Driving to work this morning, I was listening to PRX on Sirius XM. It’s a newish public radio forum that plays only interviews, stories, Ted Talks, and other similar material. I enjoy it for the most part because the station plays a fairly broad range of stuff, from Nobel Laureate scientists to street junkies, so I get to absorb a lot of material for future writings. Normally, I just listen and enjoy. Today, however, two pieces came on back to back that got my butt cheeks clenching, so I’ve scrapped the entry that came to me last night in favor of this one.
The first piece was a young scholar discussing the history of and debate over the “unreliable narrator” in literature. Like all good scholars, he quoted the top experts in the field and laid out the major legitimate points of both sides of the debate. As I listened to these quotations from highly regarded critics, I was reminded of why I despise literary criticism. While all of them were intelligent, obviously highly well-read, and thorough in their reasoning, not a single one of them actually said anything of any value regarding anything substantive. All of it was mental masturbation, reasoning for the sake of reasoning, debating for the sake of debate. I’d also be willing to wager that not a single one of them could actually write a work of fiction worth reading either, but that’s another matter. The whole thing struck me as highly self-indulgent, which has always been my problem with the upper echelons of academia.
There’s rarely if ever any practical application to real world dilemmas from the scholarly work of the humanities. We live in an age when declining literacy is a real and serious issue that threatens the foundation of our democratic republic, yet these scholars are playing pin the tail on the donkey with abstract concepts that do nothing to promote literacy as a fun, engaging, accessible activity. It seems to me an exceptional waste of finite time, resources, and brain power. Instead of debating whether or not the “unreliable narrator” is a valid concept or even actually exists, why aren’t these highly intelligent people putting their efforts into developing curriculum or reading lists for disenfranchised children? That’s just one example. I’d be much more impressed by their work if they were doing anything that didn’t seem so damned self-indulgent at a time when people are really suffering. In short, we have much bigger issues than the tuning of your fiddle, Emperor Nero.
The second piece was about “artistic” bands seeking corporate sponsorship for their bands. Apparently, this is the newest trend in music to help independent musicians survive until they’ve built a following. Maybe I’m just old and out of touch, but all of the music the piece sampled from these bands was pure shit. I’m no expert, but I know good music when I hear it. Also, each of the musicians interviewed went on and on about the “artistic” nature of their work. If artistic has devolved into a synonym for “shitty,” I guess I missed the memo. Much like the scholarly debate over the unreliable narrator, paying unskilled musicians to continue their craft seems like a frivolous waste of precious resources. I don’t claim to be the gatekeeper for all things music related, and it’s not my money the corporations are giving away, but to me, this money would be much better spent on middle and high school musical education courses that actually teach people how to play an instrument. Again, the whole thing strikes me as rather self-indulgent, both by the “artists” and the companies.
We face real issues today. Inflation, living wages, energy, waste, education, healthcare, and fiscal sustainability are just some of them. Our nation is crumbling around us. The very fabric of our society seems to be fraying apart. Today, we should be seeking solutions to these very real, very substantial, very important problems. Today is not the time for self-indulgence and mental masturbation. Sorry, but if you’re a shitty musician who plays avant-garde drivel, you don’t really deserve to earn a living when police officers, firefighters, and teachers, people who add real value to society, have to work second jobs to afford their mortgages. If you’re a scholar wasting your intellect on ridiculous flights of fancy, please stop wasting taxpayer money. Please, set down your fiddle, look up at the burning buildings, and do something to help put out the fires.