Quality is not binary.
I got a couple negative comments recently. You’ll know this if you follow my writing here at this website. I kinda posted both of them along with my responses and their (likely fake) email addresses. I also wrote article length responses to both comments that took apart and belittled their respective comments. I thought both of my responses were short and punchy, but I guess I’m just very longwinded. Not really a revelation–I’ve written a thousand words daily on this blog since the twenty-third of December, and will repeat that until somebody notices. However, both comments had something in common, despite being responses to articles on entirely different topics. Both said that in order to disagree with the person writing the comment, I had to be stupid.
I get into a lot of arguments. I guess it’s just part of my personality. My mom always had one rule when arguing with my brother: no name-calling. What she meant was don’t attack the person you’re arguing against, attack their point of view. If someone is wrong, you have to prove it based on what they’re saying, not based on how awful they are as a person. Where this comes into play in subjective fields, such as the arts–music, movies, video games–is that if you like something someone else didn’t, you can’t just call them a bonehead and have done with it. You have to know why they should like what they don’t, what parts of it will appeal to them more than others and what parts they should be able to ignore for the greater good. You don’t simply call someone a moron and say you’re done arguing your point. And this is important to say because that’s really all the discussion we’re having nowadays.
I’ve said often on this blog, as it’s a personal philosophy, that frank and open discussion will help us as a species in the long term. We can’t just violently disagree with everyone and say that’s fine. We have to know why we disagree about things. This would make the biggest difference in our politics. Our Southern neighbour is currently trying to eliminate a program whereby young women receive free healthcare services solely because some of those young women use it to have abortions. And the main discourse on this, back and forth, is “You’re a religious nutjob who wants to control my womb!” and “You’re a filthy harlot babykiller, sir!” It’s not helping anyone to talk about everything as if it’s black and white. It only hurts us as a species, as a continent and as nations. We need to build better communities, not spend all of our time dividing ourselves further into smaller and smaller sections of society.
This starts in media. Our news media has gone from a noble beast, reporting just the facts on politics, natural disasters or other worthwhile topics to a sick, twisted creature, concerned more with how much it’s being paid than to whom its loyalties belong. In the quest for ratings, we’ve gone from the coverage of Vietnam–brutal, honest, probing–to the Wikileaks “scandal”. Yes, a man published classified documents. So what? If they weren’t anything worth reading, would it really matter that he had published them? And why are they worth reading? Is it because there are things your government does not want you to know about itself? The press immediately hounded Julian Assange, painting him as a pirate and a looter, as an anarchist interested more in destroying order than finding the truth. Of course, online, we defended him as a hero, a scholar and the 21st century Robin Hood. Is no one interested in the fact that he might just be a guy with a boner for transparent governments?
And this trickles down even further into our arts. I’m not entirely innocent of writing off an entire movement, genre or sometimes medium in one broad, sweeping motion. It’s something we do far too often as a culture. We say that one part of something is hogwash, therefore it all must be hogwash. Therefore none of it can possibly be of any value. Immediately after I said live theater was entirely bunk and useless, a friend of mine mentioned Evil Dead: The Musical and the Blue Man Group. In visual arts, I’ve found one artist whose work I steadily admire in the last ten years, but that’s it. Most of it is waiting for someone else to tell me what’s good. But there’s the rub: most of it is that, not all. So why should I bemoan an entire medium or an entire collection of works from an artist just because most of it is so bland or unappealing? Why is my first impulse to throw it all out, and not look for the things I may like?
Because, like the rest of my generation and like the rest of the world, I’ve been gradually conditioned to see in black and white. There are no shades of quality, there is no middling opinion. You are either with something entirely or against it violently. And I’m wondering what possible benefit this could have for all of us. How the hell are we supposed to live or create any art or anything of meaning or value if this is how we treat each other? How the hell is art supposed to survive if we can only ever push it to extremes? What will happen to the three and a half star? Already on YouTube, ratings have been changed from a 1 to 5 star scale into a simple like or dislike dichotomy. What if I’m entirely ambivalent towards a video? Does that mean that I’m not allowed a voice?
Why do we have to be reminded constantly that art is subjective? Why do we always throw superlatives at anything, whether it’s superlative hatred, superlative love or superlative indifference? Why can’t we just grow up and realize that ours are not the only voices in the world? I have a feeling that more of these questions are linked than not.