Monogamy, Morality and the Consumption of Media

I often try to puzzle out my attraction to “trash culture” given that I have advanced degrees in “snob culture.” A strange correlation came to me today. Many defenders of snob culture assert something like a moral superiority to certain kinds of media. For instance, it’s “better” to read than to watch TV or more recently, it’s “better” to surf the internet than to watch TV… like a Paper-Rocks-Scissors game where everything seems to beat on TV. And then even within certain media there’s the familiar claim that, say, literary fiction is “better” than romance fiction or whatever. And further there are grades of literary fiction too where the classics are better than the contemporary. During the big canon wars of the 1990’s, various explanations were trotted out to defend this intuition. One idea said that the best kind of literature is the kind that could be re-read profitably, that each time through the work the reader gains some nugget of lasting value from the experience. I think I’ve had that idea at the back of my head for quite awhile.
But today, I realized that that sort of argument sounds pretty similar to an argument for monogamy, literary monogamy. Stay true to the classics. Don’t be lured into the iniquity of all that faddish, contemporary fun stuff. Virtue over pleasure. And if you happen to read the million or so books that are on any of those “lifelong reading lists,” then start over again because you STILL can learn more from them. Again, there will NEVER be time in this life for casual texts.
And what’s funny of course is that the consumption of media is really nothing like sexuality… Roland Barthes and the Pleasure of the Text notwithstanding. And even if reading was like sex, at least it’s not like sex between two humans. When I close the covers on the latest novel, I don’t ask “Was it good for you too?” Books are objects and humans, regardless of our endless attempts to treat ourselves otherwise, aren’t.
I don’t know if it really belongs here but I am also trying out this thought, namely that there are only two kinds of writing: successful writing and unsuccessful writing. All this “genre” talk is a way of selling writing, an honorable, noble pursuit because it helps grab a paycheck for a writer, but one that really doesn’t say much about the writing itself. It’s a way of managing expectations for the consumer… and I suppose also why ColdPlay sounds so much like old U2. There are of course several ways of evaluating “success” not the least of which is to answer the question “Why Write?” and the other “Why Read?”

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