Sunday, July 12, 2015

Different, not bad

One of the problem some people have in evaluating creative arts is that they don't know the difference between "different" and "bad". For example, I've always thought John Cage was a great musical innovator. I personally didn't like his works, but I occasionally listen to it, even "4'33"". I can recognize genius when I see it. I know it's different, but that doesn't mean it's bad.

One of the benefits - and drawbacks - of being privileged in society is that you don't get contradicted. Unless you are intelligent enough to realize your own limitations, you become either oblivious - or contemptuous - of different tastes.

I've noticed how many reviews and critiques of Hugo-nominated woks this year are being subjected to blatant hatchet jobs. A bystander might suppose these are being done in bad faith, but the truth is more depressing - these people simply don't understand people of different backgrounds.

If you have lived all your life privileged by birth, wealth, or political correctness, you may really have problems understanding different kinds of people.

A while back, I was a bit stunned - during an online discussion regarding the Sad Puppies - to find someone who didn't know "Gentleman's Agreement" is a pejorative term. It makes me wonder what social setting this person - very anti-Puppy - grew up in. I learned about Gentlemen's Agreements when I was very young. My father had a job transfer and my family had to move when I was 13. I noticed that as we looked for a home, real estate agents kept steering us to the same town on the South Shore of Massachusetts. I realized Italians weren't supposed to live in some towns. Years later, when I received a scholarship to attend an Ivy League school, I would see people whose social backgrounds were astoundingly inbred. I assumed they thought "The Addams Family" was a reality show.

Mind you, I know many people who are very different from me who are tolerant, pleasant and understanding. Oftentimes I trust and respect them more than people I should have natural sympathies with. If you are a Christian, conservative and straight and you get cheated, double-crossed or back stabbed by some hypocrite, you learn tolerance and respect really fast. You learn to appreciate an individual's quality of character. The absolute worst things done to me in life have been by people who should have been my colleagues based on religion and politics.

Socrates said "Know thyself." I know I have limitations based on my upbringing and life experiences. I think of these when I look at strange and new things. I try to be self-aware. Of course, being human I sometimes fail. But I try.

I would suggest that some people, in evaluating Hugo-nominated works, have been a bit harsh because they didn't understand, maybe didn't think to try to understand, what the author or artist was out to accomplish or wanted. That means the works may have been different, not necessarily bad.

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