Monday, 13 January 2014

The mainstream always takes the path of least resistance

I'm not sure if James Parker, who wrote this think piece for the New York Times on the repurposing of cultural products by the mainstream culture industry, is writing down to the level of a purported audience or if he's just an idiot. When I first read his piece I immediately concluded that he was an idiot but I'm starting to think that he doesn't want to show off, maybe. Maybe he's just cleaving blindly to the most tired referents of popular culture because he doesn't want to alienate his readership.

Parker pitches his ideas at a high point in the piece, referencing T.S. Eliot, the Modernist poet, and Evelyn Waugh, the British popular novelist. He makes much of the pronouncements of these men, taking what was probably a throw-away remark by the second-rate Waugh and raising it to the level of an axiom. As for Eliot, well, Parker is American and Eliot was American so Parker probably read Eliot when he was in high school ... You know the rest. So once we're done with Eliot the accomplished poet and Waugh the schlock novelist we're done with high culture and we can roll out some names that will really get the juices flowing for the morons Parker takes his readers for. Like Tolkein. Another second-rate British novelist, Tolkein is primarily a writer for young adults; the trouble is that the category did not exist when he was alive. But Tolkein is useful for Parker because it allows the journalist to segue to what he's really interested in (and where the big bucks are really made within the culture industry): film and television.

So in a couple of tooth-shattering steps Parker takes us from the classical 20th century canon - Eliot - through the lists of historical fiction - Waugh - and straight into the arms of the current flavour-du-jour - Tolkein. Then we're free to talk about James Bond and Battlestar Galactica. Wow! Daddy can I do it again?! It's extraordinary because there are just fuckloads of great writers Parker flies over like Icarus bent on approximating his rancid carcass to the power of the sun. It's a credit to the mainstream culture industry that he can so effortlessly and blindly leap over the tattered corpses of the ten thousand great novels, short stories, and poems that do not make it into his measly little purview. Parker shows us how powerful the companies are that comprise the engine of cultural production, especially those based in the culture capital of the world: America.

Look, I'm hip to the pleasures of Tolkein: I read him avidly (when I was about 15). I also grok James Bond; my father would watch almost nothing coming out of the culture industry - he was no critic - but I do recall walking down the street in Waikiki one year (we visited Hawaii practically every year when I was an adolescent) as the family made its way to the cinema to watch the latest Bond extravaganza. But the thing is that there are ten thousand flowers nodding their heads in the fields of popular acclaim and many of the ones that are most neglected deserve the proximity of more noses than Skyfall does. I mean, if you want to really see Colombo in a new light why not spend some time with Wim Wenders' 80s arthouse classic Wings of Desire? Now that's an accessible bridge between two worlds if ever there was one.

We all have our personal pantheons of the great and good but reading Parker's I just felt like fucking Einstein. And this guy's getting paid by the New York Times to produce his spiel? It's just not good enough.

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