Friday, February 5, 2010

Noses in Jeopardy

Ever since I was a young boy, and played the silver ball, or at least wrote widely read music criticism, people have been apologizing to me for things they like, saying, for instance, “I know you probably think they’re not very good, but I really like [name of artist}.” As long as they’ve doing it, I’ve been trying to get them not to do it. My feeling has long been that if you get pleasure from music that leaves me cold, or makes me yearn for deafness, isn’t it you who’s far ahead in the game of life?

I’ll grant you I’d have a hard time clinging to this position had I actually known anyone who liked Motley Crue, purveyors of crapola that wasn’t only patently bogus, but actually pernicious. Mostly, though, I’ve been able to keep my gob shut.

It hasn’t been nearly as easy with books and television. I can too vividly recall, while on holiday in Malaysia in 2005, being surrounded when I went in the swimming pool by women reading Sharon Osbourne’s autobiography and novels by Jilly Cooper, a British equivalent of Danielle Steele or Jackie Collins. This in a world abounding with fiction by Joan Didion, Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, Jane Austen, and a thousand others, and the nonfiction and journalism of Susan Faludi and a thousand others! It was nearly more than I could manage to keep myself from snatching their crapola out of their hands and shouting, “Even if you’re stupid, madam, this will only make it worse!”

I know (from the tell-tale vibrations in my fillings) what you’re thinking — that they were just reading what was on offer at the airport, something they grabbed impulsively. But I have a problem with that. Knowing that a long plane journey and then vacation were imminent, only the sort of person with whom I’m not comfortable sharing the world would fail to do some serious thinking about what to read, and either check it out of the library or buy it at a bookstore charging much less than that at the airport.

Consider too that the same people who buy stupid celebrity autobiographies on impulse at the airport also buy tabloids at the supermarket. Readers of tabloids are likely to believe anything, and people who’ll believe anything are just a few steps down from drunk drivers when it comes to endangering public safety.

The only reason the TV-viewing habits of others don’t bother me as much is that it takes place out of my sight. But if I let myself, I could easily go into a frenzy of loathing every night thinking about the deeply unfunny but lavishly laugh-tracked sitcoms and inane formulaic police procedural dramas with which my neighbors are sedating themselves.

Actually, I’d be uncomfortable around any TV viewer who allows himself to be exposed to a lot of advertising. How many times before going mad can even the sanest person sit through one of those Orwellian pharmaceutical commercials that starts and ends by promising a life free of a particular malady, but in the middle features a chilling recitation of warnings and possible side effects? A person who has ceased to burst into laughter when his TV advises him to consult a physician if his erection lasts over four hours is not a person you can trust.

Why more exorcised about books and TV than music? Because of the very different parts of the brain involved. I don’t think the intellect is consulted (unless you’re a snob, or a trendy) in musical decisions; when you hear something, it either tickles your musical G-spot or it doesn’t; all of us have derived far too much pleasure from music that we know to be cheesy or inane to believe otherwise.

No, it’s none of my business what anyone else reads or watches or listens to — except when it is. In 2008, countless tens of millions of Americans voted for a presidential ticket that included that sanctimonious numbskull Sarah Palin — this after having re-elected Bushandcheney four years before. The classic metaphor about freedom of expression has it that one is entitled to swing his fist to his heart’s delight — provided it doesn’t bloody another’s nose. When people lower their own IQs with John Grisham’s fiction, say, or Everybody Loves Raymond, or movies starring Bruce Willis or Nicolas Cage, both your nose and my own are in jeopardy.

1 comment:

  1. Hello, I must be going - so this is short, but sweet. Two books arrived from the local lending library: Joe Queenan's Closing Time and one on the Kinks by an author with a name very similar to yours. I never was a Kinks fan, so that's off to the side for the moment. Your recommendation of Queenan opened up a whole world of insightful writing, and I can't wait to read his book on sports fandom - a subject that has grabbed my attention ever since Chuck Knobloch threw to first and beaned the camerman's mother. Any one paragraph of Queenan rewards the reader. Thanks for the recommendation.