Confessions of a Cultural Snob

I confess to being a bit of a cultural snob. I can be quite disdainful about the mindless drivel that is being fed to the all-too-willing masses over the radio and on television. It is completely beyond me that thinly-veiled sexual innuendo and exhortations to live recklessly are considered good art.

Although I do find much of what is spawned by popular culture morally abhorrent, my distaste and – frankly – contempt for it is not based on the values being endorsed. My two previous post will have demonstrated that I am highly critical of objections to artworks (whether musical, visual or written) by religious groups, on the grounds that they are not sinless enough. Rather, I stubbornly refuse to give up the notion that good art actually needs to say something intelligent. It must elevate me as a human being, challenge my perceptions of myself and my world, and help me understand both of those a bit better. It ought to require me to do some sort of reflection. I need to work for the value.

I refuse to give credence to the argument that because something is popular it must be good. One cannot argue that a song is good simply because it tops the charts, any more than one could argue that Twilight is well written simply because it is so widely read. Their popularity simply suggests that they are entertaining. It does not suggest that they are good.

My disappointment with popular culture is not so much a result of its moral depravity as of its unwillingness to engage with anything important. Picasso once wrote that: ““Art is never chaste. It ought to be forbidden to ignorant innocents, never allowed into contact with those not sufficiently prepared. Yes, art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not art.” Unfortunately, aside from perhaps endangering the thinking man’s sanity by sending him into a hopeless despair, there is really a dearth of anything that could be considered dangerous about what passes for art in today’s popular culture.

That is why Hozier’s song Take Me To The Church has piqued my interest. Don’t misunderstand me: I do not approve of the lifestyle the artist endorses, and the genre is not to my personal taste, but it does exactly what I think art ought to do. I do not call Hozier an “artist” lightly. I do think that the song stereotypes Christians as myopic and cruel. While that is true of many, as with any stereotype it would be ignorant and bigoted to apply it to all or even most Christians, as he does. I think that in this song Hozier sharpens his own butcher knife – the very action he condemns Christians for. But despite that, the song says intelligent things.

As Christians, we should use such art responsibly. We should be using it as a mirror to look at ourselves, and to show us how we can become better. If we listen to Hozier in this light,  the truth is that we would see something ugly. Not in the song, but in ourselves. We would see how far short we fall short of one of Jesus’ most fundamental teachings:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

He did not teach: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you let not your ears be subjected to heavy metal music, lest you become psychotic.”

Nor: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you engage not in the reading of fantasy literature, lest you be tempted to engage in witchcraft.”

Not even: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you profane not your body with tattoos, for they are loathsome unto my sight”.

And certainly not: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you cast the sinner out from among you, for you are perfect.”

So I don’t like the song, but I love that it is doing something intelligent and meaningful at a time when so few popular ‘artists’ are doing that. When I was growing up under the Apartheid regime, the good artists were making dangerous and subversive statements that made us question society and compelled positive social action. Andre Brink, Athol Fugard, and Johnny Clegg, for example, were technically brilliant in their respective fields but more than that, they said important things. And they were all either locked up or banned for saying them. I do not see many popular artists today making the kinds of statements that will lead to persecution by the powerful and corrupt, although – for entirely different reasons – I often find myself wishing that somebody would either ban or – better yet – lock up Katie Perry.

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