joeldurston

Posts Tagged ‘quran’

Why Should Pleasures Be ‘Guilty’?

In Culture, Opinion on August 19, 2012 at 1:38 AM

I like Coldplay, Kylie Minogue, Adele, Harry Potter, Jason Statham movies, R & B music and The Sun (or many examples of their work at least). The typical thing is to qualify declaration such typical yardsticks of ‘bad taste’ with an ‘…and proud!’ (‘I am a Potterer…and proud!) or by describing them as guilty pleasures. I don’t – because why should I feel guilty about any of my tastes if they bring me enjoyment and don’t hurt anyone else?! I’m neither particularly proud nor guilty of reading Harry Potter. It’s just something I like, or at least liked (and in the relationship of creator and consumer, I think it’s fair to say most of the effort was JK Rowling’s). Of course, ‘guilty pleasure’ is just a harmless little phrase, and I recognise I’m reading a lot into this, arguably too much, but the phrase does raise some interesting issues about our appreciation and consumption of art (in the broader sense – music, art, film, photography, theatre etc etc.). Principally, it follows if a pleasure is ‘guilty’, there’s something or things to whom or which people should feel guilty. I don’t know; some kind of existentially depressed cultural muso like High Fidelity’s protagonist up in the sky perhaps? An omnipotent cultural entity which peers down on us disapprovingly every time he sees us reaching for a Scouting for Girls album or a Michael Bay DVD? I jest of course. I understand there’s a set of nebulous understandable binding principles for what critics (with a small ‘c’) consider ‘good art’ – invention, technical skill, wit, lyricism, emotion, intelligence, sincerity, moral/political message, resonance with the audience etc etc. Most, but by no means all, will largely agree on these. But everyone’s view of these is different, as shown by the massive disparity in people’s music tastes, even among critics working for similar media outlets. People need to remember there are a lot of (subjectively) boring arthouse films and a lot of (subjectively) shallow and annoying experimental bands. The inevitable response is: so Girls Aloud are just as good as The Rolling Stones? The Wanted as relevant as Hendrix? Well, in a way, I think yes. Pop – in the narrower, One-Direction-and-Saturdays sense – is not meant to change the world, just be something catchy to brighten the walk to work or dance to. And if does that, then to a large degree it can be called, in a kind of Aristotelian way, successful. Relativism is a philosophically tricky position in any field, not least one which arouses such strong convictions in people. But given the massive difference in tastes and the intrinsically abstract nature of art (it can’t be so easily measured by profit or yield as in business, or scores such as sport), I think a largely relativist, subjective perspective of art is the only plausible one to take. As Roy Sutherland explains in this brilliant speech, reputation and perception are vitally important, often obscuring the true worth or efficiency of things, or the fact that there is no intrinsic value: (of English upper-middle-class people “rebranding” unemployment) “having a son who’s unemployed in Manchester is really quite embarrassing, but having a son who’s unemployed in Thailand is really viewed as quite an accomplishment.” Also, with ‘guilty pleasures’, we have sort of ‘obligated pleasures’. I don’t know if this is necessarily so, but it’s certainly so. The idea, held to different degrees, that we should like certain things – Bob Dylan, world music and Mike Leigh films. Some will even say, to varying extents of sincerity, that it’s blashphemy to criticise, homage or satirise these kind of things. Well, to these – I hate Bob Dylan. Deal with it. I find his music grating, nasally and pretty much devoid of anything so apparently base as a good hook. I also don’t like him as a person, from my albeit limited personal knowledge of him. (Yes, I gather he’s a great lyricist, an acute observer of the human condition – but one can get this from literature…without the nagging voice.) This is not to suggest he shouldn’t be regarded as a legend, because he’s obviously moved and provoked millions with his music, just that I shouldn’t feel obliged to like him. The kind of appreciation and almost universal devotion may not seem a real problem. This trait of Dylan fandom (or lack of it) isn’t really a huge issue, at least on the face of it. No one’s going to really have their world’s changed for me not liking him (not least him as it seems he’s doing pretty well for himself). What is concerning, though, is when all this grand importance we imbue in art makes people close-minded, restrictive and censorious. In music, the trait often comes to fruition when a ‘shit’ artist covers a ‘better one’ (with the former often more successful, commercially at least, than the latter), and all the musos admittedly somewhat in jest decry ‘blashphemy’ against something so ‘sancrosanct’. And even call for the death of the ‘offending artist’, as Mark Ronson found, with numerous death threats from sanctimonious and no doubt crying-because-they-stepped-on-a-slug Smiths fans for having the supposed temerity to, god forbid, produce a cover of one of their songs (which were never real threats and, to his credit, he took in good humour, but it doesn’t change the mindset of these morons). Harmless, you may think, but the same trait of oppressive censorship for critique of art has led to the actual deaths of millions, even in our modern, supposedly advanced world. Salman Rushdie was subject to a fatwa calling for his death merely for writing a novel (and a rather good one according to the Booker Prize), and riots all over the Islamic world caused around 100 deaths on the basis of a fucking cartoon. (Of course, there are similar cases across many belief systems – including a similarly-themed case last week of New York rabbis branding “evil” plans to make them get parental consent for sucking a baby’s bleeding cock – and there are arguably relevant, complex geo-political issues at play, but the most egregious examples do seem to surround Islam). Just last week, a Christian girl of just 14 with Down’s Syndrome has made UK news for being arrested for burning a Koran. Would people get so up in arms if the book had been Harry Potter? I daresay they wouldn’t. Superficially, a ridiculous analogy, yes – but hear me out if you will. All holy books definitively are is art – literature which moves people to great things, awful things; criticism, indifference. But ultimately just art, as evidenced by the fact millions, if not billions, do not consider the truths contained within literal (and increasingly so). Some people choose to think it’s divinely inspired (and it may be), but that’s their interpretation, not brute fact like 2+2=4. In principle, one could just as easily consider the described world and characters in the Harry Potter books to be true, and then take offence and call for restriction of (unharming) freedoms when others ‘disrespect’ their sincerely held view. So, people have no logical reason not to criticise the Bible, Torah or Quran – unless you somehow think, you shouldn’t also critique Harry Potter for the same reason. (There can be a lot of fear of criticising religion for fear of being branded ‘racist’, but this is illogical. To discriminate on the basis of what colour skin one has is nonsensical because they have no choice in the matter and it doesn’t necessarily make them anything, but criticising actions or beliefs is fine as these are chosen so should be stood by.) But wouldn’t it be preferable to engage in the debate? Consider if the actions or words really are so ‘immoral’ or ‘untrue’. And then if it is, spread that message; and if it’s not, have the humility to admit faults and change actions or taste accordingly. Not indulge in this culture of identifying onself vicariously through people in the media, most evident in a load of humourless whingers complaining about new BBC sitcom, Citizen Khan, the Muslim (or ‘Muslim’) protagonists of which have the nerve to (shock horror!) not to read the Quran and to laugh at themselves. To not be offended is not a democratic right, far from it. It’s only a right, in this respect,  not to be physically harmed. The trait is even more nonsensical when applied to real people, such as in the uproar at Rihanna (seemingly) choosing to take Chris Brown back after his domestic abuse. For one, the moral issues are debatable; she wasn’t exactly the person who did the Bad Thing in the first place, and for all we know they could find each other genuinely repentant and forgiving (respectively). If that ‘s the case what’s wrong with that?! But that’s not the point. The point is that it’s a personal, moral (i.e. not legal) choice. She has no fucking duty to do what you want her to do, because she’s a musician, not a member of the clergy, nor a social worker. She makes music – if people like it, they support her and she continues; if they don’t, they don’t and she doesn’t. Simple. Besides, Rock ‘n’ Roll history is filled with many who have actually perpetrated crimes and/or ‘immorality’ and been venerated despite, or probably because, of it. And, I don’t know if you’ve watched any of her videos, but Rihanna hardly markets herself as a paragon of (traditionally held) virtue, to be held up as a moral examplar. We can only be ourselves so let’s just live our own lives, and let others get one with theirs if it doesn’t do us any actual harm, by just changing the channel instead of imposing our own cultural tastes on others to the point of character assassination of strangers, death threats or calls to essentially shut up. Surely, they’re things to feel more guilty about than listening to the odd Katy Perry song?! Joel Durston