In the afterglow of our last gathering, the recurring thematic elements of art, “quality”, and what “should be created” have been simmering in the back of my head. In the midst of this, it has occurred to me that I am grateful for a number of “low-quality” products. I’m not talking about Velveeta here. I’m talking about stuff that dares enter in to the domain of “artistic endeavor”.

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  • Sometimes it’s simply an indulgent streak.

    For instance, I love country music. Many would be loathe to consider this an art form, but that does not change the fact that it shares some attributes (motif, evocative nature, melody, rhythm) with other more “respected” forms of musical endeavor.

    Other times, my taste for things at which the literary or musical learned may scoff is a matter of exploration. Perhaps a memoir of a particularly interesting person in a particularly interesting time or place would never qualify as artful by traditional definitions, but perhaps the person or subject they are discussing are a virtual “voice in the vacuum” of the topic/time/place.

    Still other times, the reading/listening/viewing of a thing is not so much about the content read/listened to/viewed, but rather about the reaction/imprint/resonance it creates. Hearing what a speaker doesn’t say, how a child perceives history in an oral report, the choices an “angry” musician does or doesn’t make, or the opinions of a fringe opinion maker (however poorly communicated) all come to mind as examples.

    We’ve spent time discussing what is “good” or “art” on a number of occasions (and even whether such terms have meaning). Is it possible something can achieve the mark of merit by indirect means?

    66 Thoughts on “Sub-Prime

    1. I was waiting for Marc to weigh in, but perhaps he’s policing his thoughts.

      The whole trend in modern aesthetics is this huge divorce from standards. As Dissanayake says, it’s only since the late 19th century that the concept of beauty was divorced from its moral standing, i.e., something was Good—and Good For You—because it was Beautiful.

      Now, as it seems to me, and Marc will correct me on this or at least elaborate, we have two aesthetic prongs. The first is concerned with the artist’s intent: I made A and therefore it means B. The second is the reverse: I am the “reader,” and it is my reaction—and not the artist’s intent—that gives A its meaning.

      That’s where my thoughts give out. Marc, you take it from here.

    2. jeff on April 9, 2008 at 3:29 pm said:

      Dale said:

      “We’ve spent time discussing what is “good” or “art” on a number of occasions (and even whether such terms have meaning). Is it possible something can achieve the mark of merit by indirect means?”

      I would think so. But some of our previous conversations lent me to believe that you don’t believe it can happen. Have you changed your mind?

      Again, to me, there is only WHAT IS, and our value judgments about WHAT IS. From this perspective, anything can qualify as art. “Art” is whatever we decide it is. Intention, to me, has little or no value.

    3. no, actually Turff said that.

    4. jeff on April 9, 2008 at 9:39 pm said:

      Ah … okay, then. That explains it!

    5. Suddenly feeling very Marxist (and very sad because a second comment on Battlestar Gallactic got lost in the ether before I could submit it). Strong desire to ground talk of Art and Value in a materiality and a political-economic reality. Art is created by patronage. The object is paid for by the patron. The patron pays because the patron receives two things: pleasure and a re-confirmation of identity (both may be the same thing).

      Sub-prime is purchased for the pleasure it gives. That pleasure is complex when it re-confirms the complexity of one’s identity as a patron. Not everyone receives complex pleasure from sub-prime. All pleasure from the Prime is complex.

      There was a discussion on Talk of the Nation the other day about evaluating potential romance partners by what’s on their bookshelf. What never got made explicit was the pure violence of socio-economic and class antagonism lurking in the banter about “the right books.” I kid you not, at one point you could have held your breath waiting for the verdict on whether a childhood love of “To Kill a Mockingbird” was truly okay in the eyes of both the host and the New York Times book editor he was interviewing.

    6. Ironically, one of my favorite categories of sub-prime is content with which I do not expect to agree. If I’m aware of a ‘prime’ source, I’ll choose it. If not, I won’t let the fact that sub-prime is all I am aware of deter me from exploring dissenting opinions.

      I didn’t read the Communist Manifesto because I expected any sort of validation of self or erudite political observation.

      I suppose I could be accused of seeking out sub-prime dissenting opinions so as to never truly place in jeopardy my well-established value system.

      On another axis of this conversation, I listen to Run DMC because old school rap rocks.

    7. I’m the King of Rock!
      There is none HIGHER!
      Sucker MCs
      Should call me SIRE!
      To vote in my kingdom
      You must us FIRE!
      I won’t stop rockin’ till I RETIRE!

      (No, I didn’t use Google … I know the lyrics by heart.)

    8. For the record, I have never been a big fan of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Judge me as you will.

    9. Turff on April 10, 2008 at 2:52 pm said:

      I actually liked it. One of the few “mandatory” books in middle/high school I actually read to completion. Hated Lord of the Flies and Separate Peace, particularly the latter. Now you may, in turn, judge me.

    10. I think y’all should go back to policing your thoughts.

    11. Now, Dale. Let’s be honest. There must be some “classics” that, for whatever reason, have not resonated with you, personally.

    12. Turff on April 10, 2008 at 9:10 pm said:

      Lyles, you’re not saying you liked “A Separate Dreary Self Loathing Peace” are you?

    13. I just happened upon this post this evening after a few days of having no time. And it’s really interesting. I was just having this conversation with Bailee the other night.

      I mentioned that while I like good music, I LOVE good bad music. I don’t mean music that is intentionally poking fun at itself, like say the songs in Bat Boy: The Musical or Urinetown. I mean things are simply so bad it is awe inspiring. The conversation arose as we were listening to one of the music channels which digital cable provides and a recording of Conway Twitty singing “The Rose,” a song Bette Midler made famous.

      I don’t know why I like these kinds of things so much. I don’t like them ironically, the way some people like a movie such as Showgirls. I don’t delight in the failure at all. But for some reason, when an artistic endeavor misses the “good” mark so drastically, it’s more almost more appealing to me than those that are spot on. Those who read my blog may remember my Christmas rant about a movie called Jingle all the Way.

      I suppose for me art is all about process. If you look at something like Casablanca or The Marriage of Figaro, it’s obvious what the artist was going for and I feel the things they want me to feel. They are well done and well received. That’s a boring process. The same can be said of bad bad art. Thomas Kinkade paintings are trite and safe. They evoke exactly what is expected of them. Boring.

      Good bad art however is such a train wreck, there is so much to dissect, that it never becomes boring. What the hell was going on in Conway Twitty’s mind when he decided to sing “The Rose?” Why would anyone ever think it was a good idea to put Arnold Schwartzeneggar and Sinbad in a Christmas comedy together? These kinds of questions make the art incredibly interesting to me.

      And for the record I didn’t really like To Kill a Mockingbird, and A Separate Piece is probably my least favorite book I’ve ever read.

    14. As is said of Plan 9 from Outer Space, it was never good, but it was never boring.

    15. My daughter sitting by herself in a chair in the den. Her eyes are red. She’s a little embarrassed to be seen. She never cries. She’s just finished To Kill A Mockingbird. That is all.

    16. Turff on April 11, 2008 at 8:33 am said:

      Having grown up in Nashville during the 70’s and 80’s, I have heard Twitty’s “Rose”. It is indeed apocalyptically bad. Anyone else ever seen the movie “The Class of Nuke’em High”? What about either of the two sequels? Those, by the same folks that brought us Toxic Avenger, are also quite good/bad. By the second and third entries in the trilogy, they were aware of what they were making. I’m not convinced they were in the first.

    17. Maybe not all. Prime response? Sub-prime?

      I too enjoy so bad it’s good. I’m also a fan of the film critic and cultural commentator Joe Bob Briggs. He does the “commentary” for the I Spit on Your Grave DVD. Highly recommended.

    18. Admission:

      I love Conway Twitty.

      I don’t like Casablanca.

      I adore rap music.

      Add all that to the fact that I don’t care for “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and I’m CERTAIN I am dooming myself to some kind of aesthetic hell.

    19. But as I heard a local developer admit yesterday, “Perhaps I’ve said too much.”

    20. Turff on April 11, 2008 at 3:49 pm said:

      These confessions have me itching to create an aesthetic network diagram of some sort that maps the similarities in taste of our members. Something like the music genome project, which, if you haven’t used it, is one of the coolest dang things I’ve seen on the ‘net in a while.

    21. Though I have no excuse for not proofing my post before I published it, I must admonish myself for A Separate “Piece.”

      I believe that is the pornographic spin-off to the Knowles novel.

    22. Now that one I liked.

    23. Re: Nuke ’em and Toxic Avenger. Lloyd Kaufman and the “kids” at Troma seem like a fun bunch. As far as I know they’ve always consciously worked in the “exploitation” tradition. Kaufman’s produced a number of “make your own movie” type books and DVD’s. Anyone sampled them?

      I like the map idea, too. Could be very entertaining.

      I had to go to Wal-Mart this past weekend. Talk about a complete mapping of the human genome.

      I’ve been working on that joke for some time now. Thought, after Turff’s mention, I’d try it out here. What do you think? Suggestions for improvement? MF says it just doesn’t work.

      As for Casablanca. I’ve got this theory. There’s an unavoidable relationship between both the film lover’s and the film maker’s enthusiasms for certain movies and the nostalgic longings of and for childhood memories. This shaped everything for the generations from the writers of Cahier du Cinema through Scorcese’s generation of film makers. In essence, movies replace memories. Or the memories of the “setting” of our youthful watching are as strong as the memories of other childhood activities and produce strong emotional signatures. That has to be factored in to the worship of Casablanca.

      The bio-pic about Mark Twain starring Frederic March is a pretty awful film. But I will always watch it because it links up with a very precise longing and set of memories for me. And, even more strange, it creates in me a conviction about certain lived realities from American history, convictions that have no real validation in reality. As if I was there and can feel nostalgic about it. I confuse childhood nostalgia with some kind of lived historic nostalgia. All because of having watched the movie as a child.

    24. Except that Casablanca is not a “pretty awful film.” It is by almost any standard a perfect piece. Over the top? Mais oui. But flawless nonetheless.

      (Which doesn’t mean you have to enjoy it, just admire it.)

    25. And no one has made a comment on my “aesthetic prongs.”

    26. I fancy myself a film aficionado. But I’ve never had much use for Casablanca. I’ve never really understood why so many people regard it with such reverence. To me, it’s always been a fine example of a perfect “B-movie” of the period, but nothing more. And, yes, I know that’s heresy.

      I do adore most of the other “usual suspect,” i.e. Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Children of Paradise, Breathless, 8 1/2, Jules and Jim, etc. etc. But when it comes to Casablance, I just don’t “get it.”

    27. 1. Ingrid Bergman and whatever filter they used to make her eyes sparkle

      2. There is not a single scene, shot, or word that does not drive us forward. Not one. Ever.

      3. It is the Hamlet of 20th-century American film in terms of quotable quotes.

      That would be my analysis of why everyone loves this film.

    28. Does not speak to me. Does not move me. And try saying the quotes out loud. They are very much of their time. As is the film.

    29. I don’t expect anyone else to agree with me, of course. I realize I am hopelessly outvoted on this particular issue of aesthetic judgment.

      But check back in another 50 years. I feel that I will be vindicated.

      Same goes for Mockingbird.

    30. The film AND the book.

    31. (We’ll just have to agree to ignore this moral failing of our ash-bound brother and never mention it again.)

    32. Turff on April 15, 2008 at 9:13 am said:

      TKAM made me understand something in 1982(ish) that I had not understood in the 14 years previous and should have been obvious given my supposed value system. It also taught me that literature could still be enjoyable and worthwhile, something The Pearl and Lord of the Flies had not accomplished (although Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer had come close). Perhaps most importantly, it taught me that literature could move my moral compass. Given those points, I’d have to put it in the “worthwhile” category.

    33. Now you sound like Leo Tolstoy. Of course, after he decided that literature should move your moral compass, he repudiated War & Peace and Anna Karenina.

    34. I’m not really on board with the whole Brecht view of things. I side more with Joyce, as you know. If an author is using his or her “art” to make you desire what is depicted, the art is pornographic, and therefore not true art. If the author is trying to repulse you with what is depicted (social novels like “The Jungle” and, yes, “Mockingbird” would fall into this category), then the art is didactic, and therefore not true art.

    35. Here’s why I have a problem with that kind of categorization. Imagine a lovely krater, terra cotta, red figure technique. It is a thing of beauty, and we do not presume to label it either as seductive or hectoring.

      But somehow with the written word, we—and here I’m looking at you, Joyce—get our panties in a twist and start dividing literature into sheep and goats. What if Mockingbird were simply a thing of beauty?

      Out of curiosity, where does Joyce put his own work?

    36. Turff on April 15, 2008 at 2:52 pm said:

      As best as I can recall, the opening scene in TKAM describes sets the scene with baths, baby powder, sweat, and humidity in a way that has stuck with me for more than 20 years (I’ve never re-read the book). It crafts an image effectively, but presumes make no change in the heart of the reader. If I read that bit (which I, and probably the Pulitzer committee will argue was well written), and ignore that whole morality play bit that consumes much of the remainder, the book may be considered art, otherwise, not-so-much?

    37. As always, depends on who is doing the defining.

      But I’m certain the critical consensus, overwhelmingly, would place TKAM in the “art” category.

      I just happen to be a dissenting vote.

    38. But I’m just saying JB’s indifference to Casablanca is as much due to his personal history as anything. He didn’t bond with it at an impressionable early age.

      Actually, there’s probably that dimension in love of TKAM, as well. And that brings me back to my point about the lurking violence in matters of literary opinion. Even if we don’t have a need to rub elbows with the Times Book Page Camp, we will join in with what I might call “the pause” when an innocent expresses affection for some book that is…well…one that does have a certain charm…I can see that…but…And during “the pause” we will take a quick survey of glances to see where we stand with respect to others in the room. Why? Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.

    39. As to Dale’s “two aesthetic prongs,” sounds like twice the usual misery.

    40. Or:

      As to Dale’s “two aesthetic prongs,” bang them on the edge of the table and you hear an A.

    41. Why a crab, I wonder.

    42. I’ll beat Mike to it:

      No, no, not why a crab?

      Why a duck?

    43. Thanks for that, Dale. I’m glad it got out there.

      As for my weigh in on the discussion, I agree with Dale. Casablanca is perfect. Rick is the perfect anti-hero in the perfect anti-love story. It really is the Hamlet of American cinema.

      Following the analogy, though, TKAM equates in my mind to Marlowe’s Faustus, simply the best (or at least most enduring) version of what others were doing at the time. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good, just for my money, it isn’t…extraordinary.

    44. As to Jeff’s:
      “To me, it’s always been a fine example of a perfect “B-movie” of the period, but nothing more.”

      Let us look at other movies that came out in 1942:
      Now, Voyager
      Mrs. Miniver
      The Magnificent Ambersons
      King’s Row

      Even the true standouts of that year like Pride of the Yankees, Bambi, or Yankee Doodle Dandy don’t capture the heart and mind the way that Casablanca does.

      I can understand, as Marc says, not having that emotional connection with it, but even as an objective observer, it is hardly an over-rated B-movie.

    45. Turff on April 16, 2008 at 2:35 pm said:

      I agree with Marc’s “lurking violence” point. While accurate, however, I think in the continuum of snob-dom, literary opinions are perhaps a bit less snarky than musical ones. This may prove to be another interesting axis on my taste-graphing experiment. First, map tastes of the group on a variety of mediums (music, movies, tv, books, paintings, whatever…) and then, based on which medium provides the greatest disparity, combined with knowledge of which media contain more “restrained violence” leads to a “contempt quotient”… Hmmmmm. I think I’m on to something here.

    46. I will say that I harbor no contempt whatsoever for those who admire Casablanca. I fully realize that I am in a tiny minority. Must be something lacking in me. I do own the DVD, by the way. And I have tried. It just does not resonate with me at all. Not on any level.

    47. Turff on April 16, 2008 at 8:29 pm said:

      It a long standing tradition of providing a well-timed distraction, I will come to the aid of Brother Jeff with the admission that I never really “got” Pulp Fiction. In fact, I hit “stop”, “rewind” before reaching the end of the film (it was in the days of the VCR).

    48. Turff, my man! Say it ain’t true!

    49. Pulp Fiction? Never seen it, nor Kill Bill, either part.

      Violence as a tool of either aesthetics or wit escapes me.

    50. In general, I am not a fan of slapstick comedy. However, I found Shaun of the Dead to be uproariously funny.

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