Them's Fighting Words Dept.

More from yesterday. I promised I would talk more about the terms "elitist" and "pretentious." 

"Elitist" and "pretentious" are such thought-stoppers, aren't they? I suspect that's the idea — all you have to do to pretend you don't have to engage with a particular thing is to stick such a label on it, and that seals it over as thoroughly as Pandora's Box wasn't.

Elitist, as best I can parse it, used to be a term employed mainly in reference to needless stratification — making things more difficult than they need to be, mostly as a way to keep out the riffraff. These days, it's used mainly as a term of anti-intellectualism, a way of sneering at anything that isn't automatically easy enough for someone to understand without having to go look anything up. Pretentious is even easier; it's used as a label to describe the product of anyone tagged as "elitist", when it's best saved for when something hasn't earned the right to pretend it's as important as it claims to be.

There are times and places to use either one of those labels. But they're few and far between, and there's a threshold that has to be at least so high [makes gesture at shoulder] before they can be said to be met. They have no place in being used to to avoid actually engaging with someone else's work.

At least some of this talk seems to stem from the idea that if you're not aiming for a mainstream audience, you therefore automatically have contempt for a mainstream audience, or you think anyone who likes mainstream stuff is a dolt with dead taste buds, etc.

There are people who make noises of this variety. I did so myself at one time, and I try not to do it now, because a) I know it isn't true and b) it doesn't do me any favors in the long run. I love me some obscure art films and some Clarice Lispector, to be sure, but I know full well they are not the only stars in anyone's firmament, least of all mine.

If a lot of people really like something, even something that looks silly, there may be a fragment of truth there. If you feel it's your job to shoot higher than what is offered, consider looking into what that jewel of truth might be. Dust it off, place it in a setting of your own devising. Don't dismiss what exists; build on it and make it your own.

Tags: audiences sociology writers writing

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2016/01/19 18:00.

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