Posts Tagged ‘Philip French’


September 25, 2008

Middlebrow is a beige date rapist stalking popular culture

Today‘s guest post is BY Michael Burka (not his real name, doye!). He is angry.

An anecdote. I used to work with this guy. He was a great guy. Australian. We had absolutely nothing in common except that we both worked for the same insane woman – a vengeful chubby dwarf of an ex police officer with a retarded child and a double mastectomy, who vented her rage on anyone prettier or cleverer than her (clue: almost everybody).

Anyways, me and the Australian bonded over having to suffer this bitch. We lived close to each other, too. And I would often see him on the train where he would take the piss of my reading material. He favoured trashy airport novelists: Wilbur Smith and Tom Clancy were two of his favourites. Where I was into more literary stuff: James Joyce, Donald Barthelme were two I took a lot of shit for. Long story short: we had a book swap. He gave me Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six and I lent him Ask The Dust, or something. He didn’t even start it and I got about 60 pages into R6 before I gave up. It was like trying to suck a cock: I just couldn’t do it, the whole thing was totally alien. We remained friends until he was forced to return home as punishment for impregnating his wife.

The point is: I liked artsy fartsy crap. He liked trashy stuff. I don’t really care to know why. Maybe it’s because my dad molested me and I never found out about it. So what. But some people really have problem with this. I had a conversation the other week where I happened to mention that I really couldn’t give two shits about The Dark Knight movie and that Heath Ledger was basically being given a prize for acting like a cartoon and being dead, and the rage that gurgled in her throat was vicious. She started going off about how she was sick of all this snobbery in art and that I was pretentious. It was like I’d just admitted to being a war criminal.

I shouldn’t get too bent out of shape, it was just intellectual insecurity, but has it ever occured to these people that some people actually like weird/different stuff? The online Cambridge Dictionary defines pretentious as: “trying to appear or sound more important or clever than you are, especially in matters of art and literature”. They would rather believe that someone was trying to make themselves appear cleverer than them than believe that they simply didn’t like fucking Batman. 

Pretentious is a word bandied around waaay too often. Often a simple “boring” or “I didn’t like it” would do. But it is frequently used as a way of rejecting anything radical or different. Middlebrow people hate radical ideas because deep down they are very conservative people. Conservative people dislike radical ideas, but they are usually pretty upfront and honest about it. But middlebrow people see themselves as forward thinking and would hate to be considered conservative, so they call stuff they don’t like or understand pretentious. Btw, I mean conservative in the sticking to the orthodoxy sense rather than a right wing political sense.

Radical ideas move help a culture to evolve. Middlebrow culture seeks to replace truly radical things with its own mediocre ones and make middlebrow people appear smart and clever without having to make too much of an effort (hey isn’t that what pretention is, kind of?). Take a film like Atonement – perfect middlebrow fodder. The plot – boy meets girl, has sex, is separated by injustice, goes to war, dies – could be straight out of a Mills & Boon novel without the happy ending. Except, there is one – it’s just not real, it’s the ending of the protagonist’s book. There’s some flashbacks, too. Meaning the story is non-linear. Middlebrow folk love these metaphysical flourishes because they make them feel safe in the knowledge that they are much cleverer and nothing like the aging housewives who compensate for the tragedy of their neglected vaginas with Quality Street and trashy romance novels.

Then take Mister Lonely, Harmony Korine’s strange and beautiful film about a commune of celebrity impersonators and flying nuns. It was universally panned by middlebrow critics like Peter Bradshaw and Philip French. Bradshaw missed the point totally, calling it “pointless and irritating” and “without plausibility, dramatic interest or insight into celebrity culture”. A film about impersonators living together in a remote Scottish Castle and a nuns on BMXs jumping out of planes without parachutes, implausible? No shit. (NB I called Harmony and told him his film didn’t sound very plausible and he cried). As for it not saying anything about celebrity culture: it’s about IMPERSONATORS, not the actual celebrities. Of course it doesn’t say anything about celebrity culture. As Diego Luna, who plays Michael Jackson says: “I have always wanted to be someone else. I have never felt comfortable the way I am. All I want is to be better than myself; to become less ordinary and to find some prurpose in this world.” You can imagine Bradshaw trying to get his goon mind around it: “There’s Michael Jackson talking to Marilyn Monroe… she’s dead… uuuuunnnhhhh… hang on… [thinks about getting a sandwich from Pret] isn’t that Sammy Davis Jnr? This is ridiculous!” And as for the nuns. Come on. They were awesome.

Fuck this. I can’t believe I’m getting so worked up about it. I’m sounding like I never have sex. That girl wouldn’t have sex with me after I said I dissed Heath Ledger. I stand by what I said, though. And I’m not pretentious.