Friday, June 01, 2007

Free Form Comments (Growing Up and Art)

Say whatever you want to in the comments to this post -- random, off topic thoughts, ideas, suggestions, questions, recommendations, criticisms (which can be anonymous), surveys, personal news, self-promotion, and so on.

For my part I want to talk about this blog post, which I found this week through doublearticulation, about falling out of love with art. (You should be warned that this guy wrote a post about how great X3 was and how bad Lost Season 3 was -- [though some of his smaller points about Lost do make a landing]). He says this:

"Once you can no longer use loans from Mom and the Government as a crutch without loosing your dignity? What then? Suddenly making sure you don't have holes in your run of whatever comic, or making sure that you tape every-single-episode of every-single-show you that like, it starts to loose its importance. It starts to seem utterly trivial. It is replaced by things like acquiring food, shelter, and a job." He concludes with "Growing up is just as horrible as I always thought it would be."

It reminded me of something I read on Slate about Watchmen -- the author said that "No adult has time for aesthetic 'difficulty' or 'self-consciousness'". Then in response to my Matt Fraction Geek Speak appearance a guy on the CGS forum had this to say:

"This episode was torture. I've never enjoyed Fractions work, including Five Fists of Science, Punisher War Journal and Casinova [sic], and listening to the discussion with Klock was like going to Design & Film school all over again. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's people that are full of themselves."

"Was I supposed to be impressed by the amount of pop culture they have taken notes on? I'm sorry that these pretentious blow hards would consider me a philistine, but between fixing my gutters, working master control at a TV station, freelancing my Photoshop skills, and changing my sons [sic] poopy diapers, I just don't have the time to care about unsung action movies from the 70's."

This subject is now officially bothering me, and I would like to hear some chatter about it.

52 comments:

Marc Caputo said...

I wouldn't sweat it, Geoff. Guy sounds like a clown - he complains about having no time for things, but he listens to a two-hour podcast (and it seems like it's not his first) by a creator he doesn't like? He's not a philistine so much as he's a moron. What kills me is that I'm looking for the time to listen to it - hopefully this weekend. As you know, I've got a full-time job, a family and night-school (which I just completed) - do I have all the time I'd like for the things I love? NO. But when the kids and the wife go to sleep, I read, blog, listen, watch, what have you. It's my self-reward for all I have to do. It costs me very little but it's worth a lot. Having a community that links people and their interests makes a great difference, let me tell you.

TonPo said...

I'm listening to the CBGS interview right now and I'm loving it. I can listen to Fraction talk about anything all day, every day.

As someone steeped in academia, I would have assumed you get confronted with similar comments all the time. I know I do, and it's usually over smaller, stupider things like knowing the difference between Robotech & Macross.

People, for some reason, don't like to hear other people talk about things that they don't know anything about. Look at the way in which mp3 technology has helped people reaffirm their tastes in shitty radio singles, rather than expand their tastes by asking them to buy full albums. Technology gives people the potential to expand their breadth of knowledge to an insane degree, but when confronted with new knowledge, people have trained themselves to run & hide from it. It's been the case for a long time now, but I feel that people get angrier about it now because they are faced with the internet's educational potential on a day-to-day basis.

I haven't gotten through the entire interview yet, but I wouldn't assume that you would consider someone who doesn't have your own knowledge to be "philistine". That's why you're talking about these things. To get people interested & turn them on to new things. I understand the time constraints of having to work a job & devote your time to family & other responsibilities, but if that's a good enough excuse for you to not continue educating yourself on whatever interests you, there's no reason to be uncivil or get angry over it.

People who make comments like this just annoy the crap out of me.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Geoff, great blog - get to work on Seven Soldiers, damn it!

Anyway, I always like it when people talk about reading different texts in different ways as though the very possibility of a work of fiction being richer and more enjoyable when you approach it differently as being personally insulting to them. It's as if the notion is that looking for connections and themes makes something less fun and enjoyable. The discussion on the last CGS contained some interesting discussion about author's intent and the impenetrable discourse of modern art and it's relationship to the history of art movements, but was frustratingly halted. This is America. These are people with access to the internet and various other middle class amenities and luxuries. How in the world could they possibly too busy to have an imagination? That is kind of the point of entertaiment in any medium, isn't it?

My main beef is that it halts someone's enjoyment of something as goofy and fun as Matt Fraction or Grant Morrison comics, which most definitely do not require a BA to appreciate. The extra fun comes not from poring over these works like a scholar, but reading them again and again and merely noticing things. I read Watchmen in highschool and probably re-read it dozens and dozens of times afterward, noticing all kinds of things I hadn't before, themes, motivations, motifs, patterns, etc. and this was all before I even knew there were annotations for the damn thing!

I think reading things laden with figuratives like Seven Soldiers is as rewarding and exciting as reading something visceral and moody like Richard Corben's Bigfoot or something as manic and fun like Baker's Plastic Man, specifically because of the staying power of this kind of "heavy" mythological storytelling.

Mitch said...

As much as I hate to make the dumb argument, but "different strokes for different folks", man.

I love blow hards who are full of themselves. I love bad stuff, too. I love "How I Met Your Mother". Art exists to tickled your different whims. I use to be crazy into Star Trek. One day I was at a used CD store, about to buy the 7th Season of Star Trek Voyager for a great, discounted price. And, inexplicably I just put it down and got something else. Not because Voyager is just as bad as everyone says (because it kind of is), but because I had just moved on. Does that mean that my interest in Kate Mulgrew is gone, as Sick Boy suggests, FOREVER? I doubt it. If I had been in a different mood, or wearing a different shirt, I probably would have gotten it. I still love art. I think Slate is wrong- we are all capable of aesthetic difficultly, some people just aren't interested and that's okay too. Don't let 'em get to you, dude. We all love you and your torturous pop culture notes here. :)

Jim said...

Its the same as what happened on the podcast: if someone does not see something on their own, they don't want to listen to someone try to tell them it is there.

Roger said...

I'll just give you some Blake--from a letter he composed to the Reverend Dr. Trusler on August 23, 1799. Trusler wanted Blake to write an essay elucidating his ideas for people who didn't get him, and wondered if this would not make his poetry more popular.

"What is Grand is necessarily obscure to Weak men. That which can be made Explicit to the Idiot is not worth my care."

It's not worth your care either.

Joey said...

The way this conversation was handled on the show was perfect. Matt and Geoff said if you want to find this stuff you can, if you don't want to you don't have to. To suggest that looking for, and finding, something extra in anything you read or do is stupid or pretentious is just ludicrous.

Erik said...

Not to be a naysayer, but I think there is a point there in that art could be considered a luxury if you don't have the necessities of living in place. As much as I feel that art is necessary to my life, if I was busy seeking food and shelter, that would definitely take precedence.

On the other hand, in order for me to be happy with my life, I need art and a creative release. For things I truly love, I adore knowing more and more about them and what went into their creation.

Of course, for some people, complexity makes their head explode.

Quick plug, the season 4 finale of my web series, Something To Be Desired, is up. I'd love it if you checked it out. All previous episodes are available on the site or through iTunes.

SirDeuce said...

"If there's one thing I can't stand, it's people that are full of themselves."

"Was I supposed to be impressed by the amount of pop culture they have taken notes on? I'm sorry that these pretentious blow hards would consider me a philistine, but between fixing my gutters, working master control at a TV station, freelancing my Photoshop skills, and changing my sons [sic] poopy diapers, I just don't have the time to care about unsung action movies from the 70's."

So, instead of just saying "I'm not really interested in that" he has to show that he has "better things to do"? Does he know sports stats? How would he have time for THAT? It seems to me that HE is the one full of himself if he can't let someone else enjoy what they like if it isn't mutual. It's like telling a Trekker to "get a life" because they might dress up for a convention, when you just wore body paint in the freezing cold at a football game. Seriously, we all have our own interests that we are passionate about, and if you don't share that passion, and can't change your mind about it no matter what that other person says, then move on to like minded people. There is no need for insults or for time spent trying to prove superiority ("My life is so full I haven't the time for your loser interests"). ugh.

Anonymous said...

Art is both a necessity and a luxury. Art is a driving force behind culture. Everyone can appreciate art. But art is commodified.

Kenney said...

One thing I can't stand is pretentious blow-hards, but I would say you're anything but, Klocker. Even though I'm the kind of guy that takes things at face value, I can appreciate the enthusiasm and passion guys like yourself and Fraction have for art (especially that art that lives in pop culture). So even though I don't see it all the time, I enjoy diving into books like your How to Read Superhero Comics and Why, websites that completely disect Babylon 5 to Lord of the Rings, and scholarly essays and journals on pop culture.

Pop culture is the mode of art that has the lowest barrier of entry (I can still enjoy something, even if I don't understand or respect all of its layers) so it stands to reason that all of it isn't fantastic. Most works in pop culture are shooting to appeal to as many people as possible, so is it really surprising that Buffy and X-files are the exception and not the rule? No.

But when a good bit of fiction comes your way, you can latch onto it and enjoy the ride. And the escapism that comes from that is crucial. Granted, it's importance can be diminished when real life issues get in the way, but what fun is life without good food, good wine, good company, and good books, movies, and music?

That guy openly admits to being depressed and down, so I don't think he's the best measuring stick to go by.

Geoff Klock said...

Thank you everyone for chiming in on this. I will try to respond to people individually in a bit -- though I may not get a chance to.

But I think I did not express myself as clearly as I should have in the post. What is bugging me is not that there are people out there like the guy on the CGS forum who went in for the attack. What is bothering me is the claim that Slate, the GCS guy, and Thom's blog all have in common -- the idea that the kind of art I like is a phase that will be over when I hit my thirties and get busy with diapers and meetings and whatnot.

sara d. reiss said...

it's not just the kind of art you like, it appears from these statments (although I have not read the slate article in detail, not that I really want to now anyway) that being a "grown up" means a life whose focus no longer is on art (comics, movies etc...) but on being a Grown Up with a captial G. It's not that what you've chosen in particular to devote your time to - comics - is so frivolous, it's that you devote any of your time at all anything not deemed "IMPORTANT"

The thing is, our gutters get cleaned (our proverbial gutters that is, since we rent an apartment) we work DAMN HARD at our jobs and the bills get paid, there is food on the table, the floors get mopped and all the freakin rest. and if we have kids? their diapers will be changed and they will have clothes and shoes and school and guess what else? You'll still be a person who loves the things you love and you will make time for them. And our children will grow up in a home where art is just as important as sports, literature as important as going to the doctor. What is life without these pursuits? The last 8 years under this American government has shown us what an adult life without art is like and it's a life I want no part of.

Growing up means learning how to both pay the bills and find your own fulfillment, learn, grown and appreciate what you love more deeply, it doesn't mean giving up, giving in, and becoming boring.

Don't tell me your life is worth more than mine or your time more precious just cos you got the wrong idea of what it means to Grow Up.

Jason Powell said...

"the idea that the kind of art I like is a phase that will be over when I hit my thirties and get busy with diapers and meetings and whatnot."

Why are you bothered? Is it because you know they're wrong, or because you're worried they might be right?

That's not rhetorical. I'm 29 myself and I often wonder about this kind of thing. I've always tended to assume that I will never "grow up" -- I'll always be into superheroes and spies, mutants and Muppets, clever satires and self-referential comedies. I will never be into meetings and diapers and buying a house and mowing the lawn and having dinner with in-laws. I've always believed this.

But -- I don't really know that for sure, do I? Certainly it won't be a switch that gets flipped on my 30th birthday, but ... maybe over time I WILL find my priorities shifting toward more domestic pursuits. I still tend to doubt it, but I will admit that I no longer exist in a place where it's a matter of honor: I think I used to have, always, somewhere in the bedrock of my mind, a feeling of, "No, I will NEVER sell out!"

These days, I'm a lot more open-minded. I still think I'll always like the kind of art I like. But I'm no longer feeling like it will be some great tragedy if I turn out to be wrong.

Geoff Klock said...

Jason: I am bothered because I fear that they might be right.

neilshyminsky said...

"the idea that the kind of art I like is a phase that will be over when I hit my thirties and get busy with diapers and meetings and whatnot."

I'll suggest that these sorts of people are envious of the fact that you have the time to talk about pop culture, and that some people will even pay you for it. I couldn't give a shit about people who carry on endlessly about obscure topics that don't interest me. But when they carry on expertly about something that I know, and in such a way that I begin to doubt my own grasp on or commitment to the subject? That bothers me. And maybe it bothers them so much that they wonder why they waste their time. It could just be that they're projecting.

But I think that others have also been right to point out that they likely have a significant investment in sports or something else that you might think is frivolous or childish. And if they don't, if their life is really so filled with unsatisfying work that they don't have time to indulge in anything, well, fun, then I think that the problem is their's and not your's. I know far too many people who are either doing what they love while they work or doing what they love for work to think that we all must 'grow up'.

Anonymous said...

according to our new arrival life is more than sheer survival

neilshyminsky said...

I'd also hasten to add that I think that Thomas from that blog you linked (Season 2 was the best? Wtf?) has, err, an unhealthy relationship to art. He seems to want to let it wash over him, to let it dictate to him. When it thrills him, he's on a high; when it disappoints him, he's despondent.

This is all well and good in the moment, I think, but where's the self-reflection and reflexivity? The art's his master and not the reverse, which seems like the better relation to me.

TonPo said...

Kenney - I used to feel the exact same way, but over time I began to realize that "low" art & "high" art are not mutually exclusive. It's really just a matter of social context, and aesthetics. Doctor Who can totally adress some of the same issues a Marcel Duchamp, but they tackle it in different ways. I think that's why it's important to tackle both "high" & "low" art from different perspectives. It's not hard to gain access to much of anything at this point, if you're clever enough. The internet makes us all geniuses and idiots.

Geoff - Isn't there that Foucault line about the human race being like a face drawn in the sand?

I think the issue that Thomas addresses in the blog is true in a certain sense. I'm not quite that old, but even I feel the burden things like rent & bills & job security diminishing my enthusiasm for media/art. The important thing about that is that you cannot allow yourself to succumb to the trap. There are ways to ingest art without having to compromise things like your diaper money, and the great thing about expanding your life (i.e. partners, children, co-workers) is that you now have people to share your love & enthusiasm with. More often than not, this is not the case for people. But that doesn't mean it's impossible. I've seen it done.

Regarding the Slate article - Watchmen is possibly the most misunderstood comic "masterpiece" of all time. I've read this thing before, and it wreaks of just as much snide posturing now as it did then. Frankly, I don't agree with the article, and to be honest I don't even like Watchmen that much (both creators have done so much better work), but I can at least concede that it's very very good and very very important. I mean, Watchmen, as opposed to something like Miller's DKR, is sort of the argument for the exact opposite of what followed, in terms of the superheroes trends and obsession with "grit" and "realism". If anything, Watchmen is the comic book equivalent of Thomas's blog post, lamenting the days of naivete and innocence when comics could be digested for pure fantastical fun (due to the exterior context of the 80s socio-political climate). In spite of all of this Moore never lost his enthusiasm for new art and new ideas. He went on to make Promethea and Tom Strong - polar opposites in terms of how they deal with the comics medium.

Reinvention and reinvigoration is a very important part of being, not only an artist, but being a fan or admirer of the arts. This is something that goes beyond art even. It's just a simple part of life.

Books like Fractions Cassanova or even Brubaker's Daredevil are proof that there is always new art coming out that can surprise and invigorate our interest in art. I think Thomas's problem is not that he has lost interest in art as he's getting older, but rather that he cannot count on being enriched by the same pieces of fiction that he once did. That's when it's important to keep looking and educate yourself about new things.

(Sorry for the long comment. This is an issue very close to home for me.)

Dante Kleinberg said...

To be fair, I listen to lots of podcasts (like Around Comics, Wordballoon, CGS) and such at work because my job is boring. And yes, I'm getting a bit tired of hearing you folks talk about old great noir and crime movies no one has ever seen, which is why I still haven't listened to the Fraction/Klock CGS episode.

I have no idea who has time for all this stuff and I have relatively little going on in my own life. My job isn't difficult and I don't have kids, but I still only have time for three or four regular weekly shows, five or six comics, a couple video games... I think Siuntres, Fraction, Bendis, Brubaker et al must have 30-hour days or something.

But hey, that ain't your fault and I don't hold it against you. Old (*cough* bad *cough*) movies just aren't my thing. Talk about 'em all you want and I'll just listen to something else.

Dante Kleinberg said...

And by the way, I read the X3 thing you mentioned, and you can take any movie that doesn't make a lot of sense and call it a surrealist masterpiece but that's sort of cheating.

Geoff Klock said...

Keep talking -- I am having a blast reading these, and look at how fast they are accumulating.

Lets forget about free form comments till tomorrow -- this post is about this subject; tomorrow I will put up the call for free form comments

Anonymous said...

I don't know that you'd "grow out" of enjoying the things you enjoy, so much as you "grow out" of a limited understanding of yourself and the world around you - I mean if most of what you base your perceptions on is escapist genre fiction then maybe it's not such a bad thing. But I don't really think it's much of a dilemma/crisis/panic for someone without an inveterate reflex to constantly defend his pursuit of entertainment. Isn't this what the main man is always going on about? The infant universe of Qweuq or whatever?

The Slate article sets up a false dilemma, namely "The last time I looked, the only ones reading Ulysses and quoting Nietzsche were teenagers. No adult has time for aesthetic "difficulty" or "self-consciousness." Life is too short."

Well, no shit, teenagers tend toward radical ideals, but that's what teenagers do. Isn't that great? Why should adults aspire to mental numbness? Why curiosity and the pursuit of mental stimulation considered to be antithetical to "constructive activity"?

It's a completely goofy argument, but I suspect it originates from the overwhelmed feeling you get from the saturation and constant barrage of mass media - there are so many movies you feel you need to see, so many albums you need to listen to, so many books you need to read, and on and on and on. We're all guilty of it.

Really it just seems like more "are comics art/legitimately worthwhile?" type stuff that was already adequately answered by Michael Kupperman. Besides, it's 2007 and an entire generation of adults is getting off to nostalgia and ironic appreciation of embarassing, half-remembered cultural floatsam. Looking at something in a different way isn't the end of the world.

TonPo said...

"Besides, it's 2007 and an entire generation of adults is getting off to nostalgia and ironic appreciation of embarassing, half-remembered cultural floatsam."

I love that line. So accurate it's perfect.

Kenney said...

TonPo - Oh, I agree 100%. Maybe it doesn't come across in my post, but it's just I think I appreciate art derived from pop culture more than other forms. By saying it has the lowest barrier of entry, I just mean I have a built in understanding of it. TV's and pop music have been in front of me for as long as I can remember. So there is no threshold to break through, like there might be in understanding old poetry, Shakespeare, or something like that.

So when I do find pieces of enlightenment or illumination from works found in pop culture, it's much more satisfying for me. Especially when you consider that most times the people making the works weren't setting out to do that. People look back now on comic art from the 50's-70's and marvel at what those guys could do. Back then, those guys were just trying to meat a deadline. Maybe people like Starenko set out to do "a bit more", but most of the artist of that time probably didn't feel their art was going to be of any real importance 30 years later.

But yeah, Jackson Pollock and Jack Kirby are on a totally equal playing field as far as I'm concerned (and for my money, Kirby should be the one being taught in art courses).

Matt Brady said...

I'm completely with you here, Geoff, and I for one don't think I'll ever "grow out of" a love of art. I'm in a pretty good position right now, with enough finances to afford to see plenty of movies, buy lots of comics, and have a fancy TV/video games/computer/etc. But even if I didn't have the money to spend, I would do my best to get by by using the public library, borrowing DVD's from friends, and watching broadcast TV.

Of course there's also the time issue. I have enough time to do stuff, but I can see how that might change when my wife and I have kids. However, I can't imagine I wouldn't make an effort to read on my lunch hour or before I go to bed.

For me, reading books and comics/watching TV and movies (and discussing them, usually via the net) is one of my favorite things to do, and I think it stimulates the intelligent and creative parts of my brain that don't get much workout in my regular job. I would be a lot less happy if I wasn't able to participate in these activities.

As for Thomas, it's unfortunate that he views art in the manner he does. It's kind of the idea that the things you liked in your youth always seem better than what's available now. I don't think that's true (sure, things change, but there's always something worthwhile being produced), and even if, say, I found that I didn't like any comics, TV, or movies that were being made, I would still have so much content from the past to consume. There are literally hundreds of old movies and thousands of books that I could find to read/watch. I don't think I'll ever run out of material.

Of course, that leads to a different aspect of the dilemma, the sheer magnitude of content that is available these days. That seems to be the complaint coming from some people, and they might wonder if it's worth following any of this stuff if you can't follow all of it; it's just too overwhelming. My solution to that is just dive in and read/watch whatever I can. I know I'll never be able to watch every movie or read every book, but I'll try to read as much as possible, and maybe be somewhat knowledgeable about stuff I haven't gotten to. Of course, this leads to another common complaint, like the one from the CGS whiner: do I have to have seen/read everything these guys have said to get any entertainment out of it? That can be a problem sometimes, but I think creators like Fraction or Quentin Tarantino do a great job of making references without them being obligatory. Sure, it's interesting to read Fraction's descriptions of how he got the idea for a Casanova plot from an old movie poster, but that knowledge is really not necessary to enjoy the story. Yes, not everybody can do this very well (witness the many complaints about "continuity porn" in comics these days), but that doesn't mean one shouldn't try to reference another work; it's more like an easter egg that a few people might notice and get some enjoyment from.

So, this is one really long comment; sorry about that, everybody. I should mention that I have yet to listen to the podcast, so I might be missing some of the particulars of the argument, but I don't think it really matters. My basic point (which I've strayed away from considerably) is, Geoff shouldn't be afraid of getting old. As long as you're passionate about this stuff (or just like it), I expect you'll be able to make time for it. Don't let these goofballs get you down.

Matt Brady said...

Holy crap, that was a really long comment. It kind of got away from me there. You guys must have pushed some buttons or something.

Jason Powell said...

There's a lot of angles to this issue. I guess what I'm wondering is, does it matter if your tastes/passions change over time? Is it something to be afraid of?

I mean, it's one thing if circumstances somehow *force* you to spend less time enjoying comics and other cool stuff, but I agree with Mr. Brady -- if you're really passionate, you make the time.

On the other hand, if you find as you get older that you like different kinds of art, or maybe just don't need as much of it or whatever ... well, as long as you're still happy, what's the harm?

neilshyminsky said...

jason wrote: "as long as you're still happy, what's the harm?"

The thing is, I don't think that the guys Geoff was responding to in his post seem all that happy. They write very nostalgically about comics and TV; it's not that their tastes have changed so much as there's a big gaping hole where once this pop media resided. And they also write about things like cleaning the gutter or what-have-you as the ostensible replacement. I imagine that they're not implying the replacement is quite as much fun or brings them as much happiness.

Ping33 said...

What has that dude's gutters ever done for anyone other than him? The CGS show kept me entertained for more than 2hrs.
Pretentious fuck-holes who think that living lives they hate to support their kids makes them heroes deserve to be kicked in the nuts.

Jumaan said...

That's exactly what I was talking about, and what I meant by "growing up is a good for a reason".

I mean, if you are hitting the big 3-0 and you're not liking Piers Anthony novels like you used to or you're finding that watching the Transformers movie to be boring and soft around the edges then, shit, maybe you ought to grow up a little.

A little personal sophistication is worth escaping the same sedations over and over again - just to bring it back to CGS (who I feel like I am unfairly picking on) - they had trouble with something as straightforward as frigging Lone Wolf and Cub, which can be read entirely as pure plot. Lone Wolf and Cub, for god's sake. It's not even like enjoying something like the Coyote Gospel.

Jason Powell said...

"Pretentious fuck-holes who think that living lives they hate to support their kids makes them heroes deserve to be kicked in the nuts."

Hee hee! That's awesome.

Dante Kleinberg said...

Here's another option that I'll present to everyone out there, and one I plan on taking up myself: Don't have kids!

There's no moral obligation to procreate. We have plenty of people already.

I plan to travel with all my extra money and free time. I'm going to China in August, and to Europe next year (probably some kind of England, France, Italy 2-week combo), and Egypt as soon as possible after that. Eventually I'll get to every continent. Yes, even Antarctica.

And when I get home and I'm saving up for the next adventure, I'll have plenty of time to read comic books, watch serialized dramas, or whatever other form of artistic expression catches my fancy while I'm not raising kids.

Jason Powell said...

"it's not that their tastes have changed so much as there's a big gaping hole where once this pop media resided."

True. I guess if that's the case, then sucks to be them. It's just that there are some people who genuinely do find raising a family (for all that it might be really difficult and require a lot of sacrifice of certain kinds of "fun") much much more fulfilling than pop-entertainment. To the point where the serious enjoyment of pop-entertainment seems trite in comparison.

I once actively feared becoming one of those people. Now I figure, hey, who's to say they're wrong? (I still don't think I will become one of them -- I know me, and I know what I like -- but I'm not bothered by the possibility anymore. Que sera sera, I figure.)

Matt Brady said...

Geoff is right; this is a really good discussion. Good points all around, especially from Jason and Dante (and Ping).

Dante: Hey, if you choose not to have kids, more power to you. You're right, we certainly don't need even more people on the planet. My wife and I are planning to have a family, but it's true that one should not feel obligated to do so in this day and age.

Jason Powell said...

"Don't have kids!"

I'm with you on this one, Dante. The idea of tending to offspring really does not appeal. I'd rather spoil myself! (On luxuries like ... oh, I don't know ... a Dr. Katz box set?!?? :) )

Streebo said...

“Your head's like mine, like all our heads; big enough to contain every god and devil there ever was. Big enough to hold the weight of oceans and the turning stars. Whole universes fit in there.

But what do we choose to keep in this miraculous cabinet? Little broken things, sad trinkets that we play with over and over.

The world turns our key and we play the same little tune again and again and again and we think that tune's all we are.”

-Mad Tom from The Invisibles #3 by Grant Morrison and Steve Yowell.

Without art, without philosophy, what difference does life make? What are we on this planet for? Are we simply here to procreate and propagate the species? That's what animals do. We humans have the gift of reason - and we have a responsibility to use it. We have the ability to appreciate the ironies in life and to ponder the very meaning for our existence. If all you are good for is to add to the population - then do me a favor and cut your nutsack off. There are already plenty of people here and plenty more on the way.

I've been reading the feedback on your latest CGS episode over at the CGS Forums and find myself more than a little dismayed at some of the responses. This attitude of utter negativity is not exclusive to comics fanboys by any means. I've been working on a horror film for the past three years so I've spent quite a bit of time on various forums dedicated to horror. It never fails when someone says how much they love any particular piece of art - be it a comic or a movie - that someone will come along and directly attack them for expressing that appreciation.

Why?

I think the issue here is fear - plain and simple. People are afraid of growing old - so they don't want their superheroes to change. If the first comic you ever read was 2000AD with Judge Dredd - then it forever remains the greatest comic ever in your mind and nothing is ever as good since. If you grew up on John Byrne's Superman and Miller's Batman - then you want a Superman without fantasy - and a grim Batman that breaks spines. They want Superman to keep fighting Lex Luthor's robots again and again without change. If their superheroes change from the way they were when they first discovered them at twelve years old - then that means they are getting older and changing as well. This is a basic human fear that can plague any one of us at any time and some people are not psychologically prepared to face those changes.

If you explain a movie or comic in a way that shows deeper symbolic meaning and resonance - and they don't see it - then they are afraid because they feel stupid that you pointed out something they don't see. Why else would someone make a point to purposely gainsay someone's personal observations about a work of art? They are afraid of the implication that they are stupid or lacking because they don't see it that way. Since they are afraid - they lash out at others. I love the fact that superheroes, fantasy, and horror can give us the tools we need to deal with psychological issues. These tools are no different from the fairy tales of old except there aren't any fairy tale fanboys bemoaning the latest Big Bad Wolf retcon that says he never had sex with Little Red Riding Hood before he ate the bitch.

Angry comic fanboys are afraid. They are possibly afraid of growing old or afraid of feeling stupid or just afraid of feeling disenfranchised. They don't want their heroes to be about anything more than a man putting on a skin tight leather outfit and punching another man in the face. They don't want to hear about any deeper relevance in superheroes because it challenges their perceptions of what they hold dear. It challenges their experience as a twelve year old reading about when Batman broke the Joker's neck and they feel threatened by it. What people fear - they attack.

My attitude is that they should all line up single file - so I can put a bullet through their chests in one shot. Fuck, Bryan Deemer. I don't give a damn if I get banned from their forums - but just once I would love to hear a discussion about the possibility that a superhero comic can carry some kind of metaphorical resonance in this cold world of hard facts without having to listen to his thirty minute show-stopping "my brain doesn't work that way" speech. Thank you - I heard it the first time. You haven't added anything to it and you are doing nothing more than showing your ignorance. I don't care if he believes that or not - but why make it a point to tell someone else that they are not entitled to their beliefs? They have a right to read their men-in-tights adventures just as much as I have a right to look for reflexivity and meaning in the Joker's smile. I would like to peacefully co-exist – they would like to mock what I believe. So fuck them.

Will you outgrow comics and pop culture, Geoff? Maybe. Maybe not. What difference does it make? Who gives a fuck? Luckily my girlfriend reads everything from Batman to Wonder Woman so if it ever comes to the point where - God forbid - we were married and had children - you can damn sure believe my child will have Spiderman jammies and a complete set of Fantastic Four Essentials volume 1 - 4. I want that bastard to start off right! If someone else decides that they no longer find value in something they dedicated their time to - then that's their problem - not mine. It's a part of growing up – but abondoning one's past is not necessarily the only path to growing up. Accepting our past is just as important. There is a reason you were drawn to superheroes or poetry or literature. There is a reason we find meaning there. If you decide to put your time into something else it does nothing to take away from the enrichment you previously found therein. When we start second guessing our past and where our decisions have lead us - down that road lies madness - and utter and complete assholeness. Your appreciation for art, poetry and superheroes is what crafted you into the person you are today. No matter which way your life turns – these passions prepared us for what we face next.

I may be an asshole – but at least I will take the time to think about why I'm an asshole.

Streebo said...

..and I'll be a happy asshole.

Dante Kleinberg said...

Jason: Exactly! More disposable income = more glorious stuff! (damn I want that box set)

Streebo: Actually I think the Joker broke his own neck because Batman wouldn't. But I'm just teasing, good points all.

I can't understand anyone with an exclusionary stance on pop culture. In the end it's not so important to get all worked up over. If you are a hardcore Yo La Tengo fan (or whatever) it's okay not to like Kelly Clarkson (or whatever) but it's only okay if you're willing to CONSIDER Kelly Clarkson. I visit video game sites regularly (another passion of mine) and you see the same thing there: people choosing sides for no reason and with no experience. What, you can't like Gears of War and Cooking Mama?

Try everything. Reject nothing you haven't actually tried yourself.

You can say White Chicks looks like a bad movie, but you can't say it IS a bad movie unless you've SEEN it.

And to everyone: After commenting here yesterday I went out an saw An Inconvenient Truth. From when Al Gore was a kid to when Al Gore dies of old age there will be a population increase from 2 billion to 9 billion. In a single lifetime!!

So now I'm not just suggesting it, I'm begging all of you: DO NOT HAVE KIDS. FOR THE GOOD OF THE EARTH.

Geoff Klock said...

Dante: I HAVE to disagree with you, or at least qualify what you said. I can say White Chicks is a bad movie. I can say that, and things like it, because life is too short to vet everything myself as fully as I can. I may not KNOW that White Chicks is bad, but I think it looks bad, and I trust my hunch on this so much that I would be shocked if I were wrong. As a result I ACT like it is bad, which amounts to the same things as KNOWING it is bad -- cause what good is the abstract KNOWING if it has not effect on me? There are such things as instincts, and you can ALWAYS claim that if I just saw something one more time, or studied it more deeply I would get it. No one has time for that, and so, judgement. I do not want anyone to be a-feared of making judgements. Did I just say a-feared? Why am I talking like a cowboy?

TonPo said...

RE: WHITE CHICKS - they settle their problems with the power of the dance, which is something you guys could definitely learn from, what with your engaging dialog and collective epiphanies.

Jason Powell said...

"White Chicks" might be the wrong example to use. All you have to do is look at the poster and know that 90 straight minutes of those hideous prosthetic faces will give you nightmares. Or at least a strong case of nausea.

Dante Kleinberg said...

Geoff:

The difference between your belief that White Chicks is probably a bad movie and your so-called "knowledge" that it is a bad movie is huge when it comes to discussing art and pop culture with other people.

One of the major problems with pop culture messageboards is exactly the attitude you are describing. Geek A comes on and says "Man I love White Chicks/Countdown/Cooking Mama" and Geek B replies to say "That sh!t sucks! You need to check out Pan's Labyrinth/Casanova/Gears of War instead!!!1!" when Geek B hasn't actually tried whatever Geek A was so happy about.

Some people liked White Chicks. No one is in a position to tell them they are wrong. Blake (as quoted by Roger above) is a dick. The internet is full of obscurantists who think something can't be good and popular at the same time.

If you have ever tried something you were positive you wouldn't like and ended up liking it, then you know I'm right. This doesn't mean you have to vet everything, it just means you can't piss on what other people enjoy without having even sampled it first -- which is exactly what the CGS poster you quoted was doing to you.

Marc Caputo said...

You know, when I don't like something like "White Chicks", I get called a snob. When I say I love something like "Munich", I get the same. I'm not allowed to NOT like what the masses love nor am I allowed to love what they don't. This is why I seek out like-minded individuals - so that I can talk about what I like without sounding pedantic. "White Chicks" is a bad movie, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't like another of its ilk. It's all very confusing sometimes.

Matt Brady said...

My "debate impulse" is piqued by this White Chicks conversation. I've actually seen a little bit of it (not by choice; I used to work in a movie theater), and I can confirm that it is terrible. But I don't think I should have to watch the whole thing to confirm it. I agree that there are times that an initial bad impression of a movie/whatever might be wrong (example: Shallow Hal, which I thought looked awful, but turned out to be not too bad. Not great, but watchable and fairly enjoyable), but sometimes something is so obviously bad and so far from what you are interested in that I don't think I should be obligated to try it. I definitely wouldn't force the Gears of War fan you cited to play Cooking Mama; it's obviously not his sort of thing, and he'll probably hate it.

I guess it's like Marc said, it's best to seek out like-minded individuals; you're probably not going to convince somebody with polar opposite tastes from yours that he should try your favorites as well. A friend of mine had a neighbor who liked terrible movies like White Chicks (I think it was actually one of her favorites), and he often tried to get her to watch stuff like Amelie, but she always hated those movies. So I think he stopped trying.

As Streebo noted, the tendency of some people (especially on the internet) does seem to be to obnoxiously tell someone they're wrong. Like I said, you're probably not going to convince somebody their favorite movie/comic/etc. sucks by running up to them and yelling "That shit sucks! Try this instead!". Sure, you could attempt some more nuanced argument, but even that is just going to cause a flame war or something. It's probably better to stick to people with similar tastes.

Of course, I'm not saying you should never venture outside your comfort zone. There might be stuff that initially seems bad to you but is actually worthwhile. But rather than expect me to "vet everything", I think I would prefer to read some criticism and see what people I respect think of the work. If White Chicks had received rave reviews from, say, the critics at The Onion's A.V. Club, I might have considered checking it out. Luckily, they (and every other critic I respect) confirmed my suspicions that it was terrible. That's why we have people who are paid to take the fall (or, on the other side of the coin, promote works that might have been passed over).

Looks like you guys pushed more of my buttons, this time about criticism and such.

Dante Kleinberg said...

I'm not suggesting one must try (or vet, if you prefer) everything, I'm merely suggesting one shouldn't criticize things one hasn't tried. If the urge to criticize is so strong that this means one MUST try everything, perhaps one should take up meditation or some other means of relaxation.

I'm also suggesting artistic relativism. One man's trash, another's treasure, and so on. I'm relatively certain I wouldn't like White Chicks myself, so (with the exception of this conversation) I choose not to think about it, and if someone told me it was their favorite movie, I'd say "Oh, cool! I haven't seen that one." and let it wash off my back.

Anyways. Can't remember why I started talking about this in the first place. Seems a bit off topic. Sorry everyone!

Streebo said...

I can't believe you guys are talking about White CHicks!

However - Dante - is right in my estimation. One man's trash and all...

neilshyminsky said...

Geoff wrote:
"I can say White Chicks is a bad movie. I can say that, and things like it, because life is too short to vet everything myself as fully as I can. I may not KNOW that White Chicks is bad, but I think it looks bad, and I trust my hunch on this so much that I would be shocked if I were wrong."

I'm totally on-side with Geoff, here. (Peter David and I have twice gotten into an argument over this on my message board, he voicing Dante's side and me using very nearly the same words as Geoff.) I don't think Dante's disagreeing with Geoff's assertion, though, that it's not possible for one to every see everything, and so I'm going to work from that point.

Dante, are you sincerely suggesting that we shouldn't 'choose to think about' films we haven't seen, or that we're in no position to criticize them? Take Geoff's suggestion that our 'hunches' as a good gauge of whether we really need to try something to know if it's any good. Geoff is being euphemistic, here - what he actually means, I think, is that we tap into our ability to reference an archive of cultural productions, our knowledge of the artists involved and artistic convention, and to then cross-refer what we see in a trailer, what we read, or hear from others with all the data we've accrued in our lifetimes. Like Geoff suggests, this works in our favor the great majority of our time, and so fills us with a certain confidence in our ability to pre-judge the merits of, say, the next Michael Bay film in much the same way that we would the next Golden Delicious apple that we try.

I'm also wondering if Dante's suggestion that we refuse to critique until we've tried can be extrapolated to suggest an approach of pure neutrality - it would imply, I think, that we're supposed to come to a film that we're intending to watch with no pre-judgments, either. But this isn't reasonable or even possible, is it? I mean, as soon as I know the ostensible genre of a film, its lead actor, or its director, I'm already constructing a set of expectations.

For example: I wrote a conference paper about LOST and spent a large portion of my time deconstructing the way that Terry O'Quinn's character-actor history was subtly played as a means of misleading us (subconsciously, even) into expecting that he was one sort of character (the hunter/military/law enforcement type that he's played in over a dozen shows and films), only for it to be revealed later that the history we had already come to assume was patently false. Is this an argument against pre-judging, as our assumptions in the case of Locke were proven wrong? Absolutely not! It's simply to say that such judgments are wholly unavoidable, and that the goal should be to remain conscious of them rather than deny their existence.

(Whew! I kind've went off there, didn't I? This'll probably turn into something on my own blog...)

Streebo said...

Neil - you write with an eloquence that escapes me and you make your point quite nicely. My personal belief is that it is appropriate to conference with your friends and declare White Chicks a bad film - even if you haven't seen it - however when doing so on an Internet board among people unfamiliar with your personal tastes and preferences - it just makes you like like a snob when you deride someone else's entertainment without watching it first.

At my local comic shop - the owner always reminds me that every book is someone's favorite book and even Rob Liefield is someone's favorite artist.

neilshyminsky said...

Hey streebo - maybe you and I are the only people still reading this thread at this point, and I hear you, but I'll never be comfortable with that kind of radical relativity. My feminist and anti-racist politics ensure that I would never talk about aesthetics in some universal, unpoliticized sense, but it remains that there are certain cultural aesthetic expectations that have to be invoked - ie. a disproportioned stick man should never be compared favorably to renaissance portraiture. And if we can admit that this is true, we can also make other suggestions about aesthetic standards...

But sure, Liefeld is someone's favorite artist... and, honestly, I'm not going to worry about whether a person who likes Liefeld thinks I'm a snob. And they're probably not going to worry about me thinking they have bad taste. The person who likes Liefeld has completely different aesthetic standards and expectations, and we're simply not going to agree on a common language. (And so I'm not sure that this has much to do with the debate - I think that this would pose a problem even if we were both intimately familiar with Liefeld's art, for instance.)

Cthululaw said...

I'm just now reading this. So, please, continue.

Cthululaw said...

Streebo and neil..., I think that you are both making excellent points, except for the Deemer diss, because, even though I usually disagree with him, I do like having his pro-surface interpretation point on the CGS show.

I started the Klock/Fraction podcast, but I've been too busy to finish it or catch up with the CGS board response to it.

Excellent Morrison quote; it reminds me that I really have to read all of Invisibles. I also think it is an excellent counter argument. It poetically suggests the fear people have of change and the unknown, and suggests that the unknown and change do not actually hurt us, so there is no reason to be afraid.

I'm 29 and shit-stupid scared of finishing growing up and finding out that I don't enjoy the things I KNEW were beautiful and important and good when I was younger. On the other hand, I'm also terrified of mentally stagnating. I was in higher education for about a decade, and I was constantly exposed to new art and ideas. It was the most exciting time of my life, and it may be over. I no longer live near my friends who introduce me to new comics, or novels, or movies, or music, and I apparently lack the resources or motivation to find these new things on my own. I want to continue to defend the virtue and value of Transformers the Movie until I die, but I also don't want to go the rest of my life without seeing many, many better movies.

I feel the same way about theory. Geoff seems to have focused on art theory, I focused on ethical/political and phenomenological theory. I worry that I haven't read a work of philosophy in a few years, and I worry that I don't worry about that every day.

I believe there is something inherently good, and valuable, about things like aesthetic difficulty and self-consciousness, but maybe I don't believe that as strongly as I did 5 years ago. This bothers me and I do not know if it should.

I think that a lot of the discussion on this board, regarding the merits of one piece of art over another, can be reduced to issues of relatavism. My take is that the big ideas of the twentieth century were, more or less, critical ones. They were critical in the sense that their primary thrust and power was in their criticism of previous, and prevailing, big ideas. I do not think that any new big ideas have re-established a prevailing 'big idea consensus'. Relatavism, and its attendant strife, are the result of the critical dismantling of the previous big-ideas. I imagine this situation as what the situation was like after Hume, but before Kant. Hume destroyed empiricism without clearly providing something better. Kant came along a bit later and provided that something better. I think that, right now, we are waiting for something better. There is no prevailing agreement on what is 'good,' in either art, politics, or even what counts as knowing.

There are, literally, dozens of theories taught throughout the english speaking world that provide the mental tools to demonstrate flaws and shortcomings of art, but I am not aware of even three, that are generally accepted, that demonstrate the value, or merit, of art. I believe this leaves us with the radical relativism, where Bill can say White Girls is excellent, and Bob can say White Girls is drivel, and Bill and Bob do not have a shared criteria by which they can meaningfully discuss whether or not White Girls is actually excellent or drivel.

Perhaps we are living in the world where Crowley provides the only largely agreed upon big idea, "do what thou want, and let that be the whole of the law." (my paraphrasing). I am not satisfied with this sort of relatavism because it leads to mob rule. In this world, Shrek 4 will definately be made, and it will cost scores of millions of dollars to make. In this same world, we may never see another movie directed by David Lynch, even though it would cost a fifth, or less, than Shrek 4 will cost. This is because Shrek 4 will be much more popular than any movie Lynch has ever made. I believe all of Lynch's movies are better than any Shrek movie, but the point is that the less popular things don't get done, not based on their merit, but only based on their popularity. In this world, if most Americans think nuking Iran is ok, then it will probably happen, regardless of whether it is right or wrong.

In the world of mob rule, I think that it is of great importance that people like Geoff and Fraction tell us about all the great poets, and 70's movies, and genres, and indy bands, and obscure comic book writers that they possibly can. You or I might not like Cassanova, but if nobody is out preaching the virtues of Cassanova, then it will be dead, and things like it will probably also be dead. I don't like a battle for mob support, where every surviving, reproducing thing needs to be the head of a Leviathon, but so long as that is the world, then I want an army for every idea and every artifact so that the possibility saving the best survives, even if I don't agree with you about what the best is.