That was the Week (or 2) That Was: Intolerant Tolerance, etc.

In brief:

1. As reported here, my son was ever so gently bullied by the Social Justice Zealots running a local summer camp last Tuesday for failing to use someone’s preferred pronoun, referring to a counselor who had ever so preciously announced that he preferred ‘they’ to ‘he’ as, well, ‘he’ – and then refused to preform the proscribed ritual abnegation, promising to try to do better.

I’m a little surprised (but pleased for my son, who was allowed to resume the quiet enjoyment of his summer) that they dropped it – for the remaining 3 days of the camp, no one tried to cajole my 12 year old to perform as directed. So, I’d have lost that bet.

There is a parent evaluation email – will post my reply when I get to it. .

2. TMI ahoy! So: shingles. I knew nothing of this annoying disease until, of course, I got it. The doctor  on Friday helpfully said that, had I only been a year and a half older, I’d have gotten vaccinated against it. He also asked if I wanted any painkillers. At the time, 2 days into the ‘blisters’ phase, I said no, Tylenol seems to be doing the trick.

Note to self: if doctor offers strong painkillers SAY ‘YES’. See, shingles is chickenpox that’s had decades to plot its revenge against your immune system. It’s been hiding out at the base of nerves near your spine, brooding. Then, it starts multiplying like crazy, following those nerves up to the surface, where it attempts escape by causing red, oozing blisters that itch like crazy.

Your immune system, caught napping but not defeated, wisely employs a strategy of back-burn (ha!), containing the outbreak to one set of interconnected nerves – thus, it is rare for shingles to spread beyond one swath on one side of one’s body – from, say, the upper right chest wrapping around under the armpit to the upper right back. Within the warzone, blisters, oozing, red itchy rash. Everywhere else, nothing. Well. except for the occasional random phantom pains, little brief stabs here and there.

So, gross, yes, but nothing some Tylenol and a tough guy attitude can’t get past – EXCEPT: a virus is multiplying exponentially right ON your NERVES. And your nerves don’t like it. The surface pain is nothing. The real battle is down in the mines of Moria.

This can be bad. Like, can’t sit still, can’t lie down, can’t scratch, can’t sleep bad. Happy ending, though: At about 7 in the morning Sunday, after maybe an hour of fitful sleep from utter exhaustion, I remembered I had a few Vicodin.

Better living through pharmacology: it’s not just a good idea.

Now on the downward slope. My immune system has put the miscreants back into submission, and, like Charlemagne and the Saxons, with enough conviction this time that, one is assured, they will not rise again. Give it a week, and the pain should be gone completely (it’s mostly gone now, back to just itching) and the gross rash and blisters should be mostly healed up.

How was your weekend?

3. So, Dragon awards, voted by anybody who wants to bother voting, went to a bunch of fun stuff written by fun authors. I didn’t vote this year – I’d only read a couple things on the ballot, and it didn’t seem right to me to vote for them over stuff I hadn’t read. That said, I’m really glad John C Wright, Brian Niemeier and Nick Cole won.

Next year, I’ll try to read all the stuff in at least the one or two categories I care most about, and vote. Congratulations all around, to winners and all nominees.

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell talks about Kenna, a musician who is loved by other musicians and industry types, but had a bit of a struggle to make it as a popular artist. Gladwell makes the argument (I think, fuzzy on this – been years since I read it, and it is a bit fluffy) that the experts are often not good judges of popular tastes, that they heard a genius when they heard Kenna, got all excited, but that that excitement didn’t (at the time) translate to major popular acceptance.

I’m not so sure, at least, I’m not so sure this is a general principle. I’ve never met a serious musician who isn’t in awe of Bach – and, while perhaps his solo violin stuff or very long cantatas might leave people cold, hardly anyone who likes music at all doesn’t appreciate Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring or the Brandenburg Concertos. Thus, perhaps the experts might skew a bit more esoteric, but if there’s there there, even the less dedicated will see it to some extent.

The problems where the experts think something is excellent while remaining unpopular are two-fold: either the art under consideration is not being classified consistently, or the experts are kidding themselves over its excellence. Or both.

People often say that Rap (and rock and, I suppose, other genres as well) are not Music. (I tend to agree). Then they point out how popular they are versus Mozart, and conclude that the musical tastes of the many are hopelessly terrible.

Is Rap music in the same way Mozart is music? I’d say no, that Rap appeals to its fans for reasons completely divorced from the ways Mozart appeals to his fans. Preferring Mozart to Rap (or the other way around) is as much a matter of context as anything else. Mozart fans hear something beautiful; Rap fans hear something real. Mozart is objectively superior to Rap as music correctly defined – but that is just insisting that the context of Mozart is the right context for the comparison.

But I digress. The written word is in some ways already a self-selecting culture in the current world. Readers are by that fact alone in a small percentage of people with specialized skills – the skills needed to wade through a 500 page novel. Some of us may have our doubts about people who read romance after romance after romance, but, in general, all we readers share an important and defining skill-set: we read.

Thus, a poll of experts should not differ dramatically from a poll of all readers – we are all, as it were, serious musicians and should all more or less agree about Bach. We should all agree that Bradbury was a great writer, that Boroughs could really tell a story, and that Verne had a hell of an imagination. We might prefer Azimov to Heinlein or visa versa, but we can’t be serious if we deny Cordwainer Smith was a creative genius.

And so on. So when we see a self-selected group denigrating the choices made by readers in general, the problem is in that group. It is not like Rap versus Mozart, because we’re all talking about the same thing, the same body of works, appreciated or not using the same set of skills. The readers have the required skills. The self-appointed experts are mistaken about excellence. They are applying rules that are not part of the skills needed to be a reader, as if one were to limit good classical music to only works produced by Austrians.

Chesterton mentioned once that an artistic temperament is a disease of amateurs. It is largely the disease that places the problem with the audience, rather than with the artist. The poster child is Van Gogh, who was both undeniably great and undeniably crazy – and, key here – unappreciated during his lifetime. In this world, an artist dies, of consumption, preferably, without anyone appreciating his art, and is vindicated posthumously by general recognition – and, one presumes, sorrow at having treated poor Jud Fry so mean.

Except that pretty much never happens, except in reverse.(1) We’d like to think, in fact, for Hegelian-lite progressives it’s required to think, that the future will justify our decisions today in the face of popular rejection. To be on the right side of your audience is almost tantamount to being on the wrong side of history. Fortunately, that’s not the way it generally works.

  1.  The standard examples – Mozart, Chopin, Schubert – are either misunderstood (Mozart was popular and pretty well off by the standards of his day)  or had other issues (the main one being dying too young to get really established, but stupid or bad behavior also often figures into it.)  Bouguereau was considered the master during his lifetime, even by some of the new wave Impressionists – yet for 100 years or more, his masterpieces were kept in storage so that more modern stuff had wallspace. Critics unworthy to carry his palette condemned him for the sin of not being modern. Only in the last 20 years have people rediscovered him.



Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

8 thoughts on “That was the Week (or 2) That Was: Intolerant Tolerance, etc.”

  1. I remember C.S. Lewis, in one of his pieces on writing (I can’t remember which one specifically: maybe the one on obscenity) pointed out that the tastes of the audience are one of the factors a good artist has to take into account – along withe medium, the available time and materials, and so forth – if he’s going to create good work, and that the artistic disregard for the audience is just bad craftsmanship.

      1. On a separate but related point – I love to bring up “Paradise Lost” and “Dante’s Inferno” whenever people try to tell me that Christian fiction is terrible. Perhaps most modern Christian fiction is, but there’s no reason it has to be.

  2. It’s worth noting that Charles Dickens, that incredibly popular Victorian author now hated by schoolchildren everywhere, only ever received the critical attention he deserved because of the tireless efforts of G.K. Chesterton. As Chesterton notes himself many times in his defenses of the master and in his praise, Dickens was generally dismissed by critics without consideration for his crime of being loved by the masses.

    Shakespeare, of course, was beloved by the hoi polloi and the elites alike. Of course, the flip side of that is that his two most popular plays were a “revenge tragedy” he co-wrote called “Titus Andronicus” and a romance he co-wrote called “Pericles” (probably at the time it would have been classed a comedy due to the happy ending).

    It is well known, and correct, that “Titus Andronicus” is disastrously bad from beginning to end, Shakespeare’s parts and the co-writer’s alike. “Pericles” is a little better; it is the general consensus that the plot is unwieldy and rather absurd but that Shakespeare’s sections are at least decent.

    The point here – great writers are normally popular, but it’s not always their best work that finds an audience.

  3. My grandfather had the shingles, you have my deepest sympathies.

    The problems where the experts think something is excellent while remaining unpopular are two-fold: either the art under consideration is not being classified consistently, or the experts are kidding themselves over its excellence.

    I think you have missed a 3rd factor: selection bias.

    I see it most often in movies so I’ll use that example. If you watch movies as a hobby or (God-forbid) a job, the fact is you’ll see lots and LOTS of films. A lot of them, will end up feeling very “samey” so the expert ends up valuing things like novelty or reference in a work. The Example Movie is boring because they’ve seen it a dozen times this week alone (much less in their lifetime) while the Unique Movie is really something they’ve never seen before. Which is so rare it’s a treasure.

    The “rest” – let’s be honest – just do not watch as much in the way of films as the experts. So for them, Example isn’t just a repeat of things they’ve seen over and over (well, maybe a bit), but entertainment. More importantly, they’ve seen Example about as often as Unique so the novelty factor in Unique doesn’t affect them.

    Thus, experts vs regular joes end up weighing factors of a movie differently from each other.

    I mean if you want an example, just look at the films teens go to vs adults. It’s not that the adults don’t like the films, it’s just that they saw it all before, when they were teens at the theater. But for their kids, these films are the first time they’ve seen the old, well-worn tropes so it’s still novel and exciting.

    I think a similar thing is a major factor in critics vs the rest of us.

  4. The argument I’ve heard put forward, and which which I agree, that puts Rap, HipHop, what have you, outside of ‘music’, is that it lacks melody. It is rhythmic spoken word, almost entirely. Melodies are sometimes interjected, but the words are not sung.

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