Thursday, April 14, 2005
I don't care if I haven't been invited (if, in fact, I occupy far too lowly a rung on the Great Chain of Blogging to even conceivably be invited), I'm going to play anyway.
Play what? Play Caesar's bath meme.
So here 'goes: 5 things everyone seems to love that I can't stand (or, at a minimum, think are over-rated).
1. Soho. You're supposed to love Soho for ultra-hip emporia like Moss. Or you're supposed to hate Soho because it's been ruined by bankers who've driven the poor artists from the lofts. I don't have much use for hip, ultra- or not, but I hate Soho for the reason no one seems to, but everyone should: because it's ugly. Not just a little ugly: really, really breathtakingly ugly. We are supposed to treasure as architectural wonders buildings that are covered with the 19th-century equivalent of aluminum siding: cast iron facades cranked out to lend a thin, kitchy veneer of class to workaday warehouse space. All this says is that we who dwell in the deserts of modernism and the wilderness of postmodernism are so deprived that the slightest gesture in the direction of aesthetic experience is to be treasured. That just makes me sad. That people will pay such ludicrous sums to live in these ugly buildings just makes me disgusted.
2. The Shawshank Redemption. This may be the single most over-rated movie of all time (ranked by the visitors to the Internet Movie Database as the second-best movie *in history* after The Godfather.) The cinematography is only workmanlike. The acting is leaden and unconvincing. The music is treacly. But most important, it is so deeply, pervasively mendacious that I don't know where to begin. So I'll jump right to the most important thing wrong with it: the absolutely indefensible decision to make the protagonist innocent of the murder for which he has been convicted. This is, supposedly, a story of this man's redemption in prison, how, once inside, he redeems himself by doing good to others. If the movie had been any good in other ways, that could be an interesting story. But if he isn't guilty then why does he need to be redeemed?!? If he's not guilty, isn't this just a story about a guy so great that, even though his wife is murdered and he's sentenced to life in prison for that murder he didn't commit, he spends his time helping others, whether saintly prisoners (every prisoner in the movie is basically good) or thuggish guards (every authority figure in the movie is basically evil). Who cares? There is nothing good in this movie. And I can't count the number of otherwise sane men (they seem to all be men) who consider this their favorite work of cinema.
3. The iPod. I am certainly not going to climb aboard Ross Douthat's bandwagon and declare music itself overrated. I love music. I love music of many kinds: orchestral, chamber, opera; classical, modern, medieval; jazz, showtunes, rock 'n' roll, pop, country, folk, traditional and soul; Marshall Crenshaw and Ian Dury; Dusty Springfield and Toby Twining; Jimmy Dale Gilmore and Milt Jackson; Dave Van Ronk and David Krakauer; Dr. John and Blossom Dearie. My tastes are not entirely catholic; the hip-hop revolution has passed me by almost entirely. I'm not especially knowledgeable about music, nor do I go out to concerts very often (something I regularly resolve to change, but never do), but I love music. When I come home from work, one of the first things I do after kicking off my shoes, emptying my pockets and hugging my wife and son is put something on the stereo. But. The appeal of tuning out the world by sticking wires in my ears is really obscure to me. I've never owned a Walkman or Discman or other pre-iPod iterations of the tune-out machine, and I've never missed owning one. If I want to retreat from the world, I read (and I'm the kind of jerk who has been known to read while, say, climbing a flight of stairs; sorry). If I want to listen to music, I want it to surround me, not play inside my head. And, frankly, hearing music that no one else hears makes me feel like Caliban on the island, or like I'm going mad. Finally, I specifically don't understand what the great achievement of the iPod is, how it has nearly single-handedly revived Apple Computer's fortunes. I just don't get it.
4. The Simpsons. I graduated from college in 1992, and I don't own a television (we watch movies on the computer), so maybe I just missed the perfect moment that would have cemented my identification with the series. And I must admit, it's a good show. But it rarely makes me laugh out loud. In fact, I'm much more likely to laugh at renditions of Simpsons bits by friends or colleagues, or, more to the point, allusions to the Simpsons, than I am to laugh at the show itself. A show built on cultural references, high and low, somehow seems to me more successful as something referred to out of context than it is in its original context. I don't know what that means. But I do know that if I'm sitting in a hotel room flipping channels as I fall asleep, and a Cheers rerun is on one station and a Simpsons rerun is on another, I'm going to watch Cheers.
5. Sophocles. From the Simpsons to Sophocles: I think that's a required survey course at Yale, isn't it? Anyhow, Aristotle thought Sophocles' work epitomized what tragedy was supposed to be. But for some reason, he just bores me. Tragedy, per Aristotle, springs from character, but Sophocles' characters always strike me as very one-dimensional, as emblems of an idea or principle rather than people of flesh and blood. This is not a complaint I have about the other Greeks; I think Aeschylus and Euripides are marvelous. Aeschylus is like Wagner, a great archaist, only Aeschylus is by far the greater artist in creating characters with human depth. And Euripides is strikingly modern, anticipating everyone from Shakespeare to Brecht to Artaud. Sophocles, by contrast, putting his puppets through their psycho-philosophic paces, leaves me cold. Admittedly, I am reading all these dramatists in translation, so perhaps in Greek he soars. But as I read him, Sophocles is far inferior to his great contemporary rivals, and far inferior to history's estimation of him.
I would love to hear what Mickey Kaus, John Derbyshire and Michael Blowhard list. I would ask Steve Sailer but I feel sometimes like his entire blog is devoted to things/ideas/etc he hates that everyone else seems to love.