Thursday, August 03, 2017

a few links about the sins of the middlebrow from, well, kinda more than vaguely middlebrow publications. But first let's start with some dystopian apocalypse

Sometimes it seems as though a dystopian narrative is simply a future projection of the perceived consequences of a social or policy trend that we've already committed to as a society and cannot reverse.  In a way a dystopian narrative can be a prophetic warning ... but in a secular context can there really even be prophetic warnings or would this be supplanted by a statistically replicable prediction?  Then again ... if it could be statistically replicated ... .

AS SCIENCE EATS AESTHETICS, as rationality consumes imagination, and as what Marco Roth and the editors of n+1 diagnosed in 2013 as the “sociology of taste” devours the chance, freedom, pleasure, and individualism of art, including music, and leaves nothing but bones on the sandy floor of the cultural arena, all listening threatens to become socially determined. Increasingly in this spectacle the point of every song is to take its place in a system (a genre, the charts, a certain history), the point of every singer is to take her place as a representative of a certain interest or community (indie, drill, queer, celebrity, neoliberal), and the point of the nation is to provide the gladiatorial
stadium for a series of contests into which everyone is drawn. More and more it seems Guy Debord was correct when he wrote in 1967’s The Society of the Spectacle that “all individual reality has become social reality directly dependent on social power and shaped by it.” What music you listen to reveals your class status and aspirations; your opinions reveal the same, and their expression in conversation is really just part of a social game played to accumulate prestige. [emphasis added]

Might have been the gist of a complaint at blouinartinfo about Scott Timberg's Culture Crash book as a middlebrow rant.  Turns out ...

although if middlebrow and middle class values are as lame as some highbrow leftists think they are ... would that be reason to celebrate the decline of the middle class?

It seems as though even among middle-brow publications there's a certain suspicion of working class or even middle class personas.  Take Richard Brody's recent piece in which he finally got around to watching Die Hard.

It's begun to seem as though there is a pious cliche publications like this in which it's good to lament the cinematic depiction of redemption through violence.  It's a shame that films tell stories in which you are redeemed or doomed based on who you physically attack.  Respectable middlebrow and highbrow cinematic narratives are more apt to traffic in how you are redeemed or doomed depending on who you end up banging.  The myth of redemptive violence is not necessarily different in its end than the myth of redemptive boinking, is it?  Why is one considered preferable to the other?  Perhaps neither is really "preferred", but in the pages of The New Yorker we can read features on a new innovation in the adultery novel. 

Brody was the film critic who claimed that Lady Susan Vernon didn't break any of the "important rules" in the Whit Stillman film Love & Friendship.  That was enough to have me briefly wonder what planet Richard Brody has been living on since Austen's narrative and Stillman's adaptation of that narrative make it pretty hard to escape the impression that Susan Vernon only breaks the important rules and gets away with it for as long as she does because of her pedantic dedication to the smaller and unimportant rules.  When she tries to strong-arm her daughter into not divulging what mother is doing by invoking a commandment from the Decalogue without betraying she doesn't even really know the ten commandments herself that's ... heroic to Richard Brody.  Brody impressed me in a negative way by rambling at length about the kind of Fantastic Four film we "would" have gotten a few years ago if the studio hadn't interfered.  Right.  Brody closed his thoughts on Die Hard thusly:

Of course, pop culture already, and always, existed. In the fifties, however, French critics saw some Hollywood movies as the artistic equals of any in the world—and as art equal to that of any painting, novel, or musical composition. American critics soon followed suit, and suddenly attention to Hollywood became an essential part of intellectual and artistic life. But, by the mid-seventies, the idea was stood on its head: in the wake of the sixties’ great political, social, and generational disruptions, nostalgia (for the fifties, and sometimes for earlier) took hold, as did the dream
and the yearning for the kind of cultural unity that seemed (but only seemed) to have been lost. (In fact, the earlier mainstream simply excluded vast swaths of the population, large spans of experience.) Popularity itself, and its correlate, celebrity, became an intrinsic value—the mere fact of widespread knowledge and familiarity became a reason to pay attention. Suddenly, filmmakers, critics, and viewers all became aware that they were functioning in an environment of pop culture, as if fish had suddenly become aware of living in water, and the attention paid to the most prominent
productions of mass media further amplified them, turning filmmaking into a mighty feedback machine of cultural self-reflection. “Die Hard,” like many movies of the eighties, is in effect a signifier of itself. There’s no need for eighties nostalgia—because, in this regard, the eighties have never ended.

This comes off like the kind of pious bromide a professional critic traffics in for stuff that isn't in his or her wheelhouse.  It's not like he has to like Die Hard, obviously. But imagining that all these things that supposedly happened in a way that was distilled in the 1980s was really unique to the 1980s seems dumb.  What if we float the idea that the French New Wave had already established that film, at a global level and as a globally practiced art form, had become a mighty feedback machine of cultural self-reflection.  Reportedly Orson Welles' complaint about Godard was that the man didn't make films for audiences but for film critics.  Unless "cultural self-reflection" was supposed to mean that film began to reflect back to the stupid masses what the stupid masses wanted rather than a cultural self-reflection in which filmmakers made films to reflect back to the literate critical classes what they imagined to be true about themselves? 

Thanks to my parents' generation the 1960s never exactly ended either.  At some point the last of the Beatles will die off and the cultural narrative about the pop culture that changed the world can get reassessed.  Until then ... the song remains the same, kinda like Led Zeppelin said it was. 

My brother once told me that it seems like there's this generational rule that "you" think that rock and roll or whatever the popular music of the era may be became "dead" the year you decided you were a grown up.  It's not really that the musical style died so much as you decided that you're a grown up now so you've heard everything worth hearing.  Someone once wrote that when critics lament the death of an art form, like let's say ballet, that odds are decent that the old man is not so much confronting the mortality of the art form is evading the approach of his own mortality. 

I have a slightly more upbeat variant of this idea, which is to propose that the day you complain that cinema is spent is probably not a sign that cinema is spent, it may be nothing ore than a sign that you've been watching way too many movies and need to immerse yourself in other art forms. 

I get coming back to a decades old movie and feeling obliged to say it wasn't as amazing as advertised even if there were some fine things about.  I'm planning to do this about Oshii's Ghost in the Shell ... . 

Maybe it's easy for mainstream liberal critics to act as though things ended in the 1980s but I can't shake that that alternative timeline presented in Alan Moore's Watchmen simply did not happen.  Besides, what was "I'm with her?" doing if it wasn't trading on a Clintonian nostalgia?

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