Everything here is covered in strange, powdery, white stuff that seeps into my socks and makes my feet cold and wet. But it sure looks pretty from inside a warm apartment… and all I can think of is Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye:


Should be beautiful this time of the year in Vermont Tulsa, all that snow and everything. Fir Sweet-gum trees… clean pine collegiate air… BRRRRRR, very beautiful, just what we need.

So, due to the chilly weather, I’m curled up in my room with some hot vanilla tea, blogging away and avoiding my Frankenstein reading (although the glacial weather seems the appropriate objective correlative for reading the novel).

Two things: first, I have an addendum to my previous post on  Hannah Arendt; second, I have some thoughts for the day.

Addendum (feel free to ignore the next five paragraphs, unless you have a marked interest in Hannah Arendt and/or media and culture studies):

Yesterday’s honors class discussion on Benjamin and Arendt put me in quite a pensive mood for the rest of the day, because there was something about Arendt and our analysis of her article that bothered me. There was a kind of intellectual snobbery seeping into the classroom, as it is wont to do in any given honors class–any given university class in fact. This sort of pretentiousness stemmed from Arendt’s own ideas, a frustrating situation indeed when her article actually condemns kinds of intellectual snobbery. In my opinion, her fundamental criticism in her article reduced to a similar kind of pretentiousness.

Arendt has no problem with entertainment, and she has no problem with art (or cultural objects–durable works that are not subject to the destructive nature of the consuming masses). At the heart of her article, Arendt ultimately seems annoyed with the middle-ground, quasi-intellectual entertainment that occurs when intellectuals try to render cultural objects (art) appealing to mass society–when they “water down” great art so that it can be consumed by the masses. To me, however, this position generates a degree of pretentiousness in its strict categorization. It seems that anything that falls between “high art” and pure entertainment is mere sophistry in her opinion–false intellectualism, weak art, kitsch. The problem in this position, however, is that art and entertainment fall on a spectrum, and there is a little bit of each in every cultural work. Gnomeo and Juliet falls more on the entertainment end, providing a kitschy version of Shakespeare’s masterpiece. It has less of a didactic purpose–maybe less of a commitment to art or the spirit of the play–than an entertainment purpose. (Note: this is not a huge problem to me. I think it’s a hilarious concept. I also, however, acknowledge it as entertainment more than lasting art.) Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet is not exactly Shakespeare’s original work, and could be said to be somewhat watered down (what with its heartthrob stars, Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, appealing to teenage mass consumption); however, it falls much closer to the “art” end of the spectrum. It is a film, and a popular one at that, so there is no denying its position as a work of entertainment; however its artistic interpretation of Shakespeare’s text and devotion to the spirit of the work renders it a “higher” or lasting cultural object as well. Any removal from the text is counterbalanced by Zeffirelli’s own creative additions.

Both works adapt great art to their mediums and altered ideas, and so both are somehow a “removal” (in the Platonic sense) from the original Shakespearean play. They both occupy that middle ground between pure art and pure entertainment, but they are also both radically different. I would argue, then, that this middle ground itself is a fluctuating and finicky thing. More specifically, I think the mass-popularization of art (or cultural objects) can do the following to different degrees: it can “kitschify” the art, creating a watered-down object meant purely for consumption, which is then left in the proverbial dust; or, it can in fact raise the bar for entertainment, giving a piece of popular entertainment (for mass society) a kind of solidity and quality that are the makings of a new piece of art. New works seem to fall at different points along this spectrum, between these extremes.

In fact, after reading Arendt and engaging in some intense nerdtastic discussion last night with my roommate, Christy Sobolik, I would posit that the mark of a cultural object–of art–is its ability to endure the process of consumption. A work’s ability to persevere, and continue to be “consumed” over time, in fact, may mark it as a cultural object–a piece that can withstand the biological forces of the masses. Jane Austen’s works provide a prime example of this kind of durability. They were popular in her day, and have recently experienced a popular revival. Why their massive popularity? Because there is richness and content that allow continual study and provide entertainment despite changes in contemporary ideas and customs. Her works are not like some sugary carbohydrate, consumed and destroyed quickly, but rather provide a kind of continual nourishment. Her art has been made into objects of consumption–new, sporting editions of her books, movie adaptations, comics, graphic novels, parody books, Bollywood films–and this continual creation of popular adaptions only serves to lengthen Austen’s appeal and more firmly etch her name into the cultural consciousness. Yes, she has recently entered the realm of mass popularity, and is being consumed by the masses, but this does not erase her works from existence. Rather, it adds to her longevity, reveals that her works need not be popular for one time and one place. They persevere, continue to feed the hungry people.

I’m waxing poetic, and I should stop now before this turns into a pure sermon. I will add that the many popular adaptations of Austen’s works are still up for grabs as to whether they will stand the test of time. Many fall into a kitsch category that mark them as rather biased toward the “entertainment” end of the spectrum. I love entertainment, and have no problem with that, but they might not last as objects of the cultural consciousness for very long. Some of the works, perhaps the most recent Pride and Prejudice film for example, reveal an artistry that may give these works longevity. In these cases, the removal of elements from the original work are often compensated by additions by the new artist. (There is not simply a “watering-down” going on.) Creative interpretations add new content through the work of a different artist in a different form. This creativity may prove enduring and render the work a nourishing cultural object rather than a quickly-processed, cultural carbohydrate.

I will end my addendum on that note before my continual rambling turns my entire argument to shambles. My overall point? Enjoy cultural things for what they are, and go see, do, listen, touch, and taste what you like, because when it comes down to it, there is art and entertainment in it all. Maybe there’s more of one than the other, and it’s important to acknowledge that. Categorical assertions, however, without looking at the degrees of mass appeal and degrees of artistic or cultural value in the work can lead to increased amounts of snobbery. This is probably not good for one’s health. It can’t be avoided altogether; hell, I’m in a liberal arts university where pretensions abound (and I fully include myself). But like carbs and fats and spray-tans, we probably should not indulge in pretentiousness in excess.

Now, some thoughts for the day:

  1. A kitchen without cheese is a sham.
  2. The sun should think twice about melting the lovely stuff that protects me from classes.
  3. If you ever create a monster from re-animated corpses, it is better to just face the issue rather than hide under the covers or run away for two years.

Cheers m’dears.

3 thoughts on “Should be beautiful this time of year in Tulsa, all that snow and everything…”

  1. Ms McAuliffe:

    I find your argument about the importance of works of culture (like Austen’s novels) to be pretty persuasive. But I’m also not so sure that you’re all that far from Arendt’s own position. Her demand that authentic art have some sense of permanence feels pretty close to your notion of the “durability” of Austen. Where you two might differ, I think, is in your belief about the role of past culture in the innovative moment of the present. Arendt seems to distrust this: she thinks it will end up in dumbing down the past. You are far more sympathetic to the move, it seems, because the possibilities for taking the past and renewing it through adaption is potentially exciting. Again, I would put myself closer to the second position (if that is indeed your own) but maybe there is still a way to reconcile the two. It depends, as you point out, on how we go about appropriating the past, and what we think we’re doing with it. There is a way to use our cultural heritage to simply establish our cultural bona fides. This is what I see someone like James Cameron doing. But there is also a way in which we can take up the past and truly engage with its claims, and perhaps use those claims to challenge our own preconceptions. That would be a more interesting approach, I think, and one, again, where you and Arendt might find some common ground.

  2. I’m glad you posted these thoughts after the discussion, because I was feeling pretty similar in a lot of ways. I understand Arendt’s fears of adaptations, but many adaptations are what make art long lasting. Would I have read Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame if I hadn’t seen the Disney movie? Probably not. Yes, there are people who enjoy the “dumbed down” versions and call themselves cultured, but there are also people who enjoy those versions and take that interest back to the source. Of course, I too have been guilty of accusing adaptations of “ruining” art, but you can’t be a real honors student if you’re not pretentious at one point or another.

    I also really like your opinions of consumption of art and entertainment. I was really bothered by the example of Shakespeare as well. In their original performances, they were certainly consumed by low class, drunken audiences. Yet now they stand as a high point of theatrical art. Is appreciating any kind of art not a way of consuming it?

  3. I find your description of the spectrum ranging from art to entertainment and all degrees between the two designations to be very accurate and intriguing. However, the more I think contemplate this “spectrum,” the more questions I have. Obviously, over time, a certain work’s place on the spectrum has the potential to shift.

    At some point in time, Shakespeare’s works shifted from being looked on as a form of entertainment to being a work of art. But, when did this happen? When was the spectrum altered, recalibrated? Does this shifting occur with every generation? Or when the meaning of “society” is redefined? Or…

    I am reminded of discussions in high school AP English over what could be classified as literature. While discussions and citations of Shakespeare and Dickens were encouraged, examples from Harry Potter and Twilight were frowned upon. But, when exactly did Shakespeare become a classic?

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