Monday, January 24, 2011

Contemptible Behavior

First person: "I really like [artist x]/[artwork y]."  Second person, without waiting or digging for elaboration, conversation, etc.: "Really?  Wow, I just lost so much respect for you."  I disdain this general pattern of behavior (and I also disdain it whenever I notice something like it in my own actions).  Taste, inasmuch as it acts as a meaningful social bond as well as lubricant, should never be confined to a checklist of proper likes/dislikes.  This otherwise transforms culture into a mathematical game, hemmed in on all sides by the finitude of  combinations.  What could be more boring, more deadening than this?  And, more, what could slot more neatly into a bureaucratic, niche-marketed society?


JeanRZEJ said...

I like what you're saying, and if you didn't I'd think you a bad person. It's not a matter of taste, it's a matter of human decency. Where it really gets interesting is when preferences are substantiated, because then the value of various valuations comes into play and it all loops back to each person fumbling in the dark, hoping to stumble upon fire.

ZC said...

Yes - exactly - the key should be about connections. This doesn't mean one can't or shouldn't hold evaluative opinions obviously. The idea that an opinion about a cultural/art object can be reduced to, essentially, a Facebook "like" is frightening. I even wonder if it's connected to the encroachment on leisure time by profit makers, an urge to convert all attention and pleasure into a bottom line.

(A possibly related thing I sometimes dislike - when discussing things like movies, the habit of saying, "I didn't dig that one. Too [pejorative adjective] for me." Fill it in - 'corny,' 'racist,' whatever. This particular form of expression seems to me potentially very impolite, the idea behind it being that you've located what's incontestably there in the work, and it's just "too much" for you ... the implication being that it's not too corny/racist/etc. for the person who's just expressed approval of the object. I mean, nothing stops the first person from saying, "Well, I didn't find it [pejorative adjective] at all," but that initial comment can be an obstacle, a bit of low-grade one-upmanship.)

Andy Rector said...

What do you expect from this generation (of a certain class) who, in sentences, replaces "It is..." or "I think..." with "I feel like..." or, even worse "I just feel like..." ?

JeanRZEJ said...

The reduction of thoughts down into a single signifier is more troublesome the less well someone is acquainted with the reasons you typically use that word. If a person is well acquainted with what I assign 'like' to then they will be able to draw inferences from the past material to the present (still a poor substitute, but something). To a stranger that 'like' simply casts me into the crowd of 'those who like this thing', the exact opposite effect. Thus, I think it's understandable among friends, but totally useless and even backwards to use among strangers. There's never any substitute for the real thing, but if the real thing is established in a similar context then I don't think it's as frightening. If the extent of your personality is a web of binary responses, though, then you simply become a dataset, and that's frightening. I think this fits with experience: If your best friend likes something you don't, you give him the benefit of the doubt and perhaps he saw something you didn't. If you run into a stranger who likes that thing you don't, they immediately become nothing more than 'a liker of [x]', a data point, defined by the like rather than the reason.

As for the second point, I totally get where you're coming from. It's a difficult subject, though, because oftentimes you're using idiomatic expressions which, when evaluated on the face value of the words, mean something totally different from the idiom. For instance, 'Too [pejorative adjective] for me' seems to imply, 'I found it [pejorative adjective], and for this reason I didn't like it'. A simpler version: 'How was the play?' 'Good.' It's implied that the 'Good' represents 'I thought it was good', but it's often misleading. Compare this to simply asking about someone's personal wellbeing: 'How are you feeling?' 'Good.' - Only one person's feelings really matter, so the expression of personal feeling is not misleading, even though it's a similar situation. I ran into this recently with someone describing the effect of a film with the 'Its effect on us is...' - I disagree with that effect! It's a rhetorically effective technique, but it seems potentially dismissive of others' differing opinions. The best solution would be to introduce less ambiguous ways to word our opinions, but I think it's also important to give the benefit of the doubt to the speaker with these idiomatic expressions.

Jake said...

First person: "I really like [artist x]/[artwork y]." Second person, without waiting or digging for elaboration, conversation, etc.: "Really? Wow, I just lost so much respect for you."

Whenever I hear or read an exchange like this, I always take it to be deliberately ironic since to judge someone's likes/dislikes that you disagree with as reflective of their personal failure is patently silly. This is something dorks do all the time when discussing pop culture obsessions.

Though could there be artists who are so morally and politically repulsive, even in their art, that the second person's reaction is legitimate?

ZC said...

Andy, I think this movement is particularly telling when one says, "I feel..." and it corresponds to "I feel..." but its (social, implicit) meaning is a directive: "It is..."! The verbal lash of a privileged class.

Jean - agreed.

Jake - yes, I'm sure in a lot of cases this gesture is made with a touch of irony & self-awareness. And though it's not actually as bad, I admit my internal reaction is still rarely unperturbed. Unless it's clearly telegraphed as a joke, effectively distancing the speaker from any actual embodiment of the behavior.