But why is that? The ideas behind our constitution are inspired by the ideas of The Enlightenment, and certainly at least some of our founding fathers were educated and not anti-thought…
Ultimately, It’s goes back to ideas put forward by some of the Puritans of colonial days.
“the more learned and witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan will you bee. . . . Take off the fond doting . . . upon the learning of the Jesuites, and the glorie of the Episcopacy, and the brave estates of the Prelates. I say bee not deceived by these pompes, empty shewes, and faire representations of goodly condition before the eyes of flesh and blood, bee not taken with the applause of these persons.”—John Cotton, 1642
. . . and I would argue that it’s fostered to some degree by American democracy and consumerism
The philosophical foundation of American democracy is Locke.
Americans aren’t against education, but yeah, there’s a sizable minority who believe all education should be practical education.
Bordwell and Kent Jones are some of the greatest critics around, don’t be knocking them, Fraser-Orr.
“think in some sense it’s a self-defense mechanism on the part of academia because there’s always been an anti-intellectual streak running through American culture,”
which academics in these fields arguably contribute to by playing the market share game and through their selective and questionable use of theory.
I respect a lot of film and cultural studies academics, but they are not held to the same rigorous standards as other disciplines.
JIRIN: Sizeable minority? America=pragmatism par excellence.
Anti-intellectualism is present in any country that pretends to be egalitarian and less about class. Australia is the same as America in this regard, possibly even worse.
I don’t think the issue is entirely that people think anyone can write about a movie, it’s more that people believe they are all more or less equally capable of appreciating a movie, that a movie is there for immediate pleasure, and that anyone who tries to say more about a movie than expressing an opinion about the immediate pleasure aspects is trying to purposely put on airs and make the person feel stupid. The distrust lies not in that some people are better writers, Ebert’s popularity attests to that, but in the notion that there is something more to watching a movie than they can immediately apprehend. No one thinks that everyone should be able to understand physics easily, so they don’t feel inadequate when the someone like Hawkings seems to be speaking from a different realm and is, in a way, talking down to them, or spoon feeding them information, since the subject is so obviously difficult to understand without a lot of training otherwise. people like to be able to sort of talk about the ideas being examined in physics even if they don’t really know how those ideas are being sorted out, proved, or disproved. It makes them feel smart to simply get a little bit of the general concepts and be able to use them in conversation.
Film writing, on the other hand, does just the opposite. It is seem as obfuscating the obvious, depleting the pleasure, and is suspicious on the face of it since everyone indeed can appreciate a movie without any interpretation or analysis. It’s like comedy, everyone is their own expert on the subject, and no one likes to think they are somehow lacking in the appreciation of it. The humanities in general aren’t valued very highly because what is being looked at is valued highly by everyone, but simply on a more basic level. People generally seem to accept literature as being something specialized since reading isn’t as crucial a part of most peoples lives, especially reading the so called great novels. Reading a book shows its challenge on the surface as people must understand the text in order to proceed, so they aren’t as likely to react negatively to people talking about literature in a sort of elite manner since it is so obviously discriminatory, in a way, and to argue against it suggest you may not be smart enough to understand it. That isn’t to say people respect the study of literature, they generally don’t, they tend to think of it being a waste of time since a book that can’t be understood doesn’t mean much to the world other than to those few people who like to talk about it, and those people are already suspect. Most of the other fine arts like painting and scuipture and the high arts like ballet or opera are treated in a similar manner, they are accepted but ignored, and those that really are involved in them are seem as being hoity-toity or pretentious in some ways. The more popular arts like music and movies have it even worse as people want to like what they like without having to feel defensive or inadequate for it, and they don’t seem to believe that what is often being discussed even really exists. “You think too much” is often the response to the serious discussion of film or movies that goes beyond basic appreciation.
“. The humanities in general aren’t valued very highly because what is being looked at is valued highly by everyone, but simply on a more basic level”
that’s the deficiency in the individuals themselves rather than the ideas though.
great post though.
Yes, I pretty much agree with that, although deficiency sounds a little harsh, the issue is then in finding a better manner of communication that can bring in more people and make the ideas as exciting as those that people find in Hawkings discussion of physics. It’s in the breaking down of the barriers that the humanities would become more accepted, if such a thing is possible. Can we find a way to discuss films, high art or popular, that doesn’t alienate so many people? (Undoubtedly there will always be a large number that are resistant to such discussions, but any additions would be welcome and might slowly shift the attitude towards the arts somewhat.)
“Bordwell and Kent Jones are some of the greatest critics around, don’t be knocking them, Fraser-Orr.”
That they’re respected is probably the worst reason to avoid knocking someone in history.
“finding a better manner of communication that can bring in more people and make the ideas as exciting as those that people find in Hawkings discussion of physics.”
As long as this doesn’t lead to Tom Gunning making public pronouncements about the afterlife, I’m all for this. :)
Great post, Greg — yeah, many people find the arts pleasurable but making it intellectual/digging deeper for meaning seems besides the point to them. I’m not sure how you could get people to think about the arts otherwise, other than educating kids in school in a way that helps them to see beyond “the pleasure zone.” Other than that, people just take entertainment for an escape, then go back to the daily grind.
I think in a sense this is due to a lack of awareness of the spirit in the day to day world, people actually need food for the spirit and not just for their bodies, but the emphasis is always on the latter, because of course without actual food, shelter, etc. there is very obvious suffering. That’s also why the arts seem like a luxury, because people don’t realize that they need that kind of nourishment, or that they need it in more depth than the fleeting entertainment thing. And then, the kind of entertainment that many people are into (i.e. reality shows) is the equivalent of junk food for the mind, it satisfies that hunger but leaves one unhealthy. Do we have a duty to bring this better “nutrition” to them, as dieticians and doctors try to do with their patients? I’d say yes, but it’s a tough battle for obvious reasons…
Or… some people really don’t want to deal with that at all so it’s not important to them, and probably never will be. As it is for people who don’t give a damn about their health. There always be the lost causes, so to speak…
Great Post @Greg X. I actually don’t mind people that only want films for entertainment – I think this is a completely valid relationship to film. It only irritates me when they express incredulity when others see something MORE than just entertainment.
In high school, I was one of those people that accused my teacher of “reading into everything” then somewhere between 1984 and The Scarlett Letter something just clicked in my head. It was around the time that I began to fully understand allegory, metaphor and the rich complexities of language and meaning. I think before ordinary peeps are willing to go beyond their first impressions of film-as-immediately-accessible-entertainment the critical thinking foundation of how meaning can be mulitvalent and contradictory has to already be there.
Students are too apt to dismiss artistry as accident—“That’s not a metaphor, it’s just a blood-stained dove”—until they’ve spent a semester writing fiction, thinking through the decision-making process of all that is included and (even more notably) all that is excluded. Having glimpsed the wizard of oz behind the curtain of the creative process, students never again think of writers or filmmakers as clueless, unintentional automatons.
Loving this discussion.
As a filmmaker and Educator undertaking a Doctorate I’m watching with interest and replying so I can see any notifications.
@Z — yeah that’s the same thing with music, i.e. when you study music you appreciate it on a whole other level and can no longer really be a passive listener.
And when you perform in front of an audience having learned that piece you studied for months, well… then you realize how hard people who do this well work to make that performance excellent, how serious they are about their work, and that talent is useless without development – again it means good, hard WORK.
I’m going to bump this now in honor of the recent article in Film Comment. Has anyone read this article yet? What are people’s thoughts on the differences between criticism and academia (and maybe even cinephillia)?
How about a link to the article (if it’s on line)?
I looked for the article but it doesn’t look like they put it on their website (snooty upper West side Lincoln Center cinema freaks).
Go buy the magazine (March/April)! It’s a good one!
Next time I’m at B&N, I’ll check.
It’s the one with The Kid on the Bike on the cover.
Are you talking about Nico Baumbach’s piece, Santino—the one that references the Project: New Cinephilia roundtable stuff that was hosted here a while back?
Yeah, I’m looking forward to reading this as well since it was recently brought to my attention. I’ll try and dig up a copy soon. What struck you about the article Santino? Any initial thoughts on the article alone or how it fit in with the discussion we already had here?
I think you should just go ahead and type out the full text of the article, Santino.
You mean that article?
Well, i don’t know about that, but the very fact that one can’t access the article on (edit) the Film Comment site, (although Gondo seems to have found it elsewhere), and it is responding to an open online discussion, albeit one where most of those leading the “discussion” chose not to participate should tell us something about the various modes of engagement or interaction competing with each other today, and from this, I think, we can make some assumptions about what that means for “knowledge” and how the differing method effect our understanding about what it being said.
Thanks for the link Gondo.
That’s the first part of it, yeah.
@Matt – Yes, that’s the one.
@Drunk – I’ll get right on it.
@Gondo – Yeah, that’s the article. Although it’s just Part 1 (there are three parts).
@Greg – I actually haven’t finished the article (it’s a bit dry to read). I read parts one and two this weekend and it made me think of this forum and thought it would be a good place for discussion (I didn’t realize there already was a discussion about this until I found this thread this morning, which references the original Bordwell piece).
This whole topic is kind of intense and requires above average thought from me (more than the usual retarded comments I usually give on a typical thread). Once I finish the article and read over this thread I’ll have more to say (although it’s a toss up whether any of it will be worthwhile or in-depth). :)
I should say as a rough aside that prior to reading this article, it never even occurred to me that there would be two differing sides and that critics and academics were somehow at odds with each other (although I recognize they have different audiences).
Later in that piece, he also talks about the infamous Dan Kois “cultural vegatables” piece, which we’ve also discussed at length here (should anyone be interested).
Thought this debate was getting a little old. Surprised to see Film Comment revive it. Nothing much new in this article to chew on. It’s a good piece that probably belongs in the setting of an academic conference presentation rather than in a “popular” magazine. Yes, cinephilia is alive in well in differing forms, and yes, it’s old hat to always talk about the death of things in this young century.