Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Cultural snobbery versus cultural relativism

I was on the ‘phone yesterday evening and got my head bitten, a little. I had remarked on what I was doing when the ‘phone rang. It didn’t please the friend calling; she was a bit disgusted, in fact; apparently I was letting her down, or letting the side down, or letting my standards slip, or something.

I had got home and had a cup of tea, and folded (badly, and slowly, needless to say!) some washing. Then I had supper: reheated Waitrose vegetable frittata, garlic bread and cherry toms, followed by some yoghurt. And I settled down to enjoy my dvd of “An American in Paris” and a bag of lychees. The ‘phone went just as Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron were dancing to “Our Love is here to Stay” by the banks of the misty Seine. Grr. I remarked that I was busy, explained what with when I was asked; and then got told off, in a mild sort of way - for watching a “corny Hollywood musical” instead of something “worthwhile”.

Worthwhile!! I think light-hearted romantic exuberance is worthwhile, thanks very much! I think fun is worthwhile; and Gene Kelly’s dancing is certainly worthwhile.

But I’m afraid I wriggled out of arguing my point of view, using my arm as an excuse – “I broke my wrist, I’m entitled to watch what you consider to be slush” was the gist of it. I’m not proud of that. Because I should have stood up and blasted away.

I do not think of myself as a post-modernist; I do think there are greater and less great works of art and of culture. It isn't all one completely level field, a tin can of equal value to the "Virgin of the Rocks". But greatness isn't everything; I think almost all of it has its place in the world, goddammit. What Hollywood does well, it does supremely well. What Katherine Jenkins does well, she does supremely well. What Ursula Le Guin does well, she does supremely well. I watch Satyajit Ray and Kurosawa films, too; I listen to Jussi Bjorling singing Verdi and Favourite Baritone singing Schubert; I read George Elliott, I read A S Byatt. But I enjoy the other stuff too, and I cannot agree that it is rubbish. I will not be ashamed of liking “Firefly”. Don’t tell me that entertaining films, light music, and Science Fiction are no good because they are not “high art”. Don’t tell me that my enjoyment of “Strictly Come Dancing” means my appreciation of an evening at the Royal Ballet is tainted somehow. I appreciate them both, for their different qualities; one is great fun and often fascinating, the other is dazzling, moving and thrilling; each has its place and I have the right to love them both.

I’m not just talking about the fact I have personal tastes; I’m talking about everyone’s right to have personal tastes in the first place. The right to have them, and the right to express them in public without being sneered at. What gives some people the right to judge and condemn the cultural values of others? That is high art/currently fashionable/politically acceptable; and this is not… Says who? There is always someone holding themselves up as an arbiter of taste, belittling what doesn’t fit their criteria of class, worth, or acceptability, and they have no more authority to do so than I. I've grumbled about this before and I expect I'll grumble about it again. Down with cultural snobbery.

1 comment:

miss*R said...

sometimes in life we need 'lighthearted' instead of worthwhile... just the same as we need chocolate instead of an apple.. it softens and soothes the soul to nurture it in anyway you need, specially in this harsh world.

same as some wine snob telling me that my taste in wine is not mature.. pfft to all of them.. how do the know what my taste is and how dare anyone tell us off for what we enjoy.. pfft to your friend too. yes, down with cultural snobbery...