12 July 2004

Elitists of the World, Unite!

Nick Mamatas has already given something close to a definitive reply to a new article at Strange Horizons, "The SciFi Superiority Complex: Elitism in SF/F/H" by Tee Morris, but there are a few small points I'd like to add at the risk of merely reiterating more blandly what Nick has already said.

Either I'm too tired these days to make sense of a logical progression of thoughts (quite possible), or Morris does not make a coherent point. I can live without coherent points if an essay is otherwise stimulating, and this one certainly tries, but I couldn't get enough of a grasp on much that was in it. Apparently, it is elitist not to like bad movies, and worse than that, it is elitist to proclaim that bad books are not worth my time.

Anyone who is incapable of seeing a qualitative difference between Shakespeare and H.G. Wells -- never mind Shakespeare and Stephen King -- has not developed any sort of aesthetic judgment other than "Imaginary islands are cool." If you like Wells or King more than Shakespeare, that's your business, but you shouldn't expect to be taken very seriously by anyone who has spent much time considering the merits of various works of literature any more than I should be taken seriously if I say I can't tell the difference between one Division One college basketball team or another. All such games are equally entertaining to me, because I don't know enough about the game to be able to discern the difference between competent, good, great, and genius-level playing. (And basketball's easier than aesthetics in that it, at least, has clear statistics and scores.)

There is a difference between elitism and snobbery, at least in terms of taste. Anyone who continually seeks to educate themselves should strive to be an elitist, should strive to learn more, to think more carefully and critically. There's no need to be a snob about it, though, to say someone is a bad person for reading Stephen King or Danielle Steele, for watching Revenge of the Killer Asparagus from My Daughter's Armpit and finding it more entertaining than, say, Shoah. Plenty of great people have bad taste, plenty of war criminals have good taste. (If you want to explore this idea, read Wallace Shawn.)

Finally, the article is fundamentally incoherent because Morris sees subject matter as some sort of aesthetic criterion. The subject of a piece of writing or a movie does not determine whether the work is worthwhile. Yes, some subjects may be inherently more interesting to individual readers and viewers than others, but that's irrelevant. How the subject matter is handled, how it is shaped and presented to the audience, how it conveys whatever it conveys -- that is what makes one creation better than another, and that is what people should be arguing about.

No comments:

Post a Comment