Friday, July 13, 2007

Downpour: the business

Deadwood, season three, episodes 1 and 2
In hindsight, it is rather simple how the show guided me from despising Al Swearengen as a villain to siding with him as a protagonist. It wasn't the attempts to humanize him with a soft side, with his confessions to prostitutes, with his appealing language, with the respect others had for him. Similar techniques failed to swing me toward sympathy for Tony Soprano (well, it did briefly, but not for terribly long). It was much more simple: bring in characters more loathsome than Swearengen (Tolliver and Hearst), ally Swearengen occasionally with our hero (Bullock), and simply have Swearengen perform fewer nasty deeds, distancing himself from his past crimes.

And now, if they ever do make a movie, I'd enjoy it if it were three hours of Bullock and Swearengen just beating the piss out of E.B., Tolliver, and Hearst.

Egalitarian Elitism 1: Plurality and Freedom of Expression
I've long held views on free expression of ideas similar to those of John Stuart Mill: let anybody say anything he or she wants, with the only limit on speech that intends actual harm. If you don't like the ideas somebody else is expressing, you have two choices: argue against it, or ignore it.

But this should not lead to the belief that all ideas are equal. Indeed, many ideas are lousy and should either be argued against or ignored. And this is where my egalitarian elitism takes a turn toward the elitism: yes, I think you should have every right to express your ideas, and society is better served allowing everybody to express their ideas. But I still retain my right to snobbery in dismissing your ideas if I think they are worthless, irrational, or just stupid. I will rarely simply dismiss--I'm almost always willing to discuss the ideas. But I don't hold all ideas equal.

And of course we come to the internet, which has as its greatest advantage the lack of a filter, and has as its greatest disadvantage the lack of a filter. Anybody can say anything he or she wants on the internet, for better or worse. Sometimes that is better, and often it is worse. We can't shy away from the freedom that offers--but we needn't become wishy-washy and accept ideas we find utterly stupid to be of equal value with ideas we find excellent.. We should consider all ideas for what is possible to understand from them, but we needn't accept them.

Still, I find if you are going to argue ideas rather than ignore them, civility and as much respect as is possible in the situation is preferable to merely insulting each other. Argument should be kept to the content of the argument, and not turned to personal attacks. There need not be a filter, and we need not accept each others' ideas, but we should at least be peaceable and as respectful as possible in arguing against another's ideas.

Lack of civility and the move toward personal attacks (explicit or subtle) are the bigger threat to open discourse on the internet.

Egalitarian Elitism 2: Snobbish in our own way
I've maintained on this blog that disrespected mediums and genres (television, horror, science fiction, comedy) have much to offer us, and are often as worthy of being called "art" as anything else. I've written about it all over, but particularly in September I began developing the idea of "Low Brow Aesthetic, High Brow Ideas" to focus on the quality of the content and ideas in works that are dismissed for their mediums, genres, or aesthetics.

And yet, I admit to a total snobbishness within this theory. I am snobbish in my own way: I'll defend the content of sitcoms I love, while expressing total loathing dismissal of sitcoms I find devoid of value whatsoever. The egalitarian anti-elitism that allows me to respect frequently disrespected mediums and genres has not prevented a strong elitism in my assessment of works within these mediums and genres. Once again, I don't consider all TV equal: I consider some horrid beyond acceptance.

Manners = Intelligence? Please. We left the aristocracy in Europe, thank you very much.
In Ken Tucker's condemnation of reality TV, I mostly agree: a lot of the people on reality TV shows are daft and dull.

And yet, I dismiss Ken Tucker as an asshole and an idiot for this line: "these studs and babes hold their eating utensils like monkeys..." Tucker dismisses most reality TV participants as unworthy of his attention...because they hold their silverware wrong. As if these customs have anything to do with wit, entertainment, or anything of cultural value.

Mr. Tucker, I've got a M.A. in English slapped up on the wall. I teach college English. Right now I'm flipping between reading Dostoevsky's Demons and some poetry by Ted Hughes. Do you want to dismiss me because I don't hold a fork right? Would you appreciate it if I dismissed you as a mere TV critic?

I always balked at economics
When I took Economics in high school, I could never accept the basic premises. The abstract concepts I spent so much much of my time considering (love, faith) never fit into the scheme of economic theory. I didn't know at the time I was expressing the same skepticism over economics' ability to explain everything that Dostoevsky might have been getting at in many of his works (particularly in Notes from the Underground, but not just there). Dostoevsky dismissed rational, scientific explanations and predictions of human behavior, believing that the complexities of the human psyche and the hunger for spiritual meaning could not be so easily quantified. I've always agreed, and even though, for example, I enjoy the deeper statistical metrics for sports analysis, I've always maintained a skepticism that they could tell me as much of the story as their more vehement advocates claimed.

David Leonhardt writes

"of the economics profession’s imperialist movement. For the last decade or so, economists have been increasingly poking their fingers into other disciplines, including epidemiology, psychology, sociology, oenology and even football strategy. These economists usually justify their expansionism on two grounds: They say they’re better with numbers than most other researchers and have a richer understanding of how people respond to incentives."

Leonhardt also expresses some skepticism over this movement. While I may be scoffed at by economists, I'm willing to stand with Dostoevsky, my master, against the tide of economics in everything.

It's Les Mis
It was $7.98 at Half Price Books for the complete original Broadway cast recording: Les Miserables is the musical I'm now living to.

Every once in a while I think I've moved past being an obsessive-compulsive mess. But then every year or so, the pure O obsessions come back strong. C'est la vie. The obsessive periods do change the way I read and think--and it's possible I get my best and most serious writing and thinking done during these otherwise internally miserable phases. Let us make the best of it all, I suppose.

RK has a very entertaining new blog, The Daily Rube, where he explores Auteur theory in practice.

Motoko Rich says Harry Potter really might not be increasing reading for pleasure among young people.

I don't think I've linked to this already: Anthony Daniels' "Diagnosing Lear" looks at Shakespeare's masterpiece.

Via Arts & Letters Daily (which you should check, well, daily), Terry Eagleton says that "For almost the first time in two centuries, there is no eminent British poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the foundations of the western way of life."

Bookslut interviews Miranda July.

1 comment:

  1. I can vouch for PV's fork-holding. He is telling the truth. Until recently, he didn't realize there was a proper way and a "monkey" way. But he's working on it!