Thursday, December 21, 2006

Kulcher, 'innit

The shameful cultural admissions list started over at Scott Pack's blog spread like wild-fire eventually finding it's way to the Guardian's Comment is Free page. Everyone and their dog had a pop at their own list including my very own, humble offering a few posts below.

On a recent post of his Scott was musing on the whole brief phenomenon,

'I don't think we can declare any lessons learned from the whole experience, but it has been great fun. Hope you enjoyed it.'

Here's what I found myself thinking. Amusement, Interest, Amazement, Confusion, Dismay, Depression and Annoyance. In that order.

The thing is it didn't take very long before some genuine spleen and bile gurgled it's way out. I HATE Shakespeare. I LOATHE Ballet. I REFUSE to ever see an Opera. I'd NEVER read Proust EVER.

It pretty soon became one big infantile, self-justifying, self-serving circle jerk of people who suddenly felt emboldened by the surging of the mob to cut loose and get their own back on all the 'cultural elites' who had spent years putting them down. It was like everyone is patting themselves on the back for sitting back with what they know and turning their noses up at anything 'difficult' or 'unpalatable', like babies and toddlers with 'yucky' food.

Particularly depressing are the comments like, 'I saw an opera in 1953 and I never want to sit through that again' and 'I did Twelfth Night at school and was so bored that it put me off for ever'. This is NOT alright. It's NOT ok to be unembarrassed about this. You CANNOT pat yourself on the back just because there are people out there like you.

Take opera. I've seen some real turds in my time. The Handmaid's Tale at the ENO for one but then I saw Tristan and Isolde at the same venue and was amazed. Janacek at the ROH blew me away too.

I've sat through some very ropey plays, particularly Shakespeare - Twelfth Night in Bath 19 years ago sticks in the mind. But then I've yet to see a bad production at the National Theatre - Measure for Measure being a real stand-out.

I've tried difficult books. Occasionally I'll admit defeat but only in the battle not the war. I'll always give something another crack, even Cormac Mccarthy! (Who knows, in my dotage I might start to appreciate his punctuationless prose) But occasionally I'll try difficult writing and perservere and it WILL pay off. A few years ago I had to read a short essay by Heidegger. First time, didn't understand a word. Second time, nope, still nothing. Third time, mmm, that was an interesting bit. I must have read that bastard essay 30 or 40 times and eventually, slowly, almost painfully, an image and an idea of such startling beauty and clarity was revealed that I can still picture vividly. I would not give up that revelation for the world. And it was bloody hard work.

So, it's not ok to say NO, NEVER, WON'T, WOULDN'T. There is such a thing as exellence and there are good reasons why these things survive. Ok, it may be a little tricky or not 'fun' or 'enjoyable' (whatever they mean - a bit like gourmet food being not as 'tasty' as crisps or Mcdonalds). No, the only NEVER allowed is that you should NEVER GIVE UP!

Here endeth the rant.


  1. I tentatively agree with you Adam. In my original post at my blog I was listing things I had, I'm ashamed to say, not done yet as opposed to things I would never do.

    With the exception of my Beatles confession which was more of a 'I have tried but don't like them' moment.

    Some of the people who then responded took a more 'I will never...' stance.

    Having said that, life really is rather short and sometimes a brief exposure to something (ballet for me) is enough to know I shouldn't waste any more time on it. I am sure there is great ballet out there but it has had its chance and neither of us will miss each other.

  2. You can almost hear the wind whistling as the tumbleweed rolls across C&P (and not just because Marie's left).

    I fear no-one will leap to your defence because, unfortunately, the revolution is well underway. Your defence of the moral high ground is a futile gesture that seals your own doom. Urged on by the Packites, you will be dragged through the streets and butchered by the masses, a fate similar to your literary figurehead chums.

    A fine post Adam, maybe your best.
    But I'm keeping my head down until the slaughter stops. You're on your own buddy...

    "Persecute the unbeliever. Kill him!"

    (BTW - all this "I hate Shakespeare" stuff is more a criticism levelled at how English is taught in this country, not at the Bard himself. No-one should read Shakespeare until they've at least moved out of their parent's house and started having sex - it makes no sense...)

  3. sales are down at wottakers while C & P does rather well thanks...

    merry christmas farley

  4. I loved this post. I loved it.

  5. Hi Scott,

    Tentative is good. It wasn't the 'early takers' that wound me up just the 'late starters'.

    I saw a ballet (forget the name!) directed by the fantastic Zhang Yimou of Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern, Ju Dou and Hero fame at Sadlers Wells a few years back. You'd have frickin' loved it!

  6. I participated in this discussion via Marie's Struggling Author blog. I missed the exciting part when a bit of fun turned into a raging debate about The Barbarians At the Gates (my work providing moral counsel to former supermodels takes me out of town a lot).

    Doesn't the whole thing ultimately come down to taste and the simple fact that some of us started chipping away at whatever shifting canon du jour is being promoted from different ends. True, some may take the discussion as an opportunity to say why they never liked Dostoyevsky or Proust in university and prefer PD James, Tarantino over Tarkovsky, Henry Miller over Henry James, etc. etc. Insert your pet faves and hates at leisure.

    The fact that there is enough people reading a couple of fairly niche blogs to transform a rather innocuous inquiry into taste into a cri de coeur about the decline of Western civilisation suggests things are not as bad we suspect...

    ...or maybe none of us get out enough period.


  7. Totally, totally could not agree more.
    A licensed decent into mediocrity is just not good enough.
    Although the stuff mentioned in the Guardian as cultural high points mostly *is* mediocrity - James Bond films? The Strokes? who cares if you don't like such stuff.
    (We did Twelfth Night at school and I loved every minute, too)

  8. And then I typoed descent.
    Kill me, someone.

  9. which one of you was it that GAVE UP working for Waterstones?

  10. Weird...are you saying working for Waterstones is like struggling to find something to love about opera?

    Wasn't much like that when I was there. Seem to remember spending most of my time putting stickers on books...and then taking them off again!