Getting Myself in Trouble: Some Thoughts on Aesthetics and Culture and the Revolt against the Intellectual
Over on Saturday, I expressed some thoughts about how I felt I was going in the opposite direction of many people in my generation especially when it comes to culture and entertainment options. I observed that I seemed to be growing out of geek culture and did so largely before geek culture became all the rage.
I read comic books as a kid and still have my collection in my mom’s attic. I also was an anime fanatic and did a fair bit of gaming in terms of video games, board games, and table top RPGs. But this all died out. My interest in anime waned when I was in my early 20s. I will go see a Miyazaki movie but have no real desire to see any anime beyond that. Gaming might be something I try every now and then but I often get bored before completing games. Sometimes I can play something from my youth for nostalgia’s sake. Sometimes I will buy a new game and try it for another go. Comic books don’t interest me anymore and I will see some of the big blockbusters but am content with waiting till they come out on DVD. The whole midnight release thing is not necessary for me. A 24-hour Marvel movie marathon is especially not for me as I like my sleep and starring at a screen for too long hurts my eyes.
What bewilders me is that as I left geek culture, geek culture seems to have exploded. I see people I knew from college talk about their dungeons and dragons campaigns, past and present. I’d bet money that if you asked these people whether they ever played Dungeons & Dragons in college, they would have given a lot of adamant denials. I see people geeking out about attending Comic Con who I know would have had nothing but disdain and contempt for Comic Con during their younger years. This is all very strange to me. What memo did these people get that told them “Now is the time to admit to being a geek?” Where did they learn to hide all of this from 18-22 back in the late nineties and early aughts?
Jaybird offered this philosophical observation: “Once you abandon aesthetics in service to a culture-wide “gustibus non est disputandum” moment, you’re suddenly finding that there’s no real reason to ever leave safe/comfortable entertainment spaces. Why would you?”
“Gustibus non est disputandum” translates as “In matters of tastes, there can be no disputes.” I am not sure I fully agree with this. When did culture decide that this was how we are going to proceed with issues of culture, aesthetics, and tastes? I don’t remember this being a conversation.
I would also counter that this cultural maxim is not totally true because we don’t really have a different strokes for different folks kind of attitude. Jaybird observed or believed that a belief in the Latin Maxim would or should lead everyone staying in their cultural safe/comfort zone. Many people might use this Maxim as a justification for doing so. But there is still a suspect class and that suspect class becomes those (who in anyway) choose to venture out of the culturally widespread and mainstream into areas of niche or mainly high culture. The new attitude becomes a bit of a purposefully anti-intellectual one. “James Joyce? No one really enjoys James Joyce. People only say they do to seem intelligent.” James Joyce is only an example. You can replace Joyce with Shostakovich, plays that are not musicals and/or the Rocky Horror Picture Show, almost any book taught to English Literature majors, Truffaut or Ozu movies, etc. There seems to be a good chunk of modern society that thinks any and all forms of high culture or non pop-culture is merely an affection, now get off your high horse, and just put on a damn Batman t-shirt and talk about geeking out like the rest of us.
So the Maxim fails because it is not so much a statement of welcoming and relative subjectivity or “different strokes for different folks” but a weapon used in defense of pop culture and for the destruction of whatever can be part of high-culture and avant-garde culture. I would agree with the idea that not everyone has to like every medium, genre, artists, etc. I know people who stress out about the idea of subtext in literature but can look at a Kandinsky painting for hours and analyze every bit, but I don’t think that this should turn into an anti-Intellectual exercise of “Come on, you don’t really like Ravel’s solo piano work, do you?” There seems to be no way to explain that I sincerely find Ravel’s music to be really pretty and wonderful to listen to. The music is enchanting but also has a melancholy feel, a wistfulness and fleeting sensation that one does not find in many other places.
How does one prove sincerity here and why is it so seemingly hard to do? Every now and then someone will get a realization and make an exclamation along the lines of “Wow! You really do like all this high culture stuff” and it seems like it never occurred to them that people might like high culture sincerely.
As for Jaybird’s question about why would you leave your cultural comfort/safe zones because there is a whole world and thousands of years of culture out there. I get the point of rereading books or watching movies more than once. You pick up on different things. But why read Tolkien for the one hundredth time when you can find a new form of novel or a new author? I will never be able to read all that I want in my lifetime or see every theater production that I want to see. I get bored too quickly by the same stuff. This can also include eating the same meal over and over again. There are people who like to make Sunday a big cooking day and they divide that Sunday meal into 5 or 6 portions for the week. This bores me. By the second or third day, I am tired of eating the same food.