I was in the gym with my son yesterday, enjoying the rare opportunity to work out with him (he’s at university in the UK while I’m currently in Switzerland). The gym was full of the noise of some uneducated gansta rapper churning out the stock clichés: swear words, women as bitches, trite observations about things of no importance whatsoever. I mentioned to my son that it’s a shame this is standard gym noise these days.
My son, who currently is cultivating the excellent habit of being open-minded, opined that it was merely a matter of personal preference. Some people, he thought, enjoyed what I regarded as ugly life-diminishing aural pollution. He went on to say, “You like serious music, lots of people like this. There’s no difference between the two. It’s just a matter of personal taste.”
I thought about this for quite a while because it’s a clear illustration of how our Politically Correct modern modes of thought have served us ill. There is in fact, objectively as well as qualitatively, a huge gulf between the works of Mozart or Beethoven and the mindless noise spewed out by the latest transiently fashionable no-talent rapper. It’s the same gulf as exists between a Vermeer and a small child’s painting. It’s the same gulf as exists between Shakespeare’s plays and a Trump tweet. It’s the same gulf as exists between a carefully prepared meal in a three-toque Michelin restaurant and a five-dollar burger from McSlop.
Here’s the critical difference: in the case of a Rembrandt or a Mozart, the creator took years to hone their skills. They could make deep creative choices because of those skills. They were in control of their materials. The rapper, meanwhile, doesn’t have any choices. He (and it’s tediously always a he) knows nothing about music theory, he can’t play any instrument with skill, and his intellect is inadequate for the task of saying anything original or interesting about any subject whatsoever.
A small child can’t choose to paint like Titian, but Titian could have chosen to paint like a small child if that had been what was needed to achieve a particular effect. Picasso’s cubist period was possible because he was first and foremost an expert draughtsman who had precise control over his materials. He could choose, whereas the artistically illiterate have no choices open to them. They can only bang out the most rudimentary stuff.
It’s the same with all mass entertainment. For the most part it’s not junk because the creators have intentionally chosen to churn out junk; it’s largely because that’s the very best they can do. And, not knowing any better, they genuinely think it’s wonderful. Sadly, so do a great many people who don’t know that there’s a far richer, more interesting, and more rewarding set of options available.
What does it matter if we consume junk, listen to junk, and watch junk?
It actually matters a lot.
When we eat McSlop or Kentucky Fried Cancer we’re harming our bodies. When we listen to McNoise or watch McEntertainment we’re harming our brains.
Everything we do has consequences, but too often we’re oblivious to this fact. So we consume things that limit us, things that make us sick and anxious and prone to harboring false beliefs. None of these things are good or even neutral. When you think people being shot really do fly back as though struck by a car, you’ll be more likely to think Trump is being “smart and stable” when he claims that putting external armor on Humvees this would save troops from being killed by IEDs. When you think that telenovela behavior is realistic you’ll be far more inclined to behave hysterically in your own life and trash important relationships thereby. When you see endless Hollywood trash showing good guy rounds killing bad guys but bad guy rounds magically going stray you’ll be easy prey for the nonsense pumped out by the NRA.
In short, bad things have bad effects.
There is no equivalence between the mindless repetitive trite noise produced by some rapper and the elegance, beauty, and delight of a late Beethoven quartet. The former is stunted an ugly and no one will care about it five minutes from now whereas the latter expands us as we listen to it and people will still be listening to it for this reason hundreds of years from now.
Just because McSlop is quick and cheap doesn’t mean it’s good for us. We shouldn’t be embracing obesity and bowel cancer and diabetes and amputated limbs merely because that’s what enables the executives at McSlop to pay themselves enormous salaries.
Just because radio stations play empty noise doesn’t mean we can’t seek out real music and stream it to our devices. Just because standard Hollywood trash is distributed across the cinema chains doesn’t mean we can’t seek out more enriching programming and watch that instead.
Each time we choose the well-crafted and the thoughtful over the meretricious and vacuous we feed our brains just as much as we feed our bodies when we make healthy food for ourselves rather than cramming McSlop down our throats.
Are we really, in the final analysis, merely walking buckets into which the large corporations pour endless junk in order to ensure their executives can buy even larger yachts and houses?
Surely we can be better than this.