Opinion: Take On the Culture Bullies

Photo courtesy Pixabay.
Written by Connor Harrison

By Connor Harrison
BU News Service

In response to widespread criticism against his films, Michael Bay once said: “I make movies for teenage boys. Oh, dear, what a crime.”

As a high school junior, I was immersed in Stanley Kubrick, ‘90s rap and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Scarlet Letter” on audiobook. I was not the teenage boy Bay refers to. I couldn’t even appreciate the narrative showstopper in “Transformers 2” when Shia’s movie mom gets stoned and harasses his new college crew. It wasn’t even worthwhile for your Axe Spray demographic Mr. Bay. It was just horrendous.

Eh, pump the pretension brakes there 17-year-old Connor.

Folks like my high school self get off on metascores and the discourse of what is “good” or “bad” in the art world by looking for validation from outlets like Pitchfork Media (no slight on them; Pitchfork is a wonderful site for discovering new music). Did they even like Radiohead’s “Kid A,” or do they just think, “OMG they think it’s good so I think it’s good now I’m gonna make others feel bad for not thinking it’s good.” As Chuck Klosterman wrote in 2004: “The only people who believe in some kind of universal taste—a consensual demarcation between what’s artistically good and what’s artistically bad—are insecure, uncreative elitists who need to use somebody else’s art to validate their own limited worldview.”

Of course, we should have arts criticism for the purpose of cultivating creativity and adding to our oral history. Unfortunately, our generation’s crop of culture bullies are more concerned with telling you that you’re wrong than promoting what they love with the sort of down-to-earth language that could make a difference in a culture as divisive as ours. They scoff at simple logic such as, “I personally liked ‘Transformers 2.’ It was a fun time at the movies.” 

Unfortunately, those of us unwilling to stand up to these bullies are equally at fault.

In a 2013 piece from the New Yorker, the term “guilty pleasure” is a quick-fix: a signal that we should be oh-so-embarrassed for enjoying a piece of art or sub-culture that was panned as shallow crap by our arthouse contemporaries.

“Haha guys, I know it’s bad. I feel guilty for liking it. I personally enjoyed it, that’s just me though. I don’t actually think it’s good!”

C’mon, man.

Stop with the self-conscious BS. Don’t deny your own sense of enjoyment for something you consider a guilty-pleasure just because it might not make it in a textbook someday. Buy into the power of pathos, as explained by Aristotle’s Rhetoric: an artistic form of persuasion intended to awaken emotions in the audience.

For example, if you just got married, and the next week you and the hubby watch some rom-com that climaxes with a down-on-his-luck drifter proposing to the rebel girl from a posh Northeastern family, you might like it more than someone else because it evokes similar emotions to what you had just experienced.

My guilty pleasure is the hip-hop album “Camp” by Childish Gambino. I’ve made friends over this album. As I write here, he channels the corniness and relatability of early Kanye West on steroids. It’s summer-camp nostalgia all wrapped into one cheesy rap album that was critically panned by Pitchfork and other repudiated sites. I loved it. It invoked that Aristotelian pathos. Why should I feel guilty to admit that?

For Klosterman’s elitists and the self-conscious “victims” hiding behind guilty-pleasures, Aristotle’s 2,300-year-old lesson falls flat. Collectively, they sideline a meaningful, judgement-free cultural discourse in lieu of filtered, disingenuous conversation that promotes nothing at all. Art evolves because of our open-mindedness and amicable disagreements.

I’d rather slam my head against a refrigerator than watch “Transformers 2 again.” That’s just me. But, if you love it, be proud of it. I want you to argue that it’s your personal “Casablanca.” Let social anthropology decide what’s culturally significant. You do you in the process.

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