"That last post was so funny," he said to me.
"Oh, yeah!" I said annoyed, "Wait until until you read my next post. It’s going to be a SERIOUS analysis of Ecuador’s economy!"
I was having a "Woody Allen" moment. You know, the one he had right after "Annie Hall" when he said to himself, "No more silly films. Now I’m going to be taken SERIOUSLY."
One of my favorite movies is Preston Sturges’ "Sullivan’s Travels." In it, a film director of escapist movies decides to become a serious director and goes to learn about "life" by living with the Depression-era hobos on the trains.
Today, every "artist" wants to be taken seriously. Maybe that’s why supermodels never smile in their photos. Even television people want critics to view their work as high art. They show "retrospectives" of sitcoms like "My Two Dads" at the Museum of Television and Radio. Porn stars now have their own award show. Stuntmen are fighting for their own category in the Oscars. Maybe because more of us are familiar with Desi Arnaz and "I Love Lucy" than Donizetti and "Lucia di Lammemoor," we need to make believe our low-brow tastes are as important as high-culture. There was even a popular best-selling book by Steven Johnson titled "Everything Bad is Good For You: How Today’s Pop Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter." According to Johnson, we should let our children stay up to watch "Survivor" and "Fear Factor."
Go ahead and let them watch more television, too, since even reality shows can function as "elaborately staged group psychology experiments" to stimulate rather than pacify the brain.
Even the intellectually astute Michael Blowhard has taken literary snobs to task for not appreciating the writing skills of sensationalist shlock-writer Jackie Collins, author of such books as "The Bitch" and "The Stud."
Why are many people’s attitudes towards popular fiction different than their attitudes towards the popular arts in other fields? By now, most sophisticated and educated people can see virtues in rock and roll; in sitcoms; in action-adventure movies; and in barbecued ribs, ice cream, and corn on the cob. Yet where fiction-books are concerned … Well, if these people are caught reading a blockbuster, they laugh, they apologize. They want you to know they’re slumming; they really do know better. Really what they care about is the serious and good stuff.
I’m not a snob about these things and I like this reinterpretation of what’s high art and what’s low art. Still, without sounding like a fuddy-duddy, there should be some standards, and there’s nothing as annoying as hearing a popular artist kvetch about their own popularity. It’s one of the reasons so many Hollywood actors want to speak about politics. They don’t want to just be a lowly actor and make millions of dollars for play-acting. They want to be a force for good.
Sitcom writers don’t just want to be sitcom writers. It’s not enough to be making tons of money and getting your work on television. You want to be taken seriously as a writer. You may be a "writer," but the reason you’re not as esteemed as Dostoyevsky is because you wrote your first draft while drinking a ice-blended mocha at the Coffee Bean. Dostoyevsky spent four years in the Siberian maximum security prison in Omsk, with ten-pound iron chains around his ankles and wrists in a lice-infested, filth-ridden “cemetery-of-the-living” which he later described in "The House of the Dead." Now, even the Disney cafeteria isn’t that bad.
It seems ironic that so many artists are so concerned with being taken seriously when our culture seems only to care about what is popular. The entertainment section of the paper is filled with stories about the top box-office movies and top-ten network shows. Hollywood envies successful producers like Jerry Bruckheimer. Who knows… maybe even he’s unhappy with his popular successes. Is it possible that Jerry Bruckheimer is secretly writing a low-budget script about his loving relationship with his offbeat "grandpa" — a project without one car blowing up?
In the blogging world, you have popular sites like Gawker and Defamer that feed their audience snarky gossip. They get large amounts of readers. I have a friend who writes a fantastic blog on the topic of Earth Science. He has three readers. I would give you the link, but I think he would have a heart attack if too many of you actually showed up.
Let’s hope that the producers of Gawker and Defamer don’t complain about not being taken seriously.
A popular artist who is overly concerned about being taken seriously is like the prom queen complaining that she wasn’t asked to be on the math team. What are you complaining about? We all want to be like YOU.
Recently, there’s even been some fighting among the usually mutually-supportive women writers as some tried to separate themselves from the popular chick-lit label. When Curtis Sittenfeld reviewed Melissa Bank’s "The Wonder Spot" in the New York Times Book Review, many saw it as an attack on the genre — and an excuse for Ms. Sittenfeld to re-create her own image as a "serious" writer. Popular chick-lit writer Jennnifer Weiner then responded to the review, mocking Ms. Sittenfeld:
"The more I think about the increasingly angry divide between ladies who write literature and chicks who write chick lit, the more it seems like a grown-up version of the smart versus pretty games of years ago; like so much jockeying for position in the cafeteria and mocking the girls who are nerdier/sluttier/stupider than you, to make yourself feel more secure about your own place in the pecking order."
Why is Ms. Sittenfeld ashamed of the term chick lit? It is very popular and has helped hundreds of other female writers to get published. If you write a light book about a young woman in Manhattan juggling men while working as an assistant editor at a fabulous women’s magazine, chances are the book is Chick Lit. If the book is about a poor female mine worker dealing with her mother dying of an inoperable tumor, chances are it isn’t Chick Lit.
Soon, sitcom writers are going to complain about their work being called "sitcoms." Will sitcoms soon be called Short Televised Humorous Novellas?
As some woman might suggest in a chick lit book, "Do you really need to have it all?" Do you need to have popularity and be taken seriously?
As for myself, I’ll hold off on that article about Ecuador. I still want as many readers as possible.