Sunday, October 15, 2006

I have a problem that I can’t quite define, a problem in regard to my response to certain bits of formulaic Hollywood product and which possibly mirrors my response to (some) Robbie William’s stuff. It’s hard to describe but I’ll have a go by drawing on a real-life example.

A few weeks ago I was forced to watch “ Love Actually” and “Pulp Fiction,” again ( I saw the latter intentionally, when it first came out, the former “by accident” as I had to wait three hours for a flight and it was the only thing on at the cinema) watching both of them for the second (maybe third time) I found myself again in the position that I’m often in with this kind of stuff, that of being moved despite myself, or rather I should say intensely moved, affected even though if you asked what I “thought” of both of those films I’d say I disliked them.

What seems to happen is that it’s precisely my fight against the film that intensifies the moments of “emotion”, if I were less suspicious, less distant, less analytically lofty and superior, less desperate to be above the movie and more engaged and involved I would probably find them moderately moving or exciting, as it is, my desire to be Completely Unaffected by them (because they’re banal, manipulative, shallow, deceitful etc) sets up an enormous amount of inner turmoil that heightens everything and which result in my having, at moments, tears in my eyes, getting goosebumps or my heart hammering, this only angers me further of course and sets up a catastrophic escalating chain of conflict that often results in me, who doesn’t like the film, being more affected by it than anyone else, and practically hysterical by the end.

This doesn’t mean of course that the film isn’t bad, or that I “like” it, but it does I think demonstrate that component of negative emotion which is often attendant on intense experiences. I think Robbie’s “work” is in this category as are the other main names in my ongoing, rolling Book Of Evil, Hornby, Curtis, Ritchie. It doesn’t happen with something like say, James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” as this was clearly written by someone of sub-normally low intellect/gifts as a songwriter/lyricist ( “I’m sad, so sad, you’re bad, I’m going mad, I feel so blue, without you, what a to-do,” etc) whereas the others are very shrewd if not always awfully subtle manipulators of our emotions/desires. One of the most awful aspects of all this is of course the extent to which it tells me exactly who I am. You’re just another middlebrow, middleclass Kulcha-Ho susceptible to the same set of Pavlovian tear-jerking/rock-and- roll-cool bell-ringings as the fools you strive to set yourself above, you too are constituted THUS! These films set up a kind of struggle within me which is, in effect a short, intense burst of the lifelong process of someone trying to overwrite their coding, if I weren’t SO determined to be unaffected by them, if I could just say, ok, yeah it moved me here and there, I laughed at that bit, so what? It was corny but corny works and these guys are the Einsteins of Cheese, I am as susceptible to it as anyone else, then maybe this would be ok, but as it is actually I find these films threatening and aggressive. They’re a combat zone, and effectively the pleasure I get from them (a kind of thrilling, pulse rattling anxiety) is probably akin to the excitement of being in situations of actual danger. You’d really rather you weren’t there.

So what is this particular type of pleasure, if we can call it that, the pleasure of being set against yourself? It’s a sensation I largely avoid by avoiding the films themselves but I wonder whether it isn’t the underlying pleasure, or at least the addictive charge in a lot of “Product” especially pointedly Po-Mo stuff, that in a subtle, insidious way the pleasure is augmented by your rejection of what’s being offered you, and that by rejecting it you only tighten its grasp on you.


Tom said...
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Tom said...

Absolutely, absolutely, it's attraction-repulsion... although if something seems like a guilty pleasure to me I tend to try firstly to rationalise it and then to advocate it openly. Guilty pleasures are really hypocritical I think and probably a separate thing. I find though that it's the middlebrow stuff that leaves me unaffected or contemptuous (The Constant Gardener is a recent example for me) but the really trashy gets under my skin quite a bit. I find James Blunt quite moving and uplifting if I'm honest. If Three Wise Men or whatever it's called is playing in the hospital kitchen I find myself lurking at the door to catch a bit of the chorus. Alright, I know lyrically it's ghastly. But surely with arrangements by Guns 'n' Roses, JB's songs could sound pretty good... a bit punchier! And I still recall with embarassment the tears that came to my eyes at the end of Return of the Jedi when I saw it on TV, and surely there's nothing hokier than that? So I'm confessing this to you. It's such a wonderfully honest post that it draws these feelings out a bit. The thing that embarasses with this kind of stuff (I like Bon Jovi too) is that it comes to you unearned, goes down too easily so that emotionally, I feel myself putting on flab. Cheap and easy visual and musical pleasures are corrupting, and if that's all I were to live on, I fear I'd become one of those 50 stoners who have to be lifted out of their bedrooms by crane - at least metaphorically. So instinctively I fly to the opposite extreme with someone like Milton babbitt and crush out of existence all sentiment not hard earned by strenuous effort.

Your comments on post modernism completely nail it. Having one's cake and eating it, to use my favorite cliche, and one can hardly blame people for just simple-mindedly going for the cake.

11:28 AM

Tom said...

Maybe too, the risking oneself, risking my sensibility... the fear that if I surrendered too completely, just at first for jollies, my mind would emerge permanently desensitized. I think one has to dare to be vulgar, and art that merely flirts with this stuff, uses it in patches without committing wholeheartedly either to the polar opposite or actually wallowing, risks nothing, or just wastes our time. But being embarassed on the edge of vulgarity is one of our defining contemporary states, maybe. To overcome a temptation you have to yield to it.

carl said...

bah! i just did a follow up comment that didn't appear.. no matter, Tom, i'm going to blog some further thoughts later!

Billy said...

You openly worship very loads of very basic rock and roll music (like Pere Ubu, Tom Waits, The Sex Pistols, Tim Buckley).

If we leave out the lyrics I believe many of the artists you despise (James Blunt, Coldplay, Nick Drake) and many artists you admire (Nick Cave, Yo La Tengo) are pretty much on a par from a musicological stand point.

It's all basic basic stuff from the viewpoint of Felix Mendelsohn!

What strikes me is that your taste is cinema and literature is so elitist while your taste in music is anything but.

Why do you lower the bar so much for music?

If your musical interests were to echo your literary and cinematic ones you'd have to throw out nine tenths of your record colection (even the cool stuff, even the funky stuff, even the unlistenable stuff) and stock up exclusively on Brahms, Mahler and Shostakovitch.

Then you could occasionally turn aside from your choral and orcheststral delights, throw on a bit of Daft Punk or Pere Ubu as a guilty pleasure, and battle against your self disgust at slumming it with these three chord tricksters!

Tom said...

It is an interesting point of Billy's. I've often wondered at this - I've met some extremely intelligent people working in experimental poetry or in academia with strangely contrasting musical tastes - Nick Cave, Radiohead, Sonic Youth, like you say. Now these people are the first to despise say Larkin or the confessionals, they leap on the slightest indication of political compromise or sentimentality when it's expressed in prose or poetry - but as far as music goes... they just like a good tune. Anyway, Billy, what about Babbitt or Ferneyhough? Looking at it from as uncomplicated a stance as possible, I'd say it was maybe the way brutalist architects might prefer to live in a toffee box cottage. Music is what people live in, their daily element, and the thing with serious music (as true of Sonic Youth as Shostakovich in some ways) is that you can't listen to it while doing the ironing.

It should also be said that the snobs might be wrong - to quote Ben Watson from militant esthetix, it's also that the two minute pop song broke through to something that had eluded Schoenberg.

Billy said...

It's a fair point you make Tom.

It could be argued that a two minute song like 'When I'm Sixty Four' attains its own kind of perfection.

A lesser perfection that Beethoven's Ninth perhaps, but a perfection nonetheless!