Matt Anderson suggests that pop culture isn’t that interesting or durable, but these are not the only values a thing can have. Dare I say that a film, book, or project can have value by “merely” being entertaining?
It might come as a shock to most Americans, but life is not all about reading Republic in small groups. Sometimes, however hard it may be, it is good to take time out and simply enjoy each others company. The film, concert, or television show may not be enduring or profound, but the happiness we share as we tarry there . . . lots of us have known.
Obviously there is some theoretical world where Americans consume too much entertainment . . . where bread and circuses replace the dialectic, but who has not met the haggard academic who in his monomaniacal pursuit of serious things has become a bit of a bore? There is a middle ground between the entertainment choices of Homer Simpson and the Homer obsessive so interested in the Iliad he has no time for a laugh with his friends over Springfield hi-jinks.
Last night, before a good discussion of my new book When Athens Met Jerusalem (buy now and get a fantastic No Prize!), some friends sat with me watching the Dodgers lose to the Other Team. No great Ideas there . . . but Hanson and Anderson are missing something by refusing this light and ephemeral joy. Such experiences over time can matter a great deal.
Second, experts should not be totally trusted with our entertainment choices.
Anderson asks whose job it is to tell us what pop culture is worth consuming and I reply that one of the great benefits of pop culture is that no expert tells us what is good. Instead the masses inform us what they are presently enjoying. The masses are often wrong about what experts think they should like, but they are rarely wrong about what they do like. While merely grazing where most choose to feed is bad, so is a diet composed only of the recommendations of cultural elites. Populism is sub-Christian, but so is elitism. A dip or two into the waters of pop culture (go Favre!) is a good antidote for the tendency to think experts are always right.
Experts didn’t like Lord of the Rings (the books) for the most part, but the public did. The books helped create a literary genre and will (I bet) endure. I am glad I came to them early.
Finally, small enjoyments can lead to discussion and this discussion can grow.
Television shows like Buffy had a big impact on a generation now in their late twenties. Really. They had fun and felt (rightly or wrongly) they learned a thing or two from the series. A good discussion and good evening of fellowship can begin with watching Buffy: the Musical and then turning to Charles Williams . . . and Plato . . . and the Bible . . .
My generation often began a discussion with Star Trek. (Should Kirk have let Joan Collins die?) How many of us wept when Spock died only to ask, “Do the needs of the many always out weight the needs of the few . . . or the one?” Silly, yes, but humans are often silly . . . and maudlin . . . while serious people lose a bit of their humanity by totally out growing their ability to shed a tear when Bambi’s mother dies.
Much of the best of pop culture has value as a basis for light fellowship, but it also can be the kindergarten for deeper discussion. Why despise the first steps?