As an example of the value of pop culture, I nominate Bugs Bunny cartoons. I have gotten more pleasure, and as a young man more education in wit, than in slogging through Ulysses.
Again I ask: how is it that I have been recast as the serious one? How is it that someone else is posting on cartoons?
Dr. Reynolds –
Let me suggest two things which, I think, will assist in improving the result of your questions about entertainment.
 I think the measuring stick, “Have I gotten more pleasure when …” is of only moderate usefulness. I would dare say that a lot of people gain a LOT of pleasure doing things you and I would repudiate — and by “a lot” I mean “a lot more than Bugs provides, given an equal amount of time.” As the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us, ‘I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?”‘
 We live in a culture where entertainment is, frankly, seen as a necessity and not a wildly-extravagant bonus. My Dad grew up in rural Hungary during WWII, and while he has memories of occasional R&R, his farming family worked to live, to survive — while we feel like a 50-hr work week in the A/C is BRUTAL — BRUTAL I say. I think we over-rate the value of entertainment in general to personal growth and maturity and also to how we interact with each other. What we would do without sports in the US is absolutely beyond our ability to consider.
So can we place a value on these things? I admit that I do — I have made an internet reputation doing so. But if we over-rate the value of these things, we lose ourselves and our perspective on what it means to be called out of the world by Christ to be sojourners and aliens with a home in another kingdom.
BTW, while you were at U of R, what was your favorite hang out? I grew up in Rochester and left there aroung 1994 to seek my fortune in the wild world.
I loved Rochester . . . at this time of year Letchworth (the “Grand Canyon of the East”) and a piece of grape pie would do!
I agree with everything you say here. Pleasure is not the only good, or even a very great good, but it is a good. My family was from West Virginia and safe to say my grandparents and great-grandparents had no great time for leisure, but in their popular entertainments (even folk entertainments) found good and hearty fellowship.
Even mass entertainment (like the country music heard from Nashville) was not wholly to be despised given the pleasure afforded.
It is surely true (as I make my living saying) that we are amusing ourselves to death, but the answer is not to become dour and sour. It is to become mature, hearty, and have an occasional jollification even in the realm of simple pleasures.
I for one will not avoid hedonism by become a gnostic (as I am sure you agree)!
I think that most, including Professor Hanson, would refuse to argue that popular culture is worthless. I certainly wouldn’t.
Every society has a popular culture. Every great civilization capable of producing great works of art also produces worthwhile ephemera, although most of this, being ephemeral, does not survive for our inspection, and is barely accessible to outsiders anyway. Bach wrote a great many things, after all, and one of them was BWV 211, the so-called “Coffee Cantata.” Even popular culture from within our own civilization, but removed from us in time, can only be understood as its producers understood it with great effort.
Current negative reactions to popular culture are in part due to excessive claims made on its behalf. One may enjoy both a home-grilled cheeseburger and the highest-quality coq au vin as “good,” albeit in very different ways. The Goldberg Variations are not — in all circumstances, for all purposes — absolutely better than Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea.” “Greater” and “lesser” are not measurements of good and bad, and simple joys are both necessary and good. What is bad, however, is the false understanding that the terms “greater” and “lesser,” in relation to cultural products, have no meaning. When the lesser is proclaimed as equaling or exceeding the greater, out of willful ignorance, deliberate impiety, or nihilistic egalitarianism, we should object. Such an objection is one cause of aversion to current popular culture, as the aforementioned tendencies characterize much of it.
More fundamentally, revulsion for our popular culture usually springs from the marked evil of much of its content. It propagandizes, usually unconsciously, but sometimes knowingly, for a false and destructive understanding of the most important truths. The essence of humor is surprise, and in worthwhile humor, one is surprised by truth: by the recognition of an essential reality from a strange angle, or in an unfamiliar and unexpected guise. One may laugh at false humor’s mockery, one may be entranced and diverted by wicked behavior, but to this, too, we should object.
We are not required to choose between the greater and the lesser, but between the good and the bad.
Italian sausage at the Lilac Festival was always my favorite, and was the old Record Archive across from U of R Medical Center. It is a sadly-vacant barn now.
So no: no ascetic gnosticism for me. But I think it’d be a great discussion to think about what guides our aesthetics, from fine food to fine art.
I love catching the Red Wings in the old Silver Stadium. A white hot and good friends. . . watching future Orioles play . . . good times.