Cultural Snobbism

Last week, Jazz ranted against this article by Steve Proulx in the online edition of Voir. It’s in French if you’re trying to link back, but in essence, Mr. Proulx is complaining about the masses all reading the same crappy books because they happen to be getting lots of hype (Harry Potter, Twilight, Dan Brown).

Jazz, and all of her readers, felt this point of view is literary snobbism and that, yes these might not be the most enriching works, but as long as people are reading something, we should be pleased.

I know this is a popular viewpoint with schools and parents, too. They want kids to read, so they don’t mind – and in fact are pleased – that they’re reading only graphic novels or the pop fiction.

While I certainly don’t think we have to be reading only timeless classics, I do think there is nothing wrong with demanding some quality from publishers. As long as we’re all thrilled to pieces that all our teenaged girls are reading (even if it is Twilight), publishers will happily keep churning out this junk.

I would rather my daughter not read anything at all than read Twilight. I don’t want to get into a whole rant again about this waste of paper that isn’t even a book so much as an excuse to sell t-shirts, calendars, posters, jewelry, DVDs, CDs, etc., etc. I’ve ranted on this before and The Oatmeal does a much better job of it anyway.

Reading is good because it exercises the brain, inspires the imagination, enhances languages skills and imparts knowledge of one sort or another.

Pop fiction does none of these things. It’s invariably very poorly written, thereby deteriorating language and language skills; it contains nothing to make you think and is filled with misinformation or non-information.

And then people treat it as fact.

  • Young girls think this perverse, abusive teenaged girl/100-year-old vampire relationship is sooooo romantic and is what every relationship should be.
  • Thousands of people flocked to the tiny corner of the Fairview Cemetery in Halifax Nova Scotia after the movie, Titanic, was released because this is where some of those who perished in that disaster are buried. And because one gravestone reads “J. Dawson”. That grave was loaded down with flowers, toys, cards and other gifts. The cemetery was quickly destroyed by the crowds and had to be closed and renovated.
  • Thousands have recently swarmed Paris — not to see the works of art and architecture; not to sample the food and experience the European way of life. No. they came to see the cool stuff from The Da Vinci Code.

What’s appealing about pop fiction is that it’s easily accessible because it requires nothing of you. You don’t have to think. You don’t have to come across a word you’ve never seen before. You don’t have to know anything or have ever read anything before  to “get” the book. Literature makes references to current or historical events, other literature, music, art, philosophy, etc., that enhance your reading experience.

Pop fiction is easy, like junk food is easy. No preparation, no skill required. It’s a full, ready-to-eat package of garbage ready for you to consume. It has little nutritional value, but it’s yummy going down.

And it’s addictive. Why would you want to chop vegetables, cook, stir, measure, think – when you can fill your belly without doing any work at all? Which is exactly why fewer and fewer people know how to cook or have any desire to cook and why we’re an obese and disease-addled nation.

The mass-consumption of junk fiction, junk TV, junk movies, junk music, junk everything creates a snowballing effect of greater and greater demand for junk. Publishers can’t even be bothered publishing literary fiction anymore because there’s no money in it.

Good, thoughtful, important works wallow in slush piles because publishers would rather make millions from the easy stuff than work to promote the difficult stuff.

Humans are naturally more inclined to laziness than to industry. If something easier is offered, it’s jumped at.  It’s easier to take some pills than to follow a healthy lifestyle. It’s easier to get a new relationship than to work at your old one. It’s easier to complain about schools and society ruining our kids than to do some hard parenting. It’s easier to let Oprah tell us what to think, who to vote for and how to live than it is to do our own research and make up our own minds.

And so, we become a nation of addle-brained seagull-like idiots who will swallow whole any piece of crap fed to us by the media, by politicians, by corporations  — because we don’t know how to think for ourselves anymore; because we have no imaginations anymore; because it’s just too much effort to go against the popular stream.

Why can’t we say, “Stop feeding us this garbage! We want good, original movies again, with real actors, written by real writers. We want appliances that work for more than 3 months.  We want technology  that isn’t designed for the landfill. And we want to read books that are fun, but still well-crafted and worthwhile. It IS possible. Quality was important once.

I love a good mystery novel and it’s a very popular genre. Which means there are hundred of crappy mystery novels published and consumed every day. But if you look around you can also find some really good ones – especially the ones published in the UK. So why would I want to read the 48th poorly written, but best-selling book in a series about a cat who solves crimes when I can read a well-crafted, engaging book about a fully-developed human character who explores various aspects of the human condition while solving crimes?

Is that cultural snobbism? Is it wrong to make judgments about what we are being offered for consumption in not only the cultural fields, but also in all other areas?

Are we obligated to just keep accepting junk because  it’s “better than nothing”? And before you tell me we just have to let every person decide for themselves what they want to read/watch/eat/listen to/etc., I just want to point out that this mass gorging on junk precludes individual decision- making. It, in fact, erodes our ability or desire to make decisions; to think; to work our brains.

Junk  just requires us to open our maws and let the sluice slide in.


56 responses to “Cultural Snobbism

  1. Oh! I just read a 10/2009 New Yorker article on the company that creates Gossip Girl books, they basically write plots in group meetings or from brief submissions and fill in the blanks like romance novels.

    How is this for cultural snob behavior:

    I saw Salman Rushdie and Richard Hell separately talk about this exact topic in the same week a couple years ago. Rushdie especially ripped on Dan Brown. Hell discussed how the minute punk was born it started to become watered down and mainstream, ready to be pop culture.

    They both called for artists to push limits and break boundaries and discussed how people need that to happen in order to continue to grow, create, and inspire one another. They criticized some major arts funders, record labels, and publishers for limiting the exposure of works that push the limits and promoting formulaic works.

    I agree with you and them, personally. Snobs or not, we have to push for quality and stimulation!

    In literature, I love “the canon”, books that shook the world before marketing was so prominent and works that influenced new works or even new genres. I also like to discover artists on the fringe or cutting edge, however you look at it. I like to build my film and music background base in the same way.

    I value supporting new points of view, and I like to think that understanding the past helps me appreciate quality and original contemporary pieces. I am limited financially, but I try to write little reviews on retail websites for lesser-knowns and to tell my friends. I post a lot on Goodreads. I try to buy local because, at least where I live, the local shops do a much better job carrying and promoting quality works that are not necessarily on the NYT best seller list. I am lucky enough to have many local shops, including 2 owned by local authors who have made it in the mainstream (Garrison Keillor and Louise Erdrich). Those 2 shops are like hatcheries for new talent and over looked books.

    I think it is a drag that when I gift children in my life classic childhood fiction they either reference the film or look at me like I gave them a floppy disc. I also try to give them books by local authors or small presses, also to blank reception. One of them flat out asked why I give them books instead of movies! Sigh.

    I guess not everyone wants to think outside the box or look in the old box.

    I do value reading no matter what, as much as the marketing machines make me groan. To expand my own view, I am in a book club that reads some mass market literature, some are hits and some miss.

    Sorry, this is getting long but…

    A friend of ours is about to have his second novel published and his 3rd is being polished. My husband is finishing his MFA and a couple novels to pitch to agents. Both of them write in horror/sci-fi ways, both have been told to be prepared to pump out books constantly and to be prepared to let imperfect manuscripts go out into the world. The business people say that is what those readers want: constant production because they are constantly reading. It really bothers my husband because he loves to nurture works over time and hates to read half-baked books.

    Our friend, who is living his dream and is immersed more in the business end now, dislikes that he has been pigeon holed in a genre, he actually writes more than sci fi/horror novels, but his publisher is only interested in one kind for marketing purposes. He is a very prolific writer, and already has 2 or 3 new novels cooking, but feels pressured to write one way in order to make an income off of his art.

  2. I disagree with you a bit. I think that any reading is essentially good for people no matter what the genre. I’ve read pulp fiction, pop fiction, Harry Potter, and many other style books. I’ve also read some of the classics and some off beat stuff that no one else much has read and it’s all made me a better more thougtful, well rounded person. I think it was Mark Twain who said, ‘Those who do not read are no better off than those who do not know how to read.”

  3. I think pop fiction has its place. Certainly reading a crappy mystery novel is more mentally challenging than watching an episode of CSI. I read and enjoyed a couple of Dan Brown novels. I’ve also read some of Kafka’s works. And I’ll tell you one thing, Dan Brown was more fun.

    Who am I to say how what someone should read. People should read what they enjoy. The books that get big press and big money are easily read by lots of people. That’s the key to making money at anything. Books that are harder to read will only be read by people who enjoy the effort. And like it or not, the average person doesn’t enjoy the effort.

    Missy: Publishers are out to make money. That’s all they care about. There is no real money in a book that will only sell a few thousand copies. That’s why there are tons of small publishers.

    Quiet awhile back, I was talking with an author I know. He had just published his second book of short stories, so I asked if he was going to quite his day job and write full time. He told me he didn’t want his children’s dinner to depend on him publishing and that he wanted the freedom to write what he wanted.

    Anyways, my point is, average readers will read average books. Sometimes exceptional authors will produce average books because they need to feed their kids. (or boy their kids BMWs) What do I care about what readers put in their minds.

  4. What is this obsession with vampires and magic? Where did that come from? I don’t read them myself. I tried to read the first Harry Potter because it was talked about but found it boring. I don’t like horror tales at all so haven’t tried Anne Rice or Twilight. I do love a good mystery though. I read many English authors-so satisfying.

  5. I’m going to stay with my theory that it is a subconscious need to bond with people, a “creation of shared experience” if you will. Modern peoples have become so disconnected from each other. Hardly anyone lives in their hometown or near their relatives and friends that they grew up with. Most people do not even know their neighbors. When people watch the same movies and TV that they know the masses are watching, they know they haved shared something with the strangers around them. Same with the popular books, music, etc. People want to bond and I guess they are using junk. We can call this Societal Junk Bonding. That’s my theory anyway, and I’m sticking with it.

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  7. You tend to get a lot of intellectual snobbery on the CBC. There’s this implied attitude that anything of value has to be eclectic and obscure. If it’s popular with the masses, it can’t POSSIBLY be good.

    Whenever I turn on them on, it’s typically some tortured intellectuals drooling over a latest book or CD that nobody’s ever heard about and nobody will ever buy. (Except maybe the people in the studio and the Toronto-elite crowd).

    Hey, if those books and CD’s are so great, how come they’re not best sellers?

    Maybe because (despite being highly intelligent), they SUCK and have limited market appeal.

    No..wait. It can’t possibly be that. No…it’s because Big Corporate Media Machine is preventing these artists from being recognized.

    Yeah..that’s it. It can’t possibly be the author’s fault.

  8. Missy – Thank you. And thank you for some examples of what I was talking about. You sound like a discriminating and well-rounded reader and advocate of good literature. There are still a good number of those around, so don’t let your hubby and friends sell-out.

    Dr. Monkey – Eating is good for people, too but living on a diet of coke and donuts is not eating and not good for people. Reading is more than just recognizing words on a page. Reading is also about using your critical faculties regarding the words on that page. I would assume that someone like you who’s read a variety of styles and genres would have developed critical reading skills so it’s not a problem if you pick up some trash once in a while because you’ll recognize it as trash. (And I wouldn’t even put a lot of pulp fiction in that category because some of it is damn clever). However, the masses who are besotted with Twilight and books like that read only this stuff. They ONLY read whatever is aggressively being pushed in their faces and that’s invariably garbage.

    MG – Comparing Kafka and Dan Brown is a bit spurious. Compare Dan Brown to John Irving for instance or any other modern North American novelist who is an artist rather than a hack. Other than that, I think you’ve made my point for me — it’s all about money. Is that the yardstick this society is using to measure quality? I don’t know if your friend was a good writer or not, but if he was, why are we not valuing such a talent and skill? Why is being able to chuck a ball around worth a multi-million dollar annual salary, but being able to enlighten and enrich people’s lives with words – to inform and explore the human condition — that’s worth squat?

    Linda – It’s not an obsession with vampires, it’s just what the garbage truck happened to dump on our front lawns this year, so that’s what we’re consuming. I totally agree with the satisfaction factor of the UK mystery.

    Geewits – That’s an excellent theory. Of course all that is happening on a subconscious level. On the surface, people are reading Twilight because “everybody else is”. The draw of “what everybody else is doing” is mighty powerful. I don’t understand it — why would you want to be like everyone else? — but that’s definitely what informs the popularity of the hot new books, TV shows, movies, clothes, music, etc., etc. The crazy thing is that everybody else is only doing it because some PR machine initially sold the product as something everyone is getting…before anyone even had it.

    Coyote – Begone with your evil prize. I’ll just take the possible accolades.

    Friar – So, if I’m understanding you correctly, you’re saying that anything that isn’t a bestseller is crap because THE PEOPLE know quality and therefore only purchase quality and anything that isn’t purchase en masse is garbage and that PR has nothing to do with it. Because that’s kind of what it sounds like you’re saying. I will agree that there is plenty of eclectic, obscure stuff that deserves to remain obscure but there’s also plenty of eclectic obscure stuff that’s great, but will remain obscure because it’s greatness will only ever be recognized by a handful of people. BECAUSE, yes, I’m afriad it IS true that if the money isn’t behind something to really publicize it, there is no way for the average person to know it exists. I guarantee you though that we could take one of those eclectic, obscure CBC CDs that (in your words) sucks and we could put a few million behind it and give it lots of exposure and press and have Oprah drool over it and people would swarm the music stores to buy it and fawn over it. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever. (PS: Did you really say “Hey, if those books and CD’s are so great, how come they’re not best sellers?”)

  9. Nice to see I’ve inspired a post!

    There are those of us who will always have eclectic tastes and who will read a wide range of literature. And I think there is good stuff being written and published today. And it’s not that rare. Margaret Atwood springs to mind and she has a few bestsellers. And there are lots of others (Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, Isabel Allende, John Updike, Philip Roth). Those are the ones off the top of my head, I could pull out lots more but it’s too early to tax my poor little brain.

    As for those who read only the bestsellers – I continue to think that at least they’re reading, and many of them would no doubt not read at all if they weren’t reading that.

  10. Great post! I’ve felt that way since I was a kid. As a child I read Shakespeare, Melville, Hemmingway, Twain, Bronte, Malory and so forth. I didn’t like “Hardy Boys”, and later as a teen and a young man, I just couldn’t get into things like Dragonlance (they’re terribly written, which is unfortunate because some of the stories are good but ruined by poor writing). Right now, I’m (re-)reading Farenheit 451.

    In university, I was kind of not paying attention in a history class. The prof – the dean of arts, no less – called me on this and I showed some POS novel I was reading. He made a derogatory remark about science and engineering students reading crap, and I retorted that I agreed with him that my current reading material was crap but I had read the classics. I launched into a 20 minute discussion about “The Old Man and the Sea”. Heh, you should have seen the look on his face.

    I guess I’m one of the few non-arts students who loved reading Shakespeare. I hated analyzing it to the nth degree, but reading it and watching it performed is awesome. I’ve read all the plays, although I’m not keen on the sonnets.

    As you might imagine, I also have an appreciation for film as well (hence, my collection of over 700 titles – and no rips or pirate versions). Like most modern “literature”, most modern cinema is crap too… tripe for the masses. A good film is hard to sell these days.

  11. Those adults who claim to read the dreck as well as quality work, and therefore the dreck is ok miss the point.
    Certainly the dreck is ok if it is in the mix with something that challenges your mind.
    If you believe that reading and consuming just pop culture dreck is ok in the long run I refer you to the great nation just south of us where you can now in 2009, find a whole swarm of the popular culture that will scream on cue that trying to get a national health care program is tantamount,( that sort of means kinda like), either communism or facism, depending on which brand of ism the cheerleader is calling it.
    The ability to think critically about what we are told is essential to a functioning democracy.
    That ability is not augmented very well by things like two and a half men, survivor anywhere or the Twilight series.

  12. Bravo! I agree wholeheartedly with this post!
    Its not “literary snobbism”, it’s called the ability to think for oneself and refusal to swallow the muck that is current pop culture.

    Why would you want to read a piece of fundamentalist, misogynistic, flufff piece of crap like “Twilight” when you could read beatiful fiction like “Catcher in the Rye” or “To Kill a Mockingbird”?There are also lots of amazing, more contemporary novels being produced all the time.

    It’s time people told themselves that they deserve better.

  13. I generally stand in the ‘at least ppl are reading’ camp, but you make some great points XUP. I think it becomes a negative if the people reading junk never move beyond that – never pick up something more substantial. Language and comprehension skills will never be challenged.

    And I love listening to CBC for their reviews and interviews w/ authors and artists that are stimulating through their works, and not necessarily their mass publishing appeal. I love to learn about new authors and good reads. The other day I was listening to the program Writer’s & Company – they were discussing Alice Munro. It was wonderful.

  14. (Clarifying that Alice Munro is not a new author -lol. I was pointing out one great program the CBC offers. Just in case it wasn’t clear … ;~)

  15. I used to work in literary archives and we battled this constantly – upper management wanted us to collect “popular” material while my boss wanted to collect better quality (tho lesser known) material. I was caught in the middle – an archives should reflect what was happening in society at a given time, and, well, right now our brains are going to shit by reading drivel, so it would be accurate to collect and preserve shit. We had some very interesting debates.

  16. Jazz – Yes, I couldn’t stop thinking about that all week. And, true there is good stuff being written and published, but it’s limited and I would maybe even argue that Margaret Atwood belongs in that list, but that’s maybe a matter of personal taste rather than quality. But I would still assert that people who read only crap like Twilight and National Enquirer and Harlequin Romances would be better off not reading at all – at least then their empty mallable little brains will not have been poisoned by bizarre and dangerous notions.

    Squid – You’re a Renaissance Squid! Have you read Malory lately? I love Malory. And I think we have to distinguish between true crap with no redeeming value and “light reading”. Light reading can be well-written and a ripping good yarn, but have little depth and require little thought — still good reading once in a while. True crap is poorly written and has no yarn. I don’t believe anyone who has been exposed to and enjoys literature would even waste his/her time reading crap.

    Bandobras – Again, like I said to Squid – why would you read “dreck”? If you recognize it as crap because you know what good writing, a good story, good literature is how could you bring yourself to read garbage? I can’t. I enjoy a “light” novel once in a while, but if something is poorly written or disjointed or has some inane premise, I can’t even get past the first few pages. My daughter, who has some experience with real books had to force herself to finish Twilight only because everyone else was reading it and she didn’t want to be left out. At one point she threw it across the room, but then picked it up a few days later and went on reading it.

    Hannah – There is less and less good stuff being published all the time as the Twilights of the book world take over the book shops. How did this book even get published? Why? I don’t get it. And, unfortunately, people think when there’s lots of glitz, glamour and shiny stuff associated with something that it’s good.

    Olivia – Aside from deteriorating language skills, this junk literature promotes stupidity on many other levels. As Hannah said, Twilight is extremely misogynistic and filling the heads of young girls with some very dangerous ideals. Junk also promotes stupidity in that it asks only that the reader swallow whole whatever is fed him, without thinking, without using any critical judgment — this is dangerous because it carries over into every day life. The same issue with the Oprahs of this world who tell women what to think, how to feel, what to do, say, read, watch. Eventually people stop thinking altogether and that gets dangerous because then they no longer have a voice in politics or the world at large and the powers that be can manipulate the masses any way they wish.

    Meanie – Well, you have a unique perspective and have brought in an entirely new thread to the discussion. I’m horrified to think that Twilight will represent our society centuries from now. It’s a similar discussion to saying that art ought to reflect reality in all its squalor vs saying art ought to comment on/editorialize reality

  17. Peter recently read Dan Brown’s “Symbols” book and as he read it, I heard him exclaim, several times, “this is the worst book I’ve ever read!” He almost didn’t finish it but thought he should, because he wanted to know what all the fuss was about. He saved me from having to read it. One of his main complaints was that the characters never changed or grew. The other was that the descriptions would go on and on and on. At one point, two characters are walking down some steps in DC somewhere and he found himself wishing the staircase were WAY shorter, just so he could end the endless exposition.

    I tried reading Anne Rice some years ago and found the book so boring, I didn’t finish it and never picked up another of hers. But I really like Steven King. If you like old English mysteries, and you haven’t yet read her, try Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series. I found some passages in them stunningly modern, for all that they were written in the 20s and 30s.

  18. at least then their empty mallable little brains will not have been poisoned by bizarre and dangerous notions (emphasis mine)

    Ouch. That strikes me as being really judgmental and condescending.

    Does the fact they don’t read Dostoyevski and Dickens (damn, I like alliteration) mean they’re empty brained? I personally hesitate to go there.

    I guess this is one we’ll never agree on.

  19. Related to this very topic is something I have been known to go on a tear about from time to time… the Disneyification of classic literature:

    The hunchback of notre dame: a gripping story with all sorts of moral undertones that is COMPLETELY lost in the Disney version.

    Beauty and the Beast: again, the nuances of the story are lost in the Disney version

    Pocahontas: Disney turned an historical event into a work of complete fiction… not the least of which is that Pocahontas was about 12-14 years old, and her relationship wouldn’t really hold up to modern standards.

    The Little Mermaid: Again, Disney turned an historical work into a complete bastardization of the story. I once had a picture of the Little Mermaid statue that overlooks the harbour in Copenhagen on one of my web sites. Some idiot wrote me to tell me that he found the picture offensive because the mermaid was topless (ZOMG!!! BOOBIES!!!!1!!1!!1!1!!!!one!!!eleven!) and children might see it. I had to explain at length, to an adult, the whole story and history of The Little Mermaid and his only response was “well it’s not appropriate for America” and I should take it down.

    One could argue “artistic licence”, I suppose but here’s the problem. How many kids will watch those movies? How many kids will read the real stories? A is vastly greater than B and that creates the problem… the original work is lost to a Disney perversion. It’s worse than writing new crappy stuff like Twilight (vampires are evil, dammit, and they don’t sparkle) because Disney is actually reaching back into history and retroactively destroying good works by supplanting the original with modern tripe.

    I attended a high school play of Farenheit 451 last year. In front of me were a bunch of kids working on an Ottawa Citizen project where they attend plays and write reviews. You may have seen the review in the paper. When the play finished they were having a quick discussion and one of the attending adults asked them if they understood the message that Bradbury was trying to convey and how it applies to today. The result was a sea of blank faces among the kids (~ gr. 12). I have to admit, I was saddened because the message in that particular story pretty much bonks you over the head.

    I like Stephen King as well, but I prefer his stuff from the 70’s and 80’s to his more recent stuff.

  20. Olivia – Ya, kinda

    Julia – Stephen King is a good writer and tells a ripping good yarn. And yes, I think I started out my mystery reading way back when with the old dames like Dorothy and Agatha.

    Jazz – As I’ve mentioned to some of the commenters, there are degrees of literature. It’s not either Dickens or junk. There are, like Julia mentioned, the Stephen Kings. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying some light reading. My objection is that there are too many people who read nothing until some mass media machine tells them that they MUST read Book X because it’s a bestseller and everyone’s talking about it and it will be a movie next week. So they rush out and read the book and get all sucked into whatever tripe is being peddled by this “book”. They’ve never read anything of value so they are not able to read critically. These are the same people who adopt whatever popular opinion is floating around just because they hear it a lot. They do not do their own thinking — which is why I’ve called their brains empty and mallable. Thinking for themselves is too much work. Deciding who to vote for, for instance, really requires a lot of critical reading of media reports of what the candidates are telling you, of history, etc., It’s so much easier just to vote for whoever Oprah tells you to or whoever the TV seems to be promoting. That’s how idiots keep getting elected and re-elected. That’s how some really awful policies get pushed through — because the majority just goes along with whoever is shouting the loudest and puts on the best show. I object to this. I object to books being read not because they’re good books or even fun books, but because they’re part of a “good show”.

  21. Squid – Be my guest. Interesting that someone would object to the little mermaid’s naked statue boobies, but not object to all the Disney females thrusting bosoms which are barely contained in their skin-tight cartoon outfits, but which go very nicely with their red, pouty lips and thick flowing hair. Because without all these attributes how on earth would we believe that they’ll be able to capture the love of their handsome, rugged man in the end?

  22. Here, here. I thought I was the only person to have divorced myself from the mass media.
    I don’t watch crap TV, PBS please.
    I read crap books, Dickens please.
    I don’t watch crap movies. Men Who Stare at Goats (very funny)
    I can cook but I don’t but my wife does and enjoys it. I take the kids out of her hair while she does.

    So it is possible but we may be the only 2. My wife reads crap, watches crap and it drives me nuts and actually drives us a bit apart because I won’t watch it with her, and she won’t watch PBS with me and we can’t talk about the latest books we read. But she likes to “turn off” when she reads or watches, and I like to turn on my brain when I do. That may be the root cause.

    Dunno. But there it is.


  23. What I’ve learned over the years is that it’s not bountiful bosoms, or coquettish clevage that sets the arch-conservative American off… it’s nipples. Nipples are EEEEEEEVIIIIILLLLLLLLLLLLLLL. If it wasn’t for nipples, Jeebus would never have to return.

    Look at the bollocks with Janet Jackson a few years ago… Over produced, formula pop show with no musical or talent value, including suggestive dancing: A-OK
    Little flash of a nipple: END OF THE WORLD!

    The Little Mermaid with nipples? My Dog… think of the CHILDREN! How could the dear, innocent Little Mermaid have nipples?

    No, the children must have wholesome images in the USA, like Rambo, The Terminator, and Robocop to keep them safe from the terror of mammaries!

  24. Late as usual. And no time to read the whole debate. Xup, I believe that reading is like any other skill. The more you do it, the better you get at it. So far, I am with Jazz. And if the whole teenaged girl population wants to gather and squeal about sexy vampires (!), at least it isn’t a dumbass reality TV show they’re discussing.
    I think that at some point all readers reach a plateau where they start to read critically instead of just for the plot and tittilating bits. But they have to read quite a bit before they become capable of making informed choices. Some people never do.
    Only we are all in different places on the stairs at times. There is pap that I read for the sheer fun of it, just as I occasionally sneak into McDonalds for a grease burger, shake and fries. Sometimes chopping and stir frying feels virtuous and the result tastes wonderful. But not always.

  25. Wups – ‘titillating’
    I like Brandobras’ point but I think he is too black and white about the ‘taste’ thing. If fed on synthetic sugar for fifteen years, would the eater recognize good food or prefer the pop? I think they would, if given the opportunity. What I am questioning is the original blog’s ‘je suis convaincu qu’un paquet de lecteurs ratent l’occasion de lire le livre qui leur plaira vraiment’. I think for some people, I hope for many, the road to good literature may have at least some stepping stones of populist garbage.
    Proulx wants better literature better publicized. No argument.

  26. @XUP

    Just that I get tired of the sense of SMUG that some of the culturallly “elite” have. (Not necessarily you or anyone here in particular..but in general)

    There’s this implied sense that they “Know better” than the rest of us unwashed masses. And it’s up to them to tell us what we SHOULD be reading and watching.

    But mabye people WANT to see Hannah Montannah and listen to Lady Gaga and read Harlequin Romances.

    Maybe they WANT to see movie about cars exploding and zombies killing people.

    Doesn’t mean people are ignorant and stupid. Maybe they’ve had more than enough mental stimulation during their stressful work day, and they just want to be enteratined.

    Tell you what…let’s have Oprah gush over “Chaucer’s Tales” and King Henry IV, Part II.

    If those then become big hits, then we know it’s all HER fault.

  27. “I don’t believe anyone who has been exposed to and enjoys literature would even waste his/her time reading crap.” Agreed. I’m not a big reader but I would rather poke my eyes out than read crap. Thank goodness for Wikipedia to clue me in on the pop culture references. It’s like 4-minute Cliff’s Notes for crap pop reading.

    I am ashamed to tell that last year for Christmas, in an attempt to not buy my preteen cousin more crap toys and doodads like everyone else was getting her, I bought her books. I had never heard of them. They were the first set of Twilight books. ARGH I should have known if they were on her list, I should look out!

    I wonder if half the reason people consume this stuff/let Oprah tell us what to think is because of how much information we are bombarded with daily. We need a filter to process even part of it so it’s easier to let someone else sanitize/decide what to see/read/do/think before it gets to us? I don’t have time to enjoy the good stuff that’s out there, let alone find it in the first place.

  28. Eyeteaguy – I’m sure there are others because I haven’t given any money to PBS for a while so unless you’re contributing millions, they have a few more faithful viewers and supporters or… well, we all know what would happen if we stopped sending in those donations. So, I’m curious – what do your kids watch and read? Did you let them watch Barney – the Twilight of the toddler generation??

    Squid – Ya, nipples are only for Daddies and babies. Does the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen even have nipples? You’d think they would have gotten eroded after all this time.

    Mary – You have a lot more faith in the general pubic that perhaps is warranted. How is Twilight better than a reality show? Have you seen a progression in society from a mass of pop culture addicted kids to a mass of well-read, thinking, rational adults? Because I haven’t. I see a whole bunch of adults who are sheep; who have never learned to read or think critically; who just go along with whatever the flashiest billboard tells them to. How else do you explain some of the stuff that’s going on around the world — especially North America these days? How do you explain stuff like 30% of Canadians polled saying they’d now vote for Harper after seeing him perform that Beatles tune when they wouldn’t have before? And I would challenge your assertation that you read “pap” sometimes. I know you’re a great reader and I do not believe that you would waste your time with a badly written, poorly plotted, pointless book. Yes, you may do some light reading between some heavier tomes, but I don’t think you could stomach real crap. And on your last point – good literature isn’t going to get the publicity any more that the junk gets because the junk is an easier sell. The masses want something easy to swallow, that they don’t have to think about, that has a lot of glitz and that will soon to be a movie (t-shirts, posters, travel mugs available in the lobby). This is what they’re used to now.

    Friar – I guarantee if Oprah gushes over Chaucer or Shakespeare, they will become instant bestsellers. Which leads back to my point that people want, for the most part, what they’re told to want. No human child wakes up one day in love with Hannah Montana. She has to have it thrust in her face a few times and she has to hear all her friends talking about it before she wants it. So why is CBC having a quiet, if smug discussion about some piece of literature offensive to you, but being bombarded everywhere you go with Twilight ads, paraphernalia and evidence of teenage obession isn’t? I believe that a lot of people don’t know what they want until someone tells them. There would be no thriving advertising industry otherwise. And like I’ve said several times before, of course there are times when you want some light entertainment — light isn’t the same thing as garbage. There are plenty of light reading books around that are well crafted. There are plenty of light movies around that are well crafted. I’m objecting to the real garbage and being fed a steady diet of it and to it taking over the bookshops and airwaves.

    Amy – Well, Amy, you’re going to have to kill your cousin now that you’ve spoiled her brain forever. And please don’t say you don’t have time to seek out quality. Therein lies our biggest problem. This is why we suck back whatever junk is thrust closest to our faces. If you need a new car do you run into the first car lot you see that has lots of lights and a big inflatable gorilla because they seem to be most eager to sell you something? And then do you grab whatever car the salesman pushes at you? Or do you do some research on your own? Ask people you trust? Check around? Test drive? Why wouldn’t you be as careful with what you put into your brain? The public library has trained people who can help you choose good things to read.

  29. @Friar

    –Doesn’t mean people are ignorant and stupid. Maybe they’ve had more than enough mental stimulation during their stressful work day, and they just want to be enteratined.

    It doesn’t NECESSARILY mean people are ignorant and stupid, and yes, I agree that most people will want mindless entertainment from time to time.

    But that’s not really what we’re talking about here.

    Culture, however you want to define it, is being dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. In fact, it’s being dumbed down below the lowest common denominator. Literature or film that is challenging, or “deep” can’t survive in today’s world – it’s swallowed in a sea of sparkling vampires and assinine pseudo-reality TV.

    If Tolkien released Lord of the Rings for the first time today, nobody would read it because it’s a bit difficult. Oprah won’t promote anything that can’t be spoonfed to the most uneducated, back-water housewives in Shitkickerville, USA. Disney won’t keep true to a story because it’s more important to be able to make cuddly toys than tell a story the way it was intended.

    I have watched Star Trek, seen all the movies, etc. It’s mindless entertainment. But there’s a difference between that and the armies of Star Trek geeks who worship it like it’s the greatest thing that ever happened to film and literature.

  30. XUP – I don’t think that money is the year stick of quality, but I don’t think that’s what publishing is about. For the most part, culture isn’t consumed by the masses.

    And yes the author I know is very good he was short listed for the Governor Generals Award for one of his collections of short stories. (

    Challenging literature will stay always be the choice of intellectuals and authors that create it will never make lots of money doing it. I wish it were different.

    Evolving Squid: Tolkien works attract the attention of very specific types of readers. There is a huge market for fantasy books and I assume that Tolkiens works are praticularly good because everyone that I know who reads fantasy has read them. I think released now, assuming they had a decent amount of publicity they would still be read. I could be wrong though. I’ve never read anything by him.

  31. @XUP

    When I do my monster-road trips, I listen to a LOT of of CBC. (It’s the only thing you can get on the radio between Wawa and Marathon).

    If one was an alien listening in from another planet, they could easily get the impression that Canadians consist of Literature-PhDs, living in Toronto, discussing their ecclectic culture and fine art, while sipping cappucinnos in their berkestocks.

    Nothing can be farther from the truth. If you actually look at the country as a whole, a large majority of Canadians are average everyday people, who drive trucks, work at the local plant, like to go fishing, listen to country music, and drive their kids to hockey games.

    The CBC…seems so out of touch with all of that.

    If it were a private company, I’d have no problem. But a private company with that format would never survive.

    That’s what offends me…its’ still coming out of my pocket.

    Not to mention, the CBC has an obvious biais towards the left (which again, is not appropriate for something funded by ALL taxpayers).

    But that’s a whole other story…

  32. What about a happy medium? If kids read crap like Twilight and it leads to them reading other things, too, because they discover that reading CAN be fun, shouldn’t it still be encouraged?

    I’m a reader. Always have been and always will be. There are few things that I won’t at least TRY to read (though Twilight is currently on that list of “not going there”). And I like having ‘guilty pleasures’ as much as I like being able to boast about the ‘classics’ that I’ve read. I was adamantly against reading Harry Potter but when I finally caved (to prove that Rowling couldn’t REALLY be like Roald Dahl), I found that the books are fantastically well written – just the sort of thing that could teach kids how much fun reading could be.

    It’s easy to look at the millions of options and complain that there’s a lot of junk out there and that perhaps the junk happens to float to the top quite often (there’s a poo analogy in there somewhere). But does that mean that there aren’t great things buried in amongst it all? Course not. And it makes those gems all the more special.

  33. I will confess to reading the odd bit of pop fiction, partly to see what the fuss is about (I can rarely see it myself) and partly as a nice contrast to the other stuff I read. Being in the UK I probably am spoiled a little. I also let my boys pick their own books, as again I am just happy that at their ages they choose to read for pleasure. I do, however, read their books when they are not looking (I can’t have a book in the house I haven’t read!) to see which ones are good and which can be gently and imperceptibly discouraged. Fortunately there are some great writers writing for kids, and more importantly, for boys who are notoriously difficult to engage. Anthony Horowitz and Charlie Higson are godsends.

    I’ll shut up now, other than to say that, when you come over for your Great Scottish Tour, I’ll take you to Rosslyn Chapel (about 15 minutes from my house) and you can laugh/cry at all the tourists climbing out of buses clutching their copies of the Da Vinci Code. Like the chapel itself isn’t stunning enough without being the location for a duff film of a duff book. Sigh.

  34. Well, I’ll make the same comment here that I made on Jazz’s blog last week. (Seriously. The same comment. I love you, cut and paste.)

    Chiming in late to agree with you, Jazz. Who gets to decide what is crap and what isn’t??? It is very elitist, imo, to castigate people for reading what makes them happy and entertained. I tried to read the Twilight book and didn’t like it much. Not my cup of tea. But I imagine that Ian Rankin, whose Rebus crime novels I ADORE isn’t everyone’s cup of tea either. To each his/her own.

  35. Squid – I agree…obviously. Although I do think the books Oprah recommends aren’t all bad. They’re very sentimental usually, but not badly written.

    MG – “Culture isn’t consumed by the masses” – we assume that’s just the way things are, but they haven’t always been that way and they’re not that way in many other parts of the world. In some countries, two teens on a date will go to the theatre or to an art gallery or to hear a symphony. This is what I mean by how insidious the junk we’re being fed can be. It’s gotten to the point where we believe that “culture” is only for rich high-brows.

    Friar – How did we get started arguing about the CBC? Oh ya, you were offended because they were trying to tell you what to read. I don’t know, I think I would still rather pay for a national radio station that tries to promote good music, good literature, good art than one that just cranks out Britney Spears and caters (as Squid pointed out) to the lowest common denominator. What’s wrong with publicly funded media promoting things of value that the people who just want to make money won’t promote?

    Heather – No one is saying there aren’t gems buried amongst all the crap. I’m just saying how unfortunate it is that the gems are buried while the crap is constantly in our faces and being mass consumed. And if reading Twilight caused them to make some sort of quantum leap into real books I might be more tolerant, but as far as I can tell it only makes them leap into more Twilight-type stuff. Because have you not noticed the proliferation of teen vampire books that have suddenly flooded the market? The library has a section called :What to read while you’re waiting for the next Twilight” There are dozens upon dozens of these things churned out in the last year to ride on the slimey coattails of Twilight. And THAT’S what the teens are reading next; not Ayn Rand.

    Loth – Yes! My daughter of course read the first Twilight because it was the thing to do, and like you, I like to read what she’s reading and I was horrified. We had many discussions about the book’s lack of merit, the message, the writing, the popularity. It’s all part of learning to be a discriminating reader. Good for you.

    Alison, Alison, Alison – Our discussion here is a bit different that Jazz’s, but I’ll tell you who gets to decide what’s crap – we do. We should. Why shouldn’t we be allowed to say, “That’s crap. Stop trying to sell us crap. We demand quality.” Not only in our literature, but also in our movies, TV shows, household appliances, clothing, cars, food, etc., etc. Do we have to sit back meekly and just accept all the garbage being churned out? Do we let politicians do whatever they want because “who are we to say they’re wrong?” I’m not objecting to Twilight because it’s not my cup of tea and therefore don’t want anyone else to read it. I’m objecting to Twilight and all the other Twilights out there because they are garbage. I feel qualified to recognize garbage. The writing is bad. The message is dangerous. The storyline is abysmal. It has no redeeming qualities. Why would you give your children or anyone else’s children something like this and call it a novel? What is that teaching them? It tells them that they have no minds; that we don’t want them thinking or learning or using their brains. It teaches them to just sit back and accept whatever shit is shoveled their way as long as it’s dressed up in lots of hype and drama. It teaches them that hype and drama equals good – that there is no need to go and seek out quality; that they hype and drama people will let you know when something is important for you to read. And I’ll say again, I make a distinction between garbage and just stuff I personally don’t like or light-reading material. It’s not black and white – there are degrees. I’m all for some light reading as long as it’s well crafted (And yes, I can judge and will judge.) Why are we so afraid to make judgments? When did making judgments, being discriminating become synonymous with elitist or snobby? I have lot of other arguments to make, but I’ve made most of them throughout the comments if you’d care to look through them.

  36. Have you taken any kind of a look at the medieval chap books or the kind of broadsheet that was current in the reigns of the Georges? Sensationalist, overwritten and full of crap. Most people only read with difficulty and could only afford penny books. (See Germaine Greer’s ‘Shakespeare’s Wife’ for one discussion.) While we have not yet achieved universal literacy, and may never do so, we have come a long way from there.
    I have a huge hatred for the ‘reality’ shows because they are lies; the whole thing seems to be scripted. An over dramatic fantasy looks good by comparison, even if it is all for the sex.
    And, blush, no I have never read them so I have no right to be pontificating. I have never read the last book of Harry Potter either – just didn’t care enough. But I think that series was, in general, a Good Thing.
    Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I am addicted to writers like Mercedes Lackey, so I have no high moral ground on which to stand.

  37. I’m with Jazz here. I see your arguments, and yes, in an ideal world, money wouldn’t talk and every form of media would be of the highest quality.

    Unfortunately for us, it’s just not like that. And it never will be.

    I haven’t read Twilight, so I can’t comment on it – but I have read Harry Potter (loved the books, some more than others, but in general) and I read DaVinci Code – and thought the story was interesting but I wasn’t fan of the writing style. So I didn’t read the sequels.

    But I could never say that I wished my kids (or whoever) didn’t read at all than read X. Having worked in adult literacy, I know far too many adults, who as children slipped through the literacy cracks and now struggle greatly to attain the skills that we here take for granted. Perhaps if they had have been encouraged to read, read ANYTHING, read the back of the cereal box, read comic books, read WHATEVER YOU LOVE TO READ, then their lives would be just a little more simple.

    Instilling a love of reading, a desire to consume words – whatever they may be – is of the utmost importance as far as I’m concerned. From there, hopefully, an ability to think critically about the written word will ensue. If the journey starts with Twilight, well, at least the journey has started.

    Oh, and I never would have taken on Anna Karenina if it weren’t for Oprah “telling me to.” Thanks, Oprah!

    (Incidentally, I don’t really see what all this anti-Oprah’s book club business is about, as she’s taken on a whole gamut of genres, some better than others, and encouraged discussion and criticism of the books. Isn’t that the point? Just because she’s on TV does not make her any less qualified to discuss a book than someone who say, writes reviews for the New Yorker.)

  38. another stellar topic you’ve created here. first, i must admit that i did read the twilight series and i will tell you that i had a really hard time getting through some of it b/c it was SO BADLY WRITTEN. (coming from me that says something right?) one of the main reasons i read it is b/c our daughter was reading them.

    i agree with your message here, that we have gotten quite lazy as a race. did you ever catch the movie WALL-E? humans end up riding around on wheeled machines eating and watching tv all day. i remember thinking that it wasn’t so far fetched in our society.

    another thing i’ve noticed is that i see more misspelled words than i ever did before and that bugs me. i have this idea in the back of my brain that thinks maybe, just maybe the tides will turn again as they often do and this is just a phase for humans.

  39. Mary – I’ve read Shakespeare’s Wife! And ya, Harry Potter was okay. I wasn’t fond of it personally, but I didn’t mind my daughter reading it. She got tired of it after 3 books though.

    Meagan – Why do people say things like “ya in an ideal world…. But we just have to put up with what we have now” Why can’t we do our bit to try and make the world more “ideal”? Why do we just give up and accept our world as it slips further and further from the ideal? I totally agree about the importance of instilling a love of reading, but if I’m going to introduce a child to reading, I’d like them to start with something that will inspire them to continue reading. I don’t believe for a minute that the people who jump all over the latest fad book are going to go back and find something worthwhile — all on their own — to read next time. That’s the problem. They’ll wait until the next fad comes along. And I have nothing against Oprah’s book recommendations. She’s made some good picks and got people reading. I was just saying it’s sad that people have to wait for people like Oprah to tell them what to do, how to feel, what to read, etc.. Because they don’t seem to be able to think for themselves anymore.

    MG – Europe? I have young relatives over there who are average people who do stuff like that with their friends. (Actually, my daughter does stuff like that with her friends, too, but I wouldn’t say that’s the norm over here.)

    Leah – You read the entire series? Holy jumpin’!! I couldn’t even get through the first one without getting seriously and dangerously angry. I’ve never seen WALL-E. I’ll have to check it out.

  40. i know, i know i did read all of them. except for the very last one that’s written through edward’s (main heart throb character) eyes. there was some controversy of someone publishing her book before it was ready so i didn’t read it on principle and then i read that she was going to publish it on her site. i do not believe it’s actually published at this point but i’m not 100%.

    once i got into the story (after the 1st book) i got sucked in i guess and couldn’t stop.

    sometimes i think some people just get lucky as heck even though they are not literary giants. i learned from my dad’s songwriting days that many times people are just in the right place at the right time.

  41. I’m not saying “we” shouldn’t TRY… but “we” will always be in the minority. There will always be those who read whatever the hot thing is because they don’t have the time to find something better. Maybe because no one has told them that better exists? I don’t know. I agree that we as a culture are less than proactive when it comes to what we ingest, and I really do think it’s unfortunate.

    But I agree with others when they postulate that perhaps it’s because of what we’re challenged with in our “real” lives. The world is pretty crappy a lot of the time (things that are far OUT of our control) and just being able to read something simple, quick, etc. is kind of appealing, perhaps. I don’t personally know, as I try to read quality (in my opinion, anyway) – but I can’t tell you, I’m certainly not reading Ulysses or Atlas Shrugged in my spare time. I don’t have enough brain power at the end of the day.

    And in high school, I read the Lord of the Flies, and Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and Wuthering Heights, and Brave New World, and Shakespeare (o! the Shakespeare I read!). For class. And when I came home, I was all about Cosmo magazine and other complete junk. I just didn’t want anything scholastic creeping into my personal time. Because I was tired. And after university, when my free time was actually free time again? I started reading things that challenged me again.

    I think assuming that people won’t seek out better reads when given a first taste that reading is fun (and doesn’t always involve analysing something to death – as in school), I think that’s not giving anyone enough credit.

    (I learned to love novels after reading just about the entire Babysitters Club series. Not exactly the pinnacle of literary genius. But, I would argue, appropriate for my age – maybe the same is true of Twilight’s target audience, I don’t know.)

  42. Did you know that the DaVinci Code was named after someone named DaVinci? Arthur or Jack, I think. From what I understand, he was pretty smart. Even smarter than Tom Hanks (maybe.) I think the problem with the classics is that very few have vampires or wizards in them. Some have pirates and those are great. I like pirates, too.

    I read “Great Expectations” in school. No vampires, wizards or pirates. Same thing with “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Totally vampireless works. In my humble opinion, if Boo Radley had been a vampire or a wizard, that story would have been exceedingly more interesting. That’s storytelling. Same thing with the Adventures of HuckleBerry Finn. Imagine if Jim was a vampire slave and constantly had to fight the overwhelming urge to latch on to little Huck’s jugular while he slept. It would have added a whole new and, in my opinion, a much needed twist to the story.

    This brings up Anne Rice. Interview with a Vampire was excellent, well written, and lousy with vampires (though they were a little fruity, not that there’s anything wrong with that.) I think she should be an exception here.

    Seriously, you’re right. We are way screwed up. I’d say 2012 is right on schedule.

  43. Whew. I’ve just read through all the comments I hadn’t gotten to yet, and this was(is) a very fine discussion.

    Unfortuntately I’m at the end of the thread and I can no longer procrastinate. Off to do my minutes (bleh)

  44. @Friar,

    Shut the Frak up. If you want to complain about something, go write your own blog…… oh wait, nevermind.

    As for my kids, they watch PBS (Kids) too. No Barney, or sponge head square brain. They like the Disney Princess movies (Snow White, Cinderella etc) but we watch Wall-E or UP or Over The Hedge together. (Notice the “we” and “together” part?) I spend a great deal of time exposing them to “fine art”, music, books, and movies. But they get to have their fun time too. As long as they are exposed and aware of it and they choose not to listen read or to watch it, that’s fine. My mom exposed me to classical music, my dad used to pay me to read the classics. And now that I am all grown up… sorta, I am glad they did. We need to have the CBC in order to give us the opportunity for an alternative.

    Friar, shut the Frak up, or did I already say that.


  45. I’m curious about your reference to Ayn Rand. Did you mean to provoke or do you really like her? Just curious. Most people are in one camp or the other. I am a bit in the middle.

  46. I agree wholeheartedly with your views on the cheapening and dumbing down of our society. I think this situation has been developing slowly for a long time but shifted into high gear a few decades ago when Jerry Springer and his ilk made stupidity a popular pastime on television. The state of the film industry is a pet peeve of mine. I gave up TV years ago but I love watching movies. Unfortunately the quality of the product from Hollywood is so poor that I rarely choose to see a movie made in the USA. Canadian films are typically more thoughtful but the best films are from foreign countries where good acting, an engaging story and a well crafted script is still valued. Hunter S Thompson wrote, after his Hollywood experience, ” The film industry is a shallow money trench. A long plastic hallway where pimps and thieves run free, and good men die like dogs”. I think it’s a sentiment that resonates through many ‘arts’ based industries where making money becomes more important than any quality cultural achievement.

  47. I just read a GREAT critique of kids books in a parenting book called “Simplicity Parenting”

    He describes kids who meet him and announce I just read Time Trio 3 and #23 of the Magic Tree House Series and book 6 of blah blah blah. And when he asks which they liked best the kid shrugs and says “Eh I dunno, they’re all about the same.”

    What fuels this bizarre consumerism with books, media of all sorts, toys etc? THIS SOCIETY ROLLS ON IT.


    Look at reading programs in school – you win crap for how much you read, not WHAT you read. My daughter (who is dyslexic btw) working her way through Black Beauty, Pippi Longstockings, and The Secret Garden gets three ticks for 3 books. The kid next to her gets 30 ticks for reading every Captain Underpants and all the Goosebumps books.

    Not that I want her bringing home the book character tie in craptastic toys they win, but she is being told that that is what matters, quantity, not quality.

    You touched on a sore point with me 🙂

  48. Leah – I’m not sure if luck has much to do with the Twilight series. I think there was some insider stuff going on. I don’t know. It’s a mystery. And now I’m a little afraid of you for getting “sucked” in by it! Ha ha.

    Meagan – The crappiness of the world is a symptom or result of our passive acceptance of crap. This is the point I’ve been trying to make. Escaping the world’s crappiness by indulging in more crap isn’t an answer. We, even if it begins as a minority, need to make an effort to pursue quality in everything we consume. Sitting around saying, “Well, that’s just the way it is. Well, the world is crappy and I need to escape it with this reality show. Well, there’s nothing I can do to beat ’em, so I might as well join ’em…” That’s not right.

    Mayopie – Many Hollywood moguls read this blog, so don’t be too surprised will you when some of these classics are re-made featuring vampires as the main characters. Already the market has been flooded with all things vampire. I wonder how many of these vampire lovers have actually done any research into the roots of the vampire legend and the original stories?

    Jazz – Thank YOU for leading off this discussion in the first place.

    Eyeteaguy – Shush! No name-calling. We never had a book in the house when I was a kid and my parents would yell at me for sitting around reading instead of doing something more active. However, my Dad used to tell us stories at bedtime that he just made up at the spur of the moment. I’d sit in with the younger kids story-time, long after I was “too big” for bedtime stories. Also, I used to love old ladies when I was young and spent a lot of time seeking them out and hanging around with them and they always gave me giant dusty books to read and had me sit quietly and listen to opera on the radio with them and talk to me about when they were young.

    Julia – Not a big fan of Ayn Rand. She just popped out because she was the next great modern literary figure among a certain group during my university days.

    Bcrider – Money is pretty much the determining factor in all aspects of our lives from education to health care to war — so why not the arts, too? North America, in particular, sets get store by amassed wealth — it’s the yardstick by which value is measured. If it’s not a bestseller it can’t be good. If you’re not rich there’s something wrong with you. If you don’t have (or at least lust after) the biggest house, biggest car, widest-screen TV – you are a social, professional and personal failure. Pride in having produced something of beauty; something worthwhile; something enduring; something that will enrich lives — nobody has time for that or cares about it. That shit takes too long and there’s no money in it.

    Mudmamma – Oh ya, that book quantity thing used to drive me crazy, too. Same thing – my daughter would be proud of having read 2 or 3 good books and some other kid in the class would get the prize because he inhaled 20 goosebumps. Are they still doing Battle of the Books in NS? XUP Jr. did that one year and really enjoyed it. She was introduced to some good books and some not so good — but no real garbage. And they get to answer questions about the books (nothing heavy – mostly trivia-type) and compete against other schools. Her team came in second overall and it was an experience she still talks about now sometimes. I believe it was sponsored by Woozles.

  49. I’ve come late to this discussion. Overall I agree with Mary G. But I see two issues – whether reading poorly written or sensationalist stories is worse than not reading, and the whole issue of whether what is on offer is getting worse.

    Firstly, I think that reading is better than not reading, no matter what is being read. Teaching critical thinking isn’t something that necessarily comes from reading good works, nor will someone who knows how to think critically lose that by reading poor stuff. As a parent, I think my kids can watch or read anything they want to as long as we discuss it afterward. It takes a lot of time.

    But also, all of this is relative. There is no, this is crap and this isn’t. Its a gradient at the very least. And whether there’s any chance of your language skills deteriorating might well depend on where your language skills are in the first place. Only if you’re interested enough to try reading in the first place will you get to any level of literacy. Maybe Garfield comics are a reasonable place to start, if they’re more engaging than Treasure Island.

    There is almost no commercial media in my household except via computer, and that’s not some judgemental decision but just the way its happened. So I don’t know about much of the material mentioned. I do find that the library continues to have lots of fun and excellent books for me to read to my kids (6&9) and I trust that they’ll end up with discerning taste although they’re welcome to choose whatever they want to read themselves (my son reads Goosebumps, heaven forfend). When I read, its for entertainment since I have to read scientific articles all day at work, and entertainment could be harlequin romances or it could be Dickens, as long as its not too dreary.

    Maybe its a cop out, but I don’t think that I have a lot of say about what the mainstream finds interesting and what the market wants. Perhaps some of it is just about the fact we have so many more humans on the planet than we used to.

  50. I totally agree with the commenter who said that even bad fiction (pulp or no) is better than being spoon fed by TV. (Books are a journey.)

    Now being a total music snob, I get what you’re saying. I don’t understand for the life of me how Lady GaGa can be successful. But here’s the thing, the little off-the-beaten-path authors are often very inaccessible. The reality they decribe (even in classic literature) is far removed from the jo-blo, 9-to-5 worker bee.

    I see pulp fiction and pop music as a gateway. So you read Dan Brown and you’re talking to a coworker who suggests Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. (Hard read… way too long.) Maybe you’re ok with the status quo. Maybe you need more… but at least the seed is planted.

  51. Friar – Spongebob and a little comet is all I need for a sparkling clean bathroom.

    Gokalie – Thanks for you viewpoint. I don’t think there’s a lot more I can add that I haven’t already said throughout the comments several times.

    Nat – Hard to read, obscure literature doesn’t necessarily equal good literature. I’m not suggesting we all read nothing but Umberto Eco. There’s good in between stuff that’s perfectly accessible though it might require a little more work and thought than the Twilight level of reading material. PS- did you mention Eco because of the cartoon gokalie posted below your comment? A freaky coincidence.