it ain't easy being Green(ie)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

In Praise of Self-Absorption

Ok, so, recently I have heard and read reviews of many of the things that I enjoy, from books to music, as well as television. Most of them contain the phrase "Self-Absorbed" in some form or another. In all of these reviews this term has been used with the utmost contempt, the reviews themselves are often (if not all of them) positive, but in a certain cynical voice. They level the sort of "it is too smart" or "the critic's will love it" argument that plagues so much of entertainment. Now I will admit to the fact that I both consider myself at least partially "Self-Absorbed" and smarter then the average person, but more importantly then these facts is my opinion that the world is not improved by entertainment (be it film, music, book, or television show) that does not in some way challenge or expand the intelligence of it's audience. I'm not saying that we should abolish all forms of entertainment that aren't composed of SAT words and complex plots with twisting moral arguments and dynamic or innovative relationships. But I do believe that we should not automatically dismiss, or possibly worse, indulge them only as high minded critical darlings. Passing these things off as only meant for a snobbish elite does work to satisfy those of us who wish to be included in that category but does a lot more to the people who accuse us of being self involved and uncaring of the problems of others. And instead of "dumbing down" these programs we should instead encourage more people to give them a chance, instead of dismissing them or indulging them we should ask that they should be given a chance not only from the audience they are target to but also from those who could enjoy it if they put in a little effort.
but to get back to my original point. I think that the things that cause these kinds of entertainment, and here I will give some examples, "studio 60 on the sunset strip", the works of Dave Eggers, the music of Bright Eyes, and various other literary darlings, indi films, and emo front men, to be called "self absorbed" is the same thing that makes them good. These artist are so self examining and introverted that their expressions are made in the forms of them selves. They become the protagonist of their own creations, which while it does fit the definition of "self-absorbed" doesn not warrant such a negative connotation. Yes these characters are often pleading to be loved or indulged, but how many of us don't want those things. What is important is that these artist take what are common desires and explore them, dissect them, and extrapolate them to try and discover more about them and how to resolve them and what they mean about us as people. And I will definitely grant that this is a difficult thing to do without actually being self-absorbed but most of those things fall short on so many levels that the monacer of "self-absorbed" is pushed out of the review by words like: flat, blundering, or terrible. I will also admit that some of the things that I have mentioned above do fall short on some levels, sometimes Aaron Sorkin can be a bit pandering, and sometimes Bright Eyes can be a little to hopeless, and there are a boatload of flaws in Emo (which I contest have little to do with self-absorption and more to do with issues of sexuality and male posturing) but these flaws have nothing to do with the inherent "self-involvedness" of the work, they stem from the standard human flaws.
but perhaps I'm just to self-absorbed to think otherwise


At 12:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i first would like to preface my response with the fact that i kinda got a bit of a hard-on when you used the word monacer.

but i digress.

i think this argument can be clarified by breaking down and explaining the semantics. often times when critics call something too smart, they are actually making commentary on accessibility. as someone who's been in arguably bullshit performance peices, i think accessibility is the biggest issue facing the artgoing populace, presently. it goes back to the cliched idea of the tree in the forest deal, but a bit less tangible and more theoretical. there can be brilliant, genius, incredible artists (whether it be musicians, filmmists, writers, etc) but if the participant/consumer/audience member cannot understand his message, then it all goes to pot. hence the term "too smart"
i think the concept that you've described regarding the artist turning in his own work to create himself as the protagonist is very neat, very interesting and very po po modern. there is a danger of self indulgence, where the artist loses sight of actually communicating something to the outside world.
i don't claim to have a formed opinion as to if this is legitimate or not. i had a recent discussion with a friend about the idea of written blurbs next to exhibits. if they are necessary to understand the exhibit, then was it a good peice of work? was it effective? it's a purist argument as well, i'd say.
obviously, there are shittons of really stupid and ignorant people in the world. but i would argue that unless a peice of work is accessible to them artistically, then they won't be affected by it.i do greatly admire artistic works that are intelligent and yet still appeal and are understandable to those who we couldn't consider the normal museum hopping, playgoing crowd. i certainly don't think we should be dumbing anything down. in fact we have already and it's abhorable (hairspray the musical?). but i do think that artists should bear in mind how they are trying to effectively reach a broad range of people.
very often the people who are going to see/read/hear the type of art discussed are people that are already very intelligent and cultured and passionate before they experience a specific peice of work.
so i think the criticism you are discussing has more to do with what potential the work has to influence others and not the actual content on its own.

yay for smart art.

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