Stop bragging that you haven't engaged with whatever TV show is popular right now—pop culture snobbery does no-one any favoursby Darran Anderson / April 23, 2019 / Leave a comment
A decade before he vanished, heading off in the direction of the Mexican Revolution at the age of 72, the American writer Ambrose Bierce compiled his satirical book The Devil’s Dictionary. Full of his acerbic humour, the collection attacked all manner of ignorance, hypocrisy and righteousness via alternative definitions for words. For instance: “ABSTAINER, n. A weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure. A total abstainer is one who abstains from everything but abstention, and especially from inactivity in the affairs of others.”
Bierce’s dictionary—and that particular definition—came to mind in response to a recent trend on social media that we might call “performative abstinence.” When interest in popular television series like Game of Thrones or movie franchises like The Avengers go viral online, the critical responses vary: inevitably, some sceptical viewers watch and decide that it’s not for them, to varying degrees of apathy or loathing. Culture is subjective, of course, and someone swinging a wrecking ball is at least engaging with the subject—often to the entertainment of bystanders.
Yet other commentators, in increasing number and volume, condemn popular culture by proudly proclaiming, “I have not seen a single minute of…” Of the many dispiriting elements of social media, this is among the most despondent. But it is not without interest—especially given what it might tell us about taste, and particularly about what is left of that ragged and forlorn figure: the public intellectual.
Publicly parading ignorance might once have seemed hubristic—but today it is the sign of good taste. It’s easy to argue that we live in a reductive, infantilised cultural landscape, spoon-fed trash by billion-dollar conglomerates. The CGI reveries offered by HBO and Marvel are escapist and popular—double the reason to deem them unworthy of even a minute of our time.
Culture should be about deeper, weighter things, things such as the intimate private details of Karl Ove Knausgård’s loved ones or Houellebecq’s fantasies about the imaginary forthcoming Islamic Republic of France. Taking our ball home seems a fitting thing to do when faced with an endless parade of dragons and men in spandex punching each other through buildings.
But the escapist popularity of superheroes and fantasy are precisely why we…