When I like something, such as Disneyland, and it gets criticized on line, if I am not careful my response will be a very testy and defensive: “But I like it!”
Somehow, if not very careful, I end up arguing that if I like a thing then “liking” it is a good thing.
This would be true if my particular taste were a good measure of what is good, true, or beautiful, but I am skeptical that this is true.
It is even worse than that. My thoughtful critic will probe deeper and point put that some of my likes, one thinks of an extra hot dog at the Astros game, are not good for me. In fact, given their record the Astros game may be worse for my heart health than the hot dog, but still I have gained twenty pounds I should not have gained. There is nothing wrong with eating that particular hot dog, but the cumulative effective of living by my likes has put me on my present diet.
At that point in a conversation with a critic, I am usually sensible enough to eliminate any “liking” that hurts me or someone else. If I like causing other people pain for fun, then my likes are best described as depraved. The difficulty is that many things I like are a bit harmful: one cigar isn’t going to kill me, but it isn’t necessary either. Should I smoke them?
Life is made up of choices about harms and goods. Those choices might begin by looking at “likes” that are incompatible: if I smoke this cigar, Hope will not kiss me. I can have the smoke or the kiss. This is generally not a hard call: a kiss from Hope is priceless to me.
“After all,” I say with some desperation now, “we all like different things. Don’t be a snob.”
And snobs do exist. But so I remind myself do cultural buffoons, people who really think that my reading a Superman comix (which I do) is just as good for me or as good (in its own way) as sitting looking at the Rothko chapel. They are different kinds of pleasures, and the comix may have its place (I think it does), but it surely is easier to overindulge in comix than Rothko.
After all, dessert has a place in a full life of eating, but it has a more limited place than vegetables. Doesn’t it? Could the same rule be applied to my pleasures? Some pleasures are easy, but too much of them can rot my soul like sugar rots the teeth. Is American culture (watch the top ten movies) really more in danger of snobbery or of consuming whatever appeals to my immediate needs?
American culture doesn’t face looming prudery, but moral decadence: if it is about to succumb to any extreme! Appeals to the “highest good” are less common than those to the least common entertainment denominator.
Any entertainment can be abused: one should not watch a full Shakespeare play every night (unless it is one’s job), because other goods, pleasures, and duties will be missed.
But my conscience keeps prodding me and reminds me that after all living for myself and my own pleasure is impossible to justify intellectually, is morally wicked, and impractical. If I want to be happy, experience shows I cannot just do what makes me (immediately) happy. Greek classes never made me immediately happy, but they led to one of the deepest and most lasting joys of my life.
There was more gain than pain, but I still don’t like reviewing the grammar and I still have to do it.
My secondary defense is often to whine about criticism of my likes: “Dude, it’s just a game/TV show/movie/blog.”
If I like a thing and it is harmless, then why not?
But of course, my likes may be immature. I can change what I like . . . after all I have taught myself to enjoy better foods and even to like coffee. I didn’t like opera, worked on it, and now I love it or at least some of it. We all grow up, or should grow up, and pleasures that satisfied as children don’t as adults. When a child, the wit of Bugs Bunny was the wittiest I could imagine, but while still “liking” Bugs I have discovered Wilde, Shakespeare, and wittier wits.
There is also the issue of time wasting. Am I getting too much amusement? This seems at least possible. A critic might go further and say that if I don’t get much “free time” and in my job I do not, then I should learn to spend my free time in amusements (like learning Spanish) that will open up further pleasures that a re-re-re-viewing of Batman Begins will not provide.
I would not judge any person I saw taking time off to watch Batman Begins, but over a few weeks, I might criticize a person who spent hours exploring the Batman universe. The hours spent there are hours not to be regained.
Doesn’t life have more purpose than simple entertainment? If a Christian is reading this, then does one really want to stand before God and have watched more My Little Pony than praying in the precious free time one has?
But of course, it is possible to be a kill joy, as Puritans are said to be (though perhaps really were not). The Sabbath becomes a day of gloom instead of a day of wholesome rest. I don’t see any danger in me (yet!) of this kind of Puritanism. Neither do I see much danger of Puritanism in American pop culture, but perhaps millions are actually forcing the kids to read Spurgeon all Sunday and avoiding earthly pleasures to overindulge in sermons by the judicious Hooker.
I don’t know those people, but if they still exist, they need to read Bonhoeffer and not me. But then when I read Bonhoeffer, I am condemned for my wasting time, my low class “likes,” and the triviality of so much that I do. Surely, a good reading of Cost of Discipleship will not send me off to a Buffy marathon.
I am not opposed to a Buffy marathon, I am just in no danger of opposing them and in too much danger of self-indulgence.
Generally, then I take the “starving kids” route. I mumble to my critic: “With kids starving in X (insert the cause country of the month) don’t you have better things to do than worry about my over consumption of Packer’s football.”
But this is no more effective as rhetoric than when my parents told me to eat food I hated, because kids were starving in X. We are talking about me and my problems, me and my food, not the kids in X.
What I am doing is not directly related to the starving kids . . .if I eat the food, they will not go hungry, if I don’t eat it they will go hungry. My friends knows me and is watching me waste time (if I am wasting time) and is talking to me, not the socialist governors of X-land who are killing their people. I assume if the Evil Overlord came to my family room, my critic would drop my problems and confront the Super Villain with his super villainy.
In fact, the critic could turn my objection on me in the case of time wasting by pointing out that I could be working to end hunger in the Benighted Land of X if I were not watching the end of a 42-0 Packer blow out.
And yet the whole thing is pretty irrelevant: we cannot deal with all the world’s ills. I think it acceptable to take a break, but my small vice of time wasting isn’t any less a vice, because there are are bigger crimes out there.
My situation isn’t really helped if I retort: “I have a right to like it! This is America! You cannot tell me what to do!”
Thank God, this is true. No expert, critic, or educated opinion can force me to examine my “likes” and “dislikes.” I can go give a thumbs up to the original series Star Trek, even going so far as picking Spock’s Brain as my favorite episode.
God bless America I can be that stupid freely, but my opinion is still foolish.
I admire those willing to take contrary stands, contrarian impulses are a good check to group think, but often in areas where I am not a specialist my contrarian opinions have only the virtue of being contrary. There isn’t much more behind them other than “I like it.”
But what if my consumption of a trivial thing inspires me to create? This is perfectly possible. The banal has a long history of inspiriting great men and women to produce fantastic things . . . but isn’t that a bit flattering to self?
If the genius can improve on anything, am I such a genius? Or am I imitating things so vulgar that a regular Joe such as I am can easily make it better? Isn’t that self-indulgent? Or isn’t it more likely that the art, literature, or comix I produced “inspired” by pop culture (my fan fic) may not be as “good” as I think. Is it back to the standard that I like it? Or that my compatriots like it?
Wouldn’t I after all be better off drawing inspiration from truly great things or at least learning to do so? It is true that I have never written a sentence nearly as good as Lewis in That Hideous Strength and that I could write many sentences better than “Brain, brain, brain” in Spock’s Brain, but aren’t I damning my creativity with faint praise?
Do I really want imitate, and one always becomes a bit like what one imitates, something made to sell products?
My likes, in fact, may be keeping me from growing up. I liked U2 when I was younger, and I can go on liking them, but shouldn’t age cause me to find greater pleasures than music I could grasp easily at 22? After all, I loved how Hope looked at 22, but love the way she looks at 49 more.
Isn’t the first an easier “like” and the second the product of maturity?
Of course, my “likes” could be particularly given to immaturity. Perhaps, hobbit that I am, there is too much in me that draws inspiration from the mundane, the safe, the immediate and few others have this problem.
This, however, I know: that I like a thing has not proven to be a good measure of how much time I should spend with it. Maybe the warning to self will help you too.