Why do we hate the very thing we love? Does art become less-“good” when it gets liked by the masses?
by Loren A. Roberts (guru of multi-hyphenate media)
Mini rant here. I have encountered several instances of kinda nasty reviews of pop-culture art. But I have to ask:
Why do we feel the need to put down pop culture? And why is art okay when it is obscure, but not okay when it touches the masses?
RSO brought this to my attention a while back, with his assessment of Phantom of the Opera. Personally, I dislike Phantom because I loathe every single character and character-decision made in the story. But many people hate Phantom because it is pop-art -- it is musical-theatre-light-opera-spectacle for the masses. And if it’s for the masses, it must not be good. But Ryan (possibly inadvertently) made me realize that Phantom is valid theatre -- and must be taken seriously.
And then a few days later I read the comments section of an NPR article on Zac Efron’s attempt to become a “serious actor” with his latest film “The Lucky One.” The commenters had utter disdain for the fact that NPR was even covering Zac Efron or his movie, because he and his acting career was somehow beneath the intelligence level of NPR readers. As much as I love NPR, they do their best work when they are thumbing their noses at high art and simply reporting stuff that is wonderful and weird and cool and makes sense. I (usually) trust NPR to make me see something in a new and exciting way, and they did with the Zac Efron story.
So why do we denigrate pop culture so much? One word: tribalism.
Think back to your days (not so long ago) when you were on the school playground. Everything had to do with “who was playing with whom.” Do you think we’ve outgrown that? Not by a long shot. Those who put down pop culture are simply members of a group out on the playground that wants to think that they are better than any other group.
An aside: I find it interesting that someone like Bruce Springsteen -- who is pop culture writ large -- mostly escapes the disdain that is reserved for many of his pop culture peers.
ALBUMS YOU PROBABLY HAVE NEVER HEARD
So, here’s something about me: I'm loyal. You get me hooked, and I'll keep buying album after album. I started buying Prince albums in 1987 (yikes!), and never stopped -- I have every single one since then. Part of it is habit, but part of it is knowing that where artistic brilliance happens once, it will most likely happen again. And that persistence has paid off with Counting Crows over the years.
If you think you need to go
If you wanted to be free
There's just one thing you need to know
And that's that you can't count on me
Like everyone else, I loved August and Everything After (1993), with its wistful but powerful look at West Coast love and life and fame (or lack thereof). But by the time Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings came out, most everyone had forgotten Adam Duritz & Co., and they were just returning from a 5-year recording silence.
Oh, where do we disappear?
Into the silence that surrounds us
and then drowns us in the end
Where all these people who impersonate our friends
Say, "Come again, come again, come again..."
The album is divided (rather obviously) into the first half -- Saturday Nights -- raucous, loud, partying; and the second, quieter, more reflective Sunday Mornings. This is both the album’s strength and its weakness. But I love it nonetheless.
Well if you see that movie star and me
Or if you should see my picture in a magazine
Or if you fall asleep by the bedroom TV
But honey i'm just trying to make some sense
Honey i'm just trying to make some friends
Baby i'm not trying to make amends
For coming to Los Angeles
It’s good stuff.
LOREN A. ROBERTS produces films, videos and music, designs magazines and logos, plays and sings in a rock-and-roll tribute band, and is a student of what happens when science, the arts, technology, and culture collide. www.hearkencreative.com
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