What to Like, and for How Long

February 23, 2012

A perfect storm of questions hit me this weekend. It occurred to me that there’s not enough time or brain space to appreciate all the aesthetics that are out  there for you to experience, so what’s worth following and what’s not?  I’m not going to answer that question in the next paragraphs, I don’t have an answer.  But here’s some topics I’m mulling over:

There are “Experts” in Everything

This question hit me while listening to Freakonomics podcast about how wine snobs may not have any idea what they’re talking about.  And then my mind bounced right to the XKCD cartoon above — that if you follow anything intensely enough, you’ll eventually develop a more developed opinion of it.  So… what’s worth knowing, what’s worth discarding, what’s worth devoting time to?

The Lowest Common Denomenator Theory

I touched on this a little on A Dead Kid post a while ago, suggesting that the more obscure your passions, the less connected you are to the rest of the world.  I feel that a healthy understanding of popular culture, though potentially mind-numbing, is really important. I don’t want to be lost in dinner discussions about The Bachelor, or silent (verging on looking snobby) when the bar topic du jour is about Katy Perry’s relationship status.  Crap culture is the new Weather — everyone experiences it, you can’t avoid it, and everyone has an opinion about it so it’s a perfectly fine topic to bring up when you have absolutely nothing else to talk about.  Would you want to talk to someone who responded to your weather comment with, “Oh, yeah, I’m  not really into the weather.”

What’s  Worth Your Time?

How long does it take to watch a movie?  Eat a meal? Read a book?  I ask, because, in the last 10 years a new time-sucking phenomenon has appeared — the serial TV drama. Chuck Klosterman and Bill Simmons chatted a bit about this on Monday.  Long-form TV drama is  everywhere, and they take forever to get through.  There was a time when someone would ask, “Have you ever seen <movie>?”, and you would say “no”, and they would be like “I can’t BELIEVE you haven’t seen <movie>.”  You would then rent that movie (or borrow that CD or go to that restaurant) and experience it — that would take about  2 hours… even a book, which I would consider a real commitment, takes anywhere from a week to a month to complete.  Serial cable TV shows are the extreme of commitment.  They last for months; often years if they’re doing well.  They are recommended by others who have no real idea how they will eventually end.

People don’t recommend albums based on the first two tracks of an LP, restaurants based on appetizers, or books based on prologues, but they do this sort of thing all the time for serial dramas.  Every serial show is an insane commitment with no guaranteed satisfactory conclusion (hi Twin Peaks, Lost).  Everyone is probably guilty of recommending a show that you, yourself won’t know how good or bad it will wind up being.  I know I am.  I told my friend a decade ago to get into Desperate Housewives.  There are still people watching Grey’s Anatomy because, I can only imagine, that they’ve put too many hours into McDreamy to give up on it now.  Anyway.  I digress.  I just dread dedicating that much time to one thing and watching it just… suck.

Sensory Appreciation

My uncle once said he wouldn’t buy a good sound system because he doesn’t have the ear that could recognize the difference between an good sound system and an excellent one.  I could imagine the same goes for tastebuds, and any other sensory experience as well.  This is logical.  But it make me wonder who gets to appreciate the most things, and perhaps then determine what’s “the best” themselves —  those fortunate enough to experience the most?  Does a variety of experience from somone with no real taste trump the limited experience of someone who has incredible taste?

Art vs Necessity

Last section, I promise. This is the old form/function argument. I’ve read that if an art serves any real function, it ceases to be art.  My questions is then, what happens when a basic necessity is elevated to something greater?  When it comes to things like architecture, fashion, or cuisine — shelter, clothing, and food if we’re going Maslov here — are post-modern buildings,  high fashion, or molecular gastronomy the epitome of art because they’ve transcended their functions, or are they invalid because they are objects that fail to meet the requirement of their initial reason to exist?  Are foodies and fashionista’s kidding themselves, or are they following the most logical path?