19 July 2008

The Perceived Elitism of Eschewing Things (e.g. Pop Culture)

"I like that he watches television and admits it; I like that a lot."
-Unknown female speaker on CBC Radio 1, speaking of Carl Wilson of Zoilus, in conversation with other speakers about Wilson's book Let's Talk About Love

Why is it that people seem to derive so much pleasure from others' indulgences? It seems that, because it reassures them about their own questionable interests or actions or increases their relative sense of self-worth, people usually prefer others who are ethically negligent and whose interests are as average as possible. Why is ethical humility and having prosaic interests more attractive than a sincere dedication towards being a better person and liking extraordinary things? Why is it that people such as Zicheng Xu (or at least the classic, unprecedentedly progressive Zicheng), who try their best to be as considerate as possible, will have no girlfriend while oblivious, mediocre monsters will have millions?

Furthermore, what kind of bizarre interest is that (guys who watch television and admit it)? Maybe I'm crazy, but I could've sworn that EVERYONE in our society watches and loves and talks about television and stupid shows every day of their lives; it's not an even remotely niche or unique quality. I mean, it's like saying, "I have a weakness for people who eat meat" or "...drive cars." I attribute it to the endlessly committed Universalised Alternative Fallacy.*

Is it really that terrible to not like or do stupid shit? That is, presuming you deem television a lower form of entertainment, as partially implied in said radio programme, is there not something admirable about people who seek ostensibly higher forms of entertainment? In my experience, those who have such non-pop culture interests are punished and restrained by this sense of the (putative) humility inherent in participating in popular culture. Why can't anyone admit that popular culture is extremely inane and not worth our attention without feeling guilty about it, as though saying so is a declaration of one's elitism?

Furthermore, the term pop culture seems misleading; it makes it sound like a grassroots, people-powered phenomenon, while in truth it is not created by/for people at all, for the most part, but by corporations and for money. The term, then, itself is part of the reason that pop culture is perceived as a variety of entertainment, and set of interests, of greater humility and tolerability.

The degree of popularity of one's interests is not a matter of humility or arrogance. Although it is generally perceived as such, eschewing pop culture and, in doing so, implying that it is beneath one, is not synonymous with believing one to be superior to others who embrace pop culture. It is possible, in fact, to genuinely completely prefer alternative culture, and to believe that pop culture is beneath everyone, not just oneself. Moreover, having esoteric interests is largely indicative of being sufficiently passionate about the arts that one has assiduously sought out the musicians, painters, poets, writers, and so forth, that one enjoys or admires most, rather than settling with those whose popularity and conspicuousness has necessitated one to notice. Esoteric, discriminating interests are not, in fact, usually mere products of arrogance or attempts at higher stature any more than popular interests are. Anyway, if one is using musical interests as social capital, it seems much more likely and useful that one would profess a fancy for a band that many people like rather than one that nobody has ever heard of or that people hate.

I do not watch television, though I did consistently throughout my childhood (and, thus, my life until recently). I am fortunate enough to not own a television, though I would be sufficiently tempted to watch it if I did. However, I actively avoid it, like drugs, because I do not want to succumb to its temptations; I think it's intellectually harmful and paralysing. Thus, to say that I deem television a nearly worthless medium of entertainment that one should avoid is not to say that I am superior to those who watch television; it is to say that I merely believe I oughtn't to watch it. Though I can, of course, derive much pleasure from watching television, and would watch it if I had sufficient access to one, I object to its effects and wish it didn't exist (and this is not a contradiction). It is, contrary to popular belief (and notions of hypocrisy), possible to condemn something that one can (or does) enjoy (and I would know because I do it daily).

*Universalised Alternative Fallacy: the assumption that the atypical views and ways of life that one is accustomed to are equally familiar to and practiced by most people, ostensibly caused by the abundance of other, similarly alternatively minded people in one's social circle obfuscating one's ideas of the majority.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Zicheng said...

I have issues with the statement "ZiCheng Xu [...] will have no girlfriend [...]," on grammatical grounds alone.

As someone who watches television from time to time, You probably are not missing out on a lot. I can certainly imagine my life without watching any television at all.

As far as I understand this post (which was not very easy to understand), you put forth something like this: 1. television is an inferior medium 2. we should not waste our time with inferior mediums. 3. We should not watch television.

I'm just going to touch on 2, and on seeking higher forms of art. I do make an effort to understand and appreciate the fine arts. But I did not have the luck of being born with the facilities for such appreciation. My starting point is appreciation for base pop culture, and other simple things (like chips).

The movement from appreciating simple things to complex things is not such as a long flight of stairs that you gradually ascend, but more like going to a new country... you gradually get used to it. But for some of us, you need to come home from time to time, if only for nostalgia.

As for what that woman from the CBC said; it was pretty stupid, but then again, I say stupid things all the time, especially if it happened to be in a situation where I was likely to be scrutinized by merciless strangers. In fact, if I was interviewed by someone on the radio right now, I would expect myself to say everything that is contrary to what I actually think in a normal situation (is it opposite hour?)

Why do you always manage to suck me in to these discussions? Talk about guilty indulgences.

August 6, 2008 at 11:01 AM  
Blogger Lindsay said...

Umm.. I take issue with the statement "ZiCheng Xu [...] will have no girlfriend [...]," on the grounds of it's mean. It's also incorrect. Since he did indeed have a girlfriend.

Thank's for coming out. I'll be here til' Friday.

August 6, 2008 at 5:50 PM  
Blogger Alexander said...

What are you talking about? I don't care about whether Zicheng Xu will have a girlfriend or not ever in his life, I'm just trying to make the point that people who are extraordinarily dedicated to being good people are comparatively hideous compared to the average guy who has a trillion girlfriends.

And no, it's not mean; it's like saying "Zicheng Xu is too good of a person to be liked." it's not liking "Zicheng Xu is not good enough to be liked"

September 28, 2008 at 2:35 PM  
Blogger Alexander said...

i.e., "comparatively regarded as hideous."

September 30, 2008 at 4:23 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

For an expansion on these ideas and a rebuttal, please check out issue #8 of Deep Madder Monthly, available now!

December 2, 2008 at 8:33 PM  

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