HIGH CULTURE IS GOOD FOR YOU. It elevates one’s soul to listen to Classical music. The best novels teach immutable truths about the human condition and can transform a reader’s life, even if the author has been long dead for centuries. Poetry is important precisely because it is not transparent, it doesn’t spoon-feed insight or wisdom, you have to work with it, struggle with it, it rewards persistence and a close re-reading. High Culture – difficult but essential.
LOW CULTURE, on the other hand, is BAD FOR YOU. It’s nothing but mindless, gaudy spectacle, the equivalent of greasy, sugary junk food. Pop music is filth. There’s no way a comic book could ever approach the level of complexity and the immersive experience of Literature and calling them “graphic novels” is a neologism, it’s gilding the lily with a lip-sticked pig. Television has destroyed our society’s ability to perceive Truth and Beauty in any meaningful way and has irreparably fractured our relationship with the Natural World. Low Culture – opiate of the masses and a blight on the landscape of Human Civilization.
This is an old argument, usually intoned solemnly by someone who claims not to own a television set. And yes, a lot of Low Culture is a hot bunch of garbage (I’m looking at YOU, Honey Boo Boo) and is actively bad for you. (I once watched a marathon of DANCE MOMS and my I.Q. dropped forty points.) And by now, it’s beyond cliché to say that the line between High Culture and Low is blurred, if not erased entirely. (The Simpsons reference Leonardo Da Vinci; Shakespeare is full of fart jokes.) People mention Shakespeare and Breaking Bad in the same sentence (and not because they both had fart jokes) and all the cognoscenti nod sagely in unison. There are now university courses in graphic novels, the fastest growing segment of the library system. (And yet, Batmanology continues to be ignored by those toffy-nosed gits in the Ivory Tower. Little do they realize that every Batmanologist is proficient with a grappling hook. And a right hook. AND A MEAT HOOK. But I digress …)
In one man’s opinion (THIS man’s, NATCH!), let me say this about that : PIPE DOWN, EGGHEAD. Taste is subjective. Like whatever you like, not what they TELL you that you should like.
If you’re like me (and trust me, you’re not because I’m definitely one-of-a-kind, baby) your first exposure to Opera was Elmer Fudd chanting “Kill The Wabbit” to the haunting strains of Wagner. Walt Disney released Fantasia in 1940 and y’know what? It flopped, it was the first Disney feature to lose money, they called it “Disney’s Folly” until its wonder was rediscovered by a new generation, years, decades later. Low Culture used to be the starting point on the journey to High Culture, a primer on the tropes and conventions and leitmotifs of True Art (TM). (Confession Time – I’ve never actually read Moby-Dick past page 43 but I have read the Classics Illustrated comic book version AND the Mad Magazine parody of the movie with Gregory Peck. Spoiler! – it doesn’t end well for Ahab.) Nowadays, Low Culture consists mainly of envying the rich and laughing at the poor.
To me? Opera is a boring waste of time; listening to a foreign cacophony of subsidized vowels for hours on end is not my idea of “fun”. I get angry when I watch avant-garde cinema that is obscure for obscurity’s sake. Most modern literary fiction is not to my taste – the dreadful sameness, the endless banality, the obvious MFA programme pedigree attached to it like a scarlet letter. Let me guess – it’s a book the size of a paving brick that’s a generational saga, told in letters and diary entries and tuberculosis is a recurring character. (If it’s Russian, there are at least four characters named Pavel that you need a score-card to keep them straight in your head for nigh on a thousand pages, because only three of them die of tuberculosis.)
Look. I’m not saying everybody should read Batman instead of Turgenev. I’m not saying Star Trek is better than, I don’t know, ballet. I’m saying like what you like and cool it with the snobbery. (You want to end up like Jazz and Poetry? They used to be the popular kids and now, they just preach to an ever-diminishing few.)
I’ll conclude with a quick anecdote.
I’ve read Watchmen thousands of times. I can quote page after page of Alan Moore’s writing and never miss a beat. I bought it in single issues when it came out and I’ve either worn out or given away three or four copies since then. When they made a movie of it in 2008, people who knew I was a nerd wanted my opinion of it. More than one person asked me, in all seriousness, if I’d ever read Watchmen. And deep down, in my heart of souls, I wanted to break the fingers of every band-wagon jumper and fucking looky-loo who was “jazzed” about the movie. (It was a pretty shitty movie. ‘It was annoying ‘ is about the nicest thing you can say about the Watchmen movie.) “You Philistines don’t deserve to read Watchmen,” I thought. “You’re not cool enough.”
And it was at that moment that I realized that if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you, while, simultaneously, the voice of a cartoon rabbit in the back of my head said “AHHHH SHADDUP!”