to dress fairly well for the airport. Not church clothes or anything, but jeans and a button down, collared shirt. Then… the TSA came. I wear PJs to fly now. Because they’re going to make me take off my belt and shoes, I might as well wear drawstring pants and slippers. And if I’m wearing those, I might as well wear a comfy top.

        The problem, it seems to me, is that people *KNOW* that there is very little ground to complain about someone else’s taste but there *IS* ground to complain about morality… the problem with making an issue about morality (because you can make *ANYTHING* about morality) is that there are competing moralities.

        You want to complain about chubsters discussing ableism? They can discuss body positivity in response. You want to discuss health care? They can discuss disparate impact among genders for weight loss results and cultural expectations thereby.

        Every moral claim has an equal and opposite moral claim in any given discussion of matters of taste.

        At the end of the day though, the problem ain’t the people who say “I like what I like.” It’s the people who add “You shouldn’t like what you like.” And that’s just as true for people who think that you shouldn’t like Pollack as people who think that you shouldn’t like splodey movies.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        The appropriate comeuppance to folks who can’t show some respect for the liberal arts is to remind them that astronomy and geometry were both part of the liberal arts — as they’d well know, if they’d bothered to actually learn a scrap of history.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        “What I dislike is going to play some games and having it end up being a bunch of science and computer types cracking jokes about how people who study the arts and humanities are not really intelligent because of their fields.”

        How often does this actually happen?Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumber in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @jaybird

        you shouldn’t like Pollack

        He was great in A Few Good Men…Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I definitely see the hostility Saul sees, though I think he doesn’t have a very clear sense of its locus. I suspect he’d likely be surprised at how many scientists, particularly academic scientists, are really big into “high art,” even those who also like science fiction, role playing games, and such. I don’t really see any of it here, though, as I don’t think we have very many SCIENCE!!!! folks (we do have a couple).Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @chris

        Here is how I see it…

        This website has a number of people who are into fantasy and SF and gaming. It has a number of people who are into high art. My hunch is that the former group outnumbers the latter group but, ultimately, only one person — Saul, an admitted member of the latter group — is the only one leveling this sort of criticism around. And he has a pretty broad range of targets. He goes after “jock-bro-dudes” and “geeks” alike, all the while complaining of being attacked.

        Saul, you are the only cultural bully ’round these parts. Maybe this joint is non-representative of your life experiences but if that is the case — if you are going to make arguments that amount to accusations and critiques of cultures/subcultures that people here participate in — you’re going to have to substantiate them more than you typically do.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Kazzy, right, I’ve almost never seen it around here. If you search through the archives, I’m sure you can find a commenter calling something “pomo” at some point, but even that’s rare.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @chris

        I’m sure it exists, here and elsewhere. I just think you are far more likely to find Rufus talking about art I’ve never heard of then anyone riffing on how dumb art majors are. But what you are likely to find is Saul criticizing people like myself — people who enjoy sports and exercising and working out — and other groups, all the while playing the victim card. It’s just getting tiring, to be honest.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Oh yeah, Saul committs each and every sin he feels directed at him, and more, and he commits them repeatedly.Report

      • Avatar NoPublic in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        People are weird. I know people who will gladly mock climate change-deniers and anti-vaxxers and then suddenly get huffy about how Doctors are “ableist” if they make a suggesting about losing weight to a patient. I find this odd to say the least.

        Sometimes that is inappropriate from a doctor. I have a dear friend who’s overweight, nigh on morbidly obese. Her bloodwork and BP and stress tests are all aces, though. She’s about as healthy as someone her age can be and regularly runs 5Ks. She gets very cranky when every issue she has is dragged back to her weight. It has to do with being blown off by three or four doctors a few years back about back pain that ended up being a growth pushing on some bits that shouldn’t be pushed on. Benign, luckily, but it grew for several months longer than it should have because she’s fat. Doctors do this all the time. And it’s not really ableism, it’s fat-shaming and it sucks.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @saul-degraw , I want to jump on this particular point for a bit:

        I’ve also been perplexed by attitudes I’ve seen in SF and Fantasy fans about how art more or less stopped with the pre-Raphaelites and that non-representational art is not really art and just a con game. How can people who like fantastic and wonderful worlds have such a dismissive attitude towards things that are just more non-representational in their presentation? How can people who study theoretical science and math find Picasso or Serra too out there? I suppose we all have our contradictions.

        I’m not sure you’re giving these views enough credit. The history of visual art in the 20th century is a series of artistic movements that are founded primarily in the rejection of whatever the hell the previous movement cared about. I think, perhaps, the people you’re talking about dislike the art because they believe it’s a conversation not worth having. So much of science and mathematics is the quest for literal meaning. It is the practice of taking something complex and chaotic and turning into something simple and structured. When that standard is applied to a lot of post-realism artwork, it can seem like the emperor is wearing no clothes.

        In other words, It’s not that these people are looking at a Picasso and asking “why would someone pay millions of dollars for a painting full of brown squares?” so much as asking “why would someone pay millions of dollars for a painting of a nude woman?”Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @alan-scott

        That is a fair point and it just might amount to a difference of viewpoints. I am at home in the chaos of the world and thinks that most of things that happen to people in their lives is largely about chaos and anarchy. I like this in non-representative art.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @saul-degraw

        I am at home in the chaos of the world and thinks that most of things that happen to people in their lives is largely about chaos and anarchy.

        The sciences have a complex relationship with uncertainty. On the one hand you have to doubt to do science – if you think you know everything you can’t learn anything. On the other hand, the purpose of that doubt is to motivate you to find out the answer – you admit your ignorance so as to dispatch it.

        The social sciences are similar. I acknowledge the chaos of human institutions and cultures, but the reason I do so is to understand the task before me – to try and find the higher order that underlies the chaos.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

      eschew, and don’t chew, cashews.

      But does Chewbacca chew ‘backy?Report

  3. Avatar Kim says:

    “my tastes are not organic”
    Yeah. That’s a commentary about you, not about what you like.
    Making comments about “de-geekifying” yourself doesn’t exactly help with this perception. [geek in your idiolect is significantly different than what most people hear when you say it, so confusion reigns.]

    MANY people are just sheep, who walk around baa-ing at everything, consuming what more critical minds say that they should consume. Do I count myself immune to this? No, but I can discuss coherently what i do and do not like.

    I find people who claim that they like something (see: “Classical Music”) and aren’t interested in new things terribly much, nor able to explain why they like one thing, and not another… That’s probably indicative of “affecting loving something I don’t understand.”

    I highly doubt I could make the same claim of you regarding theater. I feel kinda certain that you are leaping for the latest cool work there, as well as enjoying the classics. (and if you aren’t, you can give reasons why you don’t think you like the latest avant-garde movement).

    I’ll note that my mom has no taste in anything, whatsoever. And she goes to all the artsy things possible, and never has a thing to say. “It was interesting”, and stuff like that. Never pulls anything out of it, and is really boring to hang around.

    By the way, got a video game I think you’d like: ICO.Report

  4. Avatar Damon says:

    I’ll share our disdain for the History Channel. It used to be better. But it’s going the way TLC and many other channels have. I have seen some cool stuff on Nat Geo, specifically “Stonehenge Empire” Yeah, I like that and stuff about the antikythera mechanism.

    I loath modern art or dance. I’ve seen enough to know I don’t like most of it. I like the classics, except for all those portraits of “important people”. And I’m very fond of Asian art from Tibet, China, India, Persia, etc. It’s my thing. And nothing annoys me more than taking a Shakespeare play like Othello and setting it in 1950s era post WW2. Ugh. But those are my preferences.

    Like was said above. Everyone’s got their thing. I will say that “trendiness” is something I try hard to avoid. And I’m disdainful of those that follow it, as I consider most who do as having a lack of critical thinking, but those are MY biases I’m willing to admit 🙂Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Damon says:

      Othello shouldn’t be done like that. And I find increasingly that the 1950’s setting is just self-congratulatory, in general.

      The History Channel has ceased to be about anything meaningful, and they can’t even do that right. (seriously, there are visual issues with their “filmography”)Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Kim says:

        Indeed. I saw Avery Brooks play Othello in DC in period (to the time of the play’s writing) with no set except a wall. It was outstanding. That’s how I like my Shakespeare.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Kim says:

        See, I have mixed feelings. Our Venice isn’t Shakespeare’s Venice. Our Scotland isn’t Shakespeare’s Scotland. He didn’t write his plays to take place in generic Ye Olde Times, but in a specific cultural and historical context that’s lost to modern audiences.

        Get why a director would want to transpose the play into a setting that reflects the spirit, rather than the specific details, of the existing work. I did costumes for a production of MacBeth set in war-torn WWI Eastern Europe, and it was great.

        Of course, every attempt isn’t a success, and there’s a general trend of trying to do shakespeare “With a Twist (TM)” that can lead to pretty terrible results.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Kim says:

        Re: Shakespeare

        I agree with @alan-scott. You can do Shakespeare in a different time and era very badly or if done well it can really add to the understanding of the text. I like the idea of doing MacBeth in a WWI Eastern Europe considering what WWI did to topple various old regimes in Eastern Europe that seems like a brilliant choice.

        You don’t need a big budget to do Shakespeare well but if you want to do period Shakespeare, you need a big budget. The worst Shakespeare I’ve seen has been went companies want to do a production in full Elizabethan regalia but they obviously lacked the budget to get such costumes.

        Theatre is all about working with what you have, not what you want.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Kim says:

        Yes you CAN do Shakespeare in another time period, but my experience has been that the play then becomes not about the play, but about “exploring the intersection of racism, dominant cultural themes, miscegenation, and white power privilege” or something like that. And hey, that’s cool if that’s your thing. But since that message consistently fails to be in the adverts, you’ve sold me a bill of goods when I show up and read it in the program.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim says:

        Damon,
        I’m increasingly of the idea that such self-reflectivity is Inappropriate to the Bard, who was a Commercial Artist First and Foremost.

        Kurosawa did great reimaginings of Shakespeare. But they weren’t about “periods” so much as taking a good plot and putting it someplace where it would fit.

        If you’re holding a looking glass up to something, I think you’d better do that as present day, present time. Because if you’re simply critiqueing “what we’ve outgrown”… that’s dumb.

        I’ll give an exception to this rule with a story like “Stand By Me” — the critiques it does are on point, not detracting to the entire story, and oh, so accurate. (besides, I like a little bit of nostalgia piercing).Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Kim says:

        the play then becomes not about the play, but about “exploring the intersection of racism, dominant cultural themes, miscegenation, and white power privilege” or something like that.

        That’s a pretty significant chunk of what Othello is about even when it’s set in 13th century Venice.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Damon says:

      The history channel was never that good. A&E found that its Hitler documentaries aired between random celebrity biography and Caroline’s Comedy hour were getting decent ratings, so it spun off an entire channel to them.Report

    • Avatar Lyle in reply to Damon says:

      Agreed it should change its name to the reality show channel, with loggers, folks looking for antiques to sell, ice road truckers, folks doing restoration of the antiques found by the antique hunters, and pawn store operators. They have very little true history left.
      Anyway I have found that if you read history it is largely told from the point of view the author wishes to project. One example is to compare the treatment of native Americans in 100 year old history books to todays books. (Back then it was almost the only good native American is a dead native American….)
      The first conclusion is that before 200 years have elapsed from the events told, there is to much prejudice involved in the telling.Report

  5. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I was talking with a friend recently about the differences between 24-year-old Kazzy and 31-year-old Kazzy. Chief among them were the realizations that A) I wasn’t right about everything and B) I didn’t need to try to be right about everything.

    24-year-old Kazzy: You don’t like Indian? Have you ever tried it? No, I mean, REALLY tried it? You probably just aren’t letting yourself like it. It’s objectively good.
    31-year-old Kazzy: No saag paneer for you? Awesome! More for me. We’ll be sure to pick you up a grilled cheese on the way back. Win-win.Report

  6. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I think childlike wonder helps one succeed in the arts more than the humanities. The people you see on those television programs that are sort of professional academics have been through the university system, which tends to apply rigor and specialization to childlike wonder until it’s… well, more academic at any rate. In my experience, they are highly curious people, but not so much in their work. Now, in the arts, you can go nuts. I think of someone like Julie Taymor, who can be fascinated with nearly anything and apply it to theatre and people will probably praise her for it- okay, everything but Spiderman! But, you see what I mean? Childlike wonder in an artist can be seen as a good thing. In an academic, not as much.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Rufus F. says:

      This is absolutely true but I suppose it depends on what art one is doing.

      I was the guy in grad school known for getting Beckett and Brecht. I wasn’t exactly the one itching to do musicals though there are good musicals and I still have an idea of wanting to do an opera based on the Garden of the Finzi-Continis.

      But this is pretty spot on and can contribute to the whole MFA v. no-MFA debate. Academics does need a rigor and specialization.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @saul-degraw , you should do some posts on Beckett or Brecht. One of the reasons your culture posts are sometimes hard to read is that you spend a lot of time talking about the politics of the low culture vs. high culture struggle, but very little time exploring what makes the culture you enjoy worthwhile.

        Besides, If you and I are going to argue about culture on the internet, I bet we’d both have more fun arguing about Brechtian isolationism instead of arguing over whether Superman or Leopold Bloom would win in a fight.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Rufus F. says:

      Wait… are we talking about childlike wonder as if it is an inherently bad thing?Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Rufus F. says:

      So basically I’ve been grad schooled out of liking something like a normal person?Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Any thorough study of something will do that to you.
        I know a film critic, and writer — he can’t not see the seams,
        can’t NOT look at the artifice.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        So basically I’ve been grad schooled out of liking something like a normal person?

        If you have, I haven’t seen it. For one, you yourself have suggested that much of your taste predates your post-secondary education, and what’s more, your tastes are not at all that unusual. If grad school has anything to do with it, it’s in grad schooling you into having your identity so deeply wrapped up in certain of your tastes.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I have seen people who’ve been grad schooled out of liking something like a normal person. They’re almost all lit people, and they’re almost all trained in literary crit, which seems to render pleasure reading difficult if not impossible for some. In other words, they’re grad schooled out of precisely what you are so adamant you are not out of: deriving pleasure from art.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I once went to a lit conference because my dissertation had to do with French authors and poets, sort of. It was so bizarre! People seemed enamored with different theoretical schools, but I got the feeling that they would look at me like a pedophile if I said, “Yeah, but c’mon, we’re reading Nerval because he’s freaking great!!”Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Chris,
        I know a comedian who reads Pratchett. He says that he can’t help but see the jokes being set up… and that’s a page or two in advance of the punchline.Report

      • Avatar Guy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @kim You know what I loved about Bojack Horseman, especially in its second half? I could see all these setups for jokes, even fill in the punchline, but the writers just refused to actually put the punchline in the script. It was an amazing effect.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Guy,
        I’ll put that on my list of things to get… sometime.
        Netflix is netflix, and it may be a cold day in hell before I can manage a Netflix account.Report

  7. Avatar aaron david says:

    There is some High Art that I love, literature and jazz. Lots that I like some parts of, and could care less about, painting and sculpture. Also a bit that I loathe, classical music and live theater. But that is just me and my tastes. At the same time, there is quite a bit of low brow culture that I love and have the utmost respect for. And that is what drives me absolutely crazy about this argument.

    Why are we teaching kids classical music? Why are we teaching them “modern dance?” Why aren’t we saying to kids “go out and find your own music, your own dance?” Showing kids a library and saying “go pick a book and tell me about it and if you don’t find one you like, write your own!” Somehow we decided that there were endpoints to culture, and we knew them. No one is saying go out and create culture. No, we are saying “go out and play the music some jackass wrote 100-200 years ago, ’cause we, the adults, think its important.”

    Why is Debussy better than Dr Dre? Baryshnikov better than Kenny Block? Why is the old better than the new?Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to aaron david says:

      On one of the other threads that was broadly about this topic, @tod-kelly made a comment that approximates my own view of these things. When we talk about high art and low art, what we are doing is recognizing a categorical distinction and not necessarily a manner of moral or artistic superiority.

      Think about the difference between the food that McDonald’s serves and what’s on the menu at a Michelin star restaurant. The training and the creativity and the process of invention and refinement that goes into fine dining is something objectively different than what goes on at a fast food restaurant. Anybody can walk in off the street and be a competent grill cook at McDonald’s within a short amount of time, but you just can’t say the same for what goes on at a place like the French Laundry.

      That doesn’t mean that some people are always going to find a Big Mac value meal more palatable than a three-star tasting menu. These are categorical distinctions, but not necessarily ordinal.

      That said, there is a very good argument to be made for pushing people (students, for example) to gain both skills and appreciation for things in the “fine” category. This is not because these things are necessarily better or because it can function as a signal of your own refinement. Rather, it’s because it is generally good to gain skill in doing things that require practice or to gain an appreciation for things that don’t reveal themselves too easily. Saul is right in this respect, learning to look beyond what you like as a kid or what comes easy is a valuable skill to have. Where I disagree with Saul is that I think he gets too caught up in the taxonomy of what is and what is not high and low. You can find high art and expert craftsmanship in some of the least obvious places, which is generally the reason that I support developing the appreciation in the first place.Report

      • Avatar aaron david in reply to j r says:

        @j-r , I have eaten at Michelin star restaurants (Chez Panissse and others) and and I would say that the food at McD’s is better. That the cooks are better. That the experience is better. Period.*

        Why? Because I am the judge of what I like.

        What we are doing is taking culture and putting it on a pedestal. Saying “this far, no further”

        Fuck. That.

        The only people who feel that art is subjective are those who feel that the art they like is the best. The art I like is the art I like. I grew up with all of the cultural education one could ask for, taken to museums, dance, theater, and while I can recognize that the practitioners have skills, who has the authority to say who is the best, and that the best in one field is better than the best in an unrelated field. Is Baryshnikov better than the Babe? Who cares!

        But saying that certain fields are the best, such as classical music or ballet? To me, and a few dancers and musicians I have known, that more than anything kills art appreciation. And if someone says ballet is better than forklorico, should we denounce them as racist? Or should we say “if that is what you like, roll with it! Just like stuff, and explore!”

        *Seriously, worst dinning experience in my life was a Chez. Bland food, only three things on the beer menu and the worst service I have ever experienced in my life. McD’s sustained level of quality and the ability to feed thousands in the time it would take to make Oso Buco is a true art and something the cook should be rightly proud of.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to j r says:

        @aaron-david

        To be fair, you also wrote a post about how much you disliked food and foodie culture.

        I have eaten at Chez Panisse and found it divine. It was one of the best meals I ever ate.

        Don’t remember anything wrong with the service.Report

      • Avatar aaron david in reply to j r says:

        @saul-degraw
        You are right about by food manifesto, but as I said in that piece I do want my food to taste good. And I did work in a restaurant in school. As for the service, the waitress had no sense of timeliness, barely seemed interested in seating us or taking our order for drinks. The elderly Dutch couple sitting next to us had many of the same complaints, and she had no interest in working with them (Berkeley for all its faults generally makes accommodations for people who don’t speak English.) As we were leaving she yelled, yelled across the room at me that I left my change on the table. While I know that Chez includes gratuity in the charge, I always tip in cash.
        And while I may not be the biggest food fan, my wife is. The whole thing was deplorable. Especially the only 3 mediocre beers. Not everyone drinks wine, or wants wine. Good restaurants recognize this.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to j r says:

        I suppose we could have gone on very different nights. Any place is going to have an off night every now and then. I went when they were doing a menu based on lamb and it was delicious and the service was good and unremarkable.

        Don’t remember anything about their beer selections but I will concur that a lot of places don’t always have a great selection of beers. Even places that should know better often have very small beer selections.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to j r says:

        @aaron-david

        You are not even coming close to responding to what I wrote. I started with the assumption that taste is largely subjective. What you like is what you like and I have no basis for arguing that some alternate collection of tastes would be superior.

        The fact remains that there are objective differences between different categories of art and music and food and the like. And those differences are largely a function of how difficult something is to do, how much training it takes and how much refinement goes into the process.

        You can prefer McDonald’s to Chez Panisse, but the fact remains that you could take a sous chef from Chez and he could work a shift at McDonald’s non problem, while the guy working the grill at McDonald’s would be likely be completely overwhelmed if you gave him a shift at Chez. Give me an hour and a guitar and I could write you a three-chord punk song. It might be terrible, but it would still be a song. If you gave me some sheet music and asked me to write a piano concerto, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

        There is simply a level of knowledge and ability that separates some of the arts from the others; those are the things that we call fine arts. It doesn’t mean that they are “better,” but there is certainly a categorical difference that ought to be recognized.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to j r says:

        And it’s not like Jesus turned water into beer anyway.

        Is beer even mentioned in The Bible?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to j r says:

        And yet every reference is to wine or “strong drink” in those verses.

        Not beer.

        The Lord is trying to tell us something, people.Report

      • Avatar aaron david in reply to j r says:

        @j-r
        I did miss your line on subjectivity. Sorry, I read too fast and too much into it.

        But, do think that we, as a society, place way too much emphasis on what we consider high and fine arts, and do not understand the level of skills needed for other endeavors. You state that there is no way a line cook from McD’s could pull off a sous chef slot at Chez, and I would agree. Where I disagree is that the sous chef could easily work the line at McD’s. She would fail miserably. Not because she don’t understand cooking techniques, but that she doesn’t understand techniques for that job. It might take less time to learn, but it does take time. Working a line at a restaurant with single seatings is very different from one were each meal involves an expeditor. I also disagree that one is greater, or higher, than the other. It might take more time to learn, but its greatness is still subjective. Would it take longer to learn cubism than the methods of the dutch masters?

        “There is simply a level of knowledge and ability that separates some of the arts from the others; those are the things that we call fine arts. It doesn’t mean that they are “better,” but there is certainly a categorical difference that ought to be recognized.”

        I disagree with you here, for the reasons above. The problem that I have is we don’t always know what the level of knowledge is required for things we don’t think about. We assume that something that we like must be hard, and therefore we reward it. We rarely bother to think about what it takes to do things that don’t interest us.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

        I had a steak at a Michelin restaurant once, but it was really rubbery.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to j r says:

        That joke is so tired.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to j r says:

        @aaron-david and @j-r

        I think you are both right. I do think there are certain tasks (for lack of a better word) that are objectively more difficult than others. But I think it is really easy to overstate how often this is the case. And there is a tendency for the “culturally elite” or “culturally powerful” to tip the scales in favor of their preferred forms.

        I don’t know that it is necessary true that it is easier to craft the McDonalds menu than French Laundry’s. And I think comparing a line cook in the latter to the guy manning the grill at the former is actually the wrong comparison to make. Really, the guy manning the grill is more akin to the waiter at FL. The people who make McDonalds food aren’t in the restaurant. They exist in a corporate HQ somewhere where they figure out how to make every burger in every McDonalds in the country taste exactly the same. That is no small feat. Is it harder or easier than what is done in the kitchen at FL? I think that is impossible to do. They are different skill sets. But I don’t think we can say — objectively — that one is harder than the other.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to j r says:

        Mike Schilling, Chris- Spare us these jokes, please!Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to j r says:

        +1 rufus. They shouldn’t tread on us.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to j r says:

        Yeah, some of these jokes are falling a little flat.Report

      • Avatar Guy in reply to j r says:

        @jaybird (but not only)

        “Think about the difference between the food that McDonald’s serves and what’s on the menu at a Michelin star restaurant. The training and the creativity and the process of invention and refinement that goes into fine dining is something objectively different than what goes on at a fast food restaurant. Anybody can walk in off the street and be a competent grill cook at McDonald’s within a short amount of time, but you just can’t say the same for what goes on at a place like the French Laundry.”

        This argument…

        This and its more direct equivalent* is an argument that I see talked about quite a bit, and sometimes heavily implied in some criticism, but I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve actually encountered it. I figured it was just self-evidently stupid, and all the people fighting it were slaying straw. The people making it always manage to narrowly define their “kind” of whatever is under discussion such that any low-talent hacks that might wish to produce it are automatically dumped into some other category rather suspiciously close to the speaker’s favorite. Or sometimes they choose to disregard essential qualities of their interlocutor’s kind of thing such that the masters of their kind could flawlessly execute whatever reduced version of the opposing category they deigned to be part of.

        I could open up GIMP and start drawing away on my touchpad right now, or I could go get a pencil and some printer paper and sketch something out. Or I could go get my phone and take a picture of the couch in the living room. They would all be equally terrible, because I am untrained in all three of the above mentioned art. Or, if you handed me a problem, I could whip up some code to solve it, and it would be reasonably elegant. I could also write a half-decent story about any topic you care to name, because in those areas I have some idea what I’m doing. @kazzy has the right of it. Be very, very careful before you make a comparison like this; you must make sure that you are actually comparing like things, and comparing them across all dimensions relevant to either. If that’s not possible, you should probably toss your original comparison and speak directly to what you like or dislike.

        *[your kind of THIS] is made by low-talent hacks, [my kind of THIS] is made by craftsmen of the first class, where THIS is music, some flavor of story, pictures, whatever.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumber in reply to j r says:

        @chris

        I’ve never heard the @mike-schilling joke before. It was funny.Report

      • Avatar Guy in reply to j r says:

        @scarletnumber Chris’s was pretty great too.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to j r says:

        @aaron-david most are retreads, too.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumber in reply to j r says:

        @guy

        D’oh!Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

        You’ll se it again. It’s the kind of joke that keeps going around.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to aaron david says:

      @aaron-david

      I will try and answer your substantive points.

      1. I don’t love all high culture either and I don’t expect everyone to love all high culture. For example, I loathe the pre-Raphaelites. However, there are a lot of people who adore the pre-Raphaelites.

      2. I believe in studying art and culture in schools because I don’t want our schools to merely become STEM academies focused on whatever admins and hire ups think are hot trends in jobs and markets. Schools should provide a well-balanced education in a variety of subjects including math, science, English, history, art, music, etc.’

      3. There is something in the current zeitgeist about keeping everything as pop culture as possible and the sites admit it as such down to their names. I notice one popular linked to site is called Pop Sugar. This name suggests such an ephemeral nature to me that I wonder why it was picked.

      3. Are you picking Debussy and Barshnikov because you don’t care for Classical music or Ballet? What if it was about studying Ornette Coleman over Dr. Dre? Or better yet a discussion on how Ravel was a genius and revolutionary in his day and in a way that Dr. Dre was later? The Kids will discover Dr. Dre (or whoever else) on their own. It takes a bit more work to discover Debussy or Ravel or Messiaen.

      4. The only Kenny Block I could find was a race car drive. So the second part of the analogy seems not quite like the first.Report

      • Avatar aaron david in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @saul-degraw
        I will try and answer your substantive points.

        1.”I don’t love all high culture either and I don’t expect everyone to love all high culture. For example, I loathe the pre-Raphaelites. However, there are a lot of people who adore the pre-Raphaelites.”
        My point here was that if scratch the surface most people will love a little of both, high and low culture.

        2. “I believe in studying art and culture in schools because I don’t want our schools to merely become STEM academies focused on whatever admins and hire ups think are hot trends in jobs and markets. Schools should provide a well-balanced education in a variety of subjects including math, science, English, history, art, music, etc.’”
        I believe schools should teach both also, but when it comes to teaching art, I hate that they just teach regurgitating “high” culture and art, instead of alowing students to nurture their own creativity, and create new art. I feel we are stuck, and I want new degenerate art.

        3.”There is something in the current zeitgeist about keeping everything as pop culture as possible and the sites admit it as such down to their names. I notice one popular linked to site is called Pop Sugar. This name suggests such an ephemeral nature to me that I wonder why it was picked.”
        Not sure what this applies to, so ???
        3.” Are you picking Debussy and Barshnikov because you don’t care for Classical music or Ballet? What if it was about studying Ornette Coleman over Dr. Dre? Or better yet a discussion on how Ravel was a genius and revolutionary in his day and in a way that Dr. Dre was later? The Kids will discover Dr. Dre (or whoever else) on their own. It takes a bit more work to discover Debussy or Ravel or Messiaen.”
        I picked Debussy and Baryshnikov because I thought they would be good examples of those arts that people would recognize. Again, what I want to see is people going out and creating, not regurgitating.

        4. “The only Kenny Block I could find was a race car drive. So the second part of the analogy seems not quite like the first.”
        Ken Block is indeed a race driver. A rally car driver to be exact. This is an form of racing that requires incredible endurance and very fancy footwork. One of the things I really like about ballet is when it is slowed down to an absolute crawl, and it forces dancers to use every bit of muscle they have just to keep from moving to fast. One of the things I like about racing is knowing the racers are able to use there bodies in ways that are near normal at speeds that you or I cannot imagine.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @aaron-david

        FWIW, My 8th grade music appreciation class started with rock and hip-hop and went to jazz and then classical. I also had an English teacher in 8th grade who taught us about metaphor and simile by having everyone in the class pick out a popular song and looking at the lyrics for all the metaphors, etc.Report

  8. Avatar aaron david says:

    “service was good and unremarkable.”

    That was it though, service should always be unremarkable. This wasn’t.Report

  9. Avatar A Compromised Immune System says:

    “Everything is presented in a tone that feels like it comes from an overly-sugared and overgrown eight-year old. There is no analysis or historical connections being made but just a series of facts presented at maximum speed and hyperbolic “isn’t this the coolest” language. I am not even sure why it is necessary to use Fucking in the name of the group either, what purpose does it serve? A friend of mine pointed out that this kind of childlike wonder might be what helps people be good scientists. He might be correct.”

    Imagine someone were to try to make a Facebook group to create the same sense of support, love, and advocacy for science and scientists that one usually ascribes to, say, the Facebook page of a Local Sports Team (Go Piggers! Piggers are gonna go all the way this year!)?

    That’s the way I view the IFLS group. Yes, it uses the word “fucking” in its title. So what? The creator is trying to get people interested in the fact that science develops cool and interesting things. That there’s a lot for them to explore around them.Report

  10. Avatar Murali says:

    Let’s not be too hard on @saul-degraw about there being no one who subscribes to the views he is criticising. At the very least, my prejudices lean in that direction. Let me try to defend the attitude that Saul is criticising.

    There seems to be something contradictory, about claiming at once that high art is pleasurable to consume for some people and at the same time lament that high art qua high art is under-consumed. The contradiction becomes apparent once we assume that hedonic motivations for consumption are privileged (in some sense) over non-hedonic ones. This assumption is borne out by two distinct observations:

    1. Pleasure is intrinsically motivating in a way that other sources of motivation are not. The question of why one would be motivated to consume high art apart from any hedonic value such consumption may provide is more understandable than a question as to why people would be motivated to act on hedonic considerations.

    Perhaps some sort of intellectual curiosity which does not amount exactly to pleasure could motivate an appreciation of the finer or higher arts. The next consideration is aimed at defeating this possibility.

    2. Intellectual curiosity in a given field (e.g philosophy or biology) is vindicated if the enquiry that such curiosity leads to is truth conducive in some way. If you compare two books, both of which are equally pleasurable to read, but one which is harder, a person who chooses the latter is motivated by something in addition to pleasure. The only other plausible motive (except for a perverse masochism) is an interest in the author’s message. It is here that the Socratic criticism of poets as alleged sources of wisdom seems appropriate.

    One of the criticisms of the poets that Socrates makes in the republic is that poets are a kind of idiot savant. The essential characteristic of a poet (or at least a successful one) is his or her ability to string together words in a pleasing manner. But this is mere techne. The artist is no more likely to have a better insight into the subject matter of his art than you or I have. But, because the artist can present his ideas in a pleasing way, he induces us to replace our judgment with his. The artist is thus manipulative. He gets us to accept ideas in ways that have nothing to do with the merit of those ideas. If the artist is not really smarter or wiser than the rest of us, then intellectual curiosity in his ideas is not vindicated as consuming high art does not actually confer knowledge or understanding of the subject of the art, or at least we are no more likely to do so than when talking to our friends or reading people who write more simply.

    However, once we see that the alleged wisdom of the high artist is illusory, it becomes apparent that one additional reason to consume high art is to traffic in the illusion of that wisdom. The high artist appears wise to many, and we can appear wiser than our contemporaries if we express enjoyment in drinking from that alleged wisdom.

    It is thus better to consume art only for the sake of pleasure*. To be motivated, even in part, by the intellectual nature of high art is to be foolish, pretentious or both.

    *or maybe for the sake of religious, social or familial obligation. Sometimes you’ve got to show up for your friends’ performances even if the performance is not to your tastes.Report

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