Monday, September 30, 2013

The Good, The True, and the Beautiful

This post is a follow-up to Consumerism. Click here to read that article first.

A thing of beauty, teaching the truth?
So, in the last article, I outlined a philosophical underpinning of consumerism. Because the producer produces to get money, the consumers’ tastes (as indicated by coughing up the dough) are treated as practically an end in themselves. Neither the producer nor the consumer is required or expected to look behind these. This need not be a conscious position taken by people involved in pop-culture, because it is
inherent in how consumerism plays out (although many are open proponents of some form of the position).

At the end of the last article I asked “doesn’t this get people what they want?” I think we can say, pretty directly, no. Giving people what they “want” doesn’t get them what they want; giving people what they happen to be drawn to among the options presented to them, doesn’t mean giving them what will satisfy them. A man being kept in a hole will prefer a cell with a cot and a window, but either way he’s a prisoner.

This is where the alternative comes in; the alternative to the “man as little god” scenario presented by practical consumerism, which is: man does not generate the ideal, he is in search of it.

If we consider the history of western thought, calling this idea an “alternative” to the one generated by consumerism is pretty ridiculous. If the history of western thought were a guy, then his shoes might be a little impractical and silly looking and his neck tie might be a little too tight, but overall he is in search of the ideal and this other idea is a tiny fez perched on top of his head.

One direct argument that we’re on this search is the very fact that people seek entertainment. If I am a god, why do I get bored on a Friday night and go see the Avengers movie? I’m looking for something; something I don’t have. The guy who wanted to be a monkey, but his brain swelled, replies to this by saying that it’s just nervous energy produced by too much brain. Evolution slipped up a bit and left us with self-awareness. It may be a pain in the butt, but we have to cope.

Western thought, on the other hand, gets increasingly annoyed with the stupid fez on his head and tells us we are actually destined for greater things; that we are in search of transcendent ideals that are really out there; that we want to do the good, know the true, and love the beautiful.

So what does this have to do with pop-culture and taking it seriously?

It suggests the necessity of a totally different dynamic in pop-culture: not producer and consumer but artist and audience, in which both are engaged in essentially the same activity. The people looking at some piece of art (The first live-action Ninja Turtles Movie, say) would be looking for beauty and truth in the work. But, the artists would be looking for beauty and truth when they made the work, because those are the things that people seek. They’re the things that people really want.

This would make pop-culture a conversation, and not one about either of the participants, but about the goal they have in common. In such a conversation the line between artist and audience would not be very dark at all.

This is the way it should be, because we do seek these ideals, and they are real. Not “in my opinion” or any such nonsense; it’s just right. Taking pop-culture seriously means treating it in these terms, even if other people in the conversation don’t know we’re even having one.

So let’s jump right in next week and talk about TheKarate Kid (the one with Danny Larusso of course).

© 2013 John Hiner III

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article John the contrast between the producer consumer relationship and the artist and audience relationship seems so stark that it's like the difference between an aimless fire cracker and a well placed arrow or bullet, It also seems that the producers and consumers don't seem to get significantly satisfied which can be seen when their pleasure high wears off and they are either stagnant or getting worse.