April 16th, 2011 / 3:01 pm
I Like __ A Lot

What’s wrong with liking what other people like?

Recently, I’ve been listening to the radio.

Pop music.

God, it is soooo good.


I mean, Rihanna’s Only Girl has a beat you (read: I) can’t help bopping my head to. I’ll admit it: I love pop music. And not in an ironic-I-like-this-but-only-to-show-how-much-better-I-am-than-it (or, hipster) kind of way. No, I really like it. But I’m embarrassed that I like it. As in: when I’m walking down the street listening to Lady Gaga on my iPod and I pass a cool looking person, I have this intense urge to turn it down so he/she doesn’t hear it (and thereby judge me), or, I want to take out my earbuds and convince them how I mostly listen to indie music and this is just my running mix or some stupid excuse like that. But why? Why should anyone be embarrassed about liking what other people (read: a lot of Americans) like?

While I’m at it, here’s another admission: I love bad movies. I’m so embarrassed of the movies I like, I go by myself. (Which, actually, I rather enjoy.) I don’t invite friends or my partner. I go to the movie by myself and eat candy and drink Coke. I indulge in the deliciousness of pop culture consumerism. I know exactly what will happen in the movie. They’re all the same: pretty single people become a pretty couple, with some slight variation of plot turns, mostly predictable.

And yet, the other day, I was at a friend’s house and we were talking about our mutual love for Jane Austen and she ran to another room and grabbed me three of the Jane Austen-zombie re-writes. She said: You have to read these. They are sooo good. And I said something like, Well, I have a whole stack of books to review and I’m way behind on them, and she said something like, If you love Jane Austen, you really have to read these, and I said something like hem and haw, and I ended up taking home the books. Despite my better intentions. See, I judged her. I judged her harshly for reading those books and liking them (and pushing them onto me). But ultimately, it’s no different than my own indulgences.

I use the word “indulgences,” but how is it indulgent? Why is liking what other people like “indulgent”? Why am I such a fucking snob?

A couple days ago, Roxane posted something about how she likes James Frey and a riot broke out. I wonder: are we supposed to dislike things just because the majority of the American people like it? Does popularity mean low art? And if popularity makes low art, what makes high art? (DFW was a best-seller. I challenge one person on the comments section to call his books low art and I’ll watch the massacre ensue from behind the safety of my computer screen.)

People got really riled up in the comment section of Roxane’s post (in an unjustifiable and unjustified way, I might add). What makes people so mad about pop culture? Are we supposed to be better than it? Why the fucking hierarchy, man?

I’m the first to admit that I’m a hypocrite here. I judge people all the time based on the music they listen to, the movies they watch, and most of all, the books they read. I roll my eyes when I hear a middle-aged woman tell her friends about the newest Nick Sparks book she read and loved. I want to start a conversation with someone who reads Bolano (and definitely any indier writer! The indier the better, right?) in a coffeeshop. So, I’m asking you but mostly I’m trying to work it out in my own head: What’s wrong with liking pop culture?



  1. SteampunkFurrySciFiFart

      Some pop culture is great, much of it is garbage. You don’t have to assume all pop/mass culture is great or equally valuable to like the good stuff.

  2. Roxane

      The Only Girl in the World is my favorite song right now, period. I think we’ve discussed this. What I love most is how absurd and shallow the lyrics are and yet this song is everything. I love listening to it when I’m walking. Did you see Rihanna on that Academy of Country Music award show? She is everywhere. It’s crazy.

      (I’m not embarrassed by the things I like whether they are popular or not.)

  3. Anonymous

      i always thought it came from the idea that ‘popular art’ was the default, so a person who likes that stuff exclusively hasn’t put thought or effort what they read/listen to; they just took the easy route.

      which i guess is maybe the case, but seems like a ridiculous strawman so i don’t know.

      i always preferred ‘what’s my name’ to ‘only girl in the world’, though, crappy drake verse and all.

  4. Brooklyn Copeland

      The people I know who are dismissive of pop culture are kinda insecure about the value of their own culture (self-created or university-created or whatever).

      So much of pop culture is crappy, but that’s kinda always been the case. It’s also true that the majority of people out there don’t think for themselves. There’s a big overlap between the two. Our pop culture is just more instant and changeable, which “more refined” people (sometimes wrongfully, sometimes accurately) equate with degradation.

      I hold fast to the theory that if people who actually get worked up over pop culture knocked boots more often, they wouldn’t get so worked up over pop culture.

      Pop culture has replaced the traditional high arts as the best way to monitor society… its celebrations, its fears, its deficiencies.

      I’m no pop culturalist, but almost all of my running playlists include a Rihanna song.

      Meanwhile, I remain completely indifferent to the work of DFW.

  5. Anonymous

      i need trash pop to calm myself down after all of the ‘high art’ mind fucking. eating nachos while watching natalie portman’s tiny hands touch ashton kutcher’s face, or listening to beyonce’s bday on my lunch break are necessary moments, i think. and the kind of person who would ‘judge’ you for liking this shit is the same kind of person who would dump you for farting in bed. in other words, an asshole.

  6. lily hoang

      Yes, I saw that movie, in the theatre, alone, eating gummy bears and drinking pop. It was divine.

  7. lily hoang

      I don’t think I assume that, nor do I think my post assumes that. Or, maybe I’m wrong.

  8. lily hoang

      i am looking it up on youtube as i type.

      also: i find yr brazenness heroic. as a general rule.

  9. lily hoang

      i agree.

  10. SteampunkFurrySciFiFart

      Okay, maybe I’m just unclear of the meaning here: “are we supposed to dislike things just because the majority of the American people like it?”

      No, we are supposed to dislike it when it is crap and like it when it is good, regardless of whether the majority like or don’t like it. I agree there are some idiots who act like anything popular is bad, but most of those get over it by age 17. Also, more idiots that act like anything that can’t make a lot of money or be really popular is valueless out there.

      “Does popularity mean low art?”

      No, as you point out, plenty of high art has been quite popular.

      None of this changes the fact that James Frey is an awful writer!

  11. STaugustine

      “A couple days ago, Roxane posted something about how she likes James Frey and a riot broke out. I wonder: are we supposed to dislike things just because the majority of the American people like it? Does popularity mean low art? And if popularity makes low art, what makes high art? (DFW was a best-seller. I challenge one person on the comments section to call his books low art and I’ll watch the massacre ensue from behind the safety of my computer screen.)”

      No one said anything about James Frey’s work being just about as shitty as writing can get, without being that way on purpose, owing to some silly metric like how many books he’s sold. James Frey is considered a shitty writer because he writes shit. Anyone is free to enjoy reading the shit James Frey writes, but only the most esoteric, and well-established, literary genius on earth could claim to find literary elements of any real and/or unique value in Frey’s material and *still* be considered “credible” (ahem) as a Lit Critic or Writer. (Mercenary concerns like pressure from one’s publishing company, or personal connections, aside)

      James Frey would be considered a shitty writer if he’d sold ten books. Likewise, quite a few bestsellers have been decently-written (whether or not I care for them personally)… including IJ. Any suggestion that Frey’s work belongs in the same category as DFW’s work, simply because they’re both “popular”, is… you know. Fucking goofy.

  12. lily hoang

      The only similarity is that they are both “best sellers.” I would never put them in any other category together. But I haven’t read Frey, so what do I know?

  13. lily hoang

      Yeah, dude, this is a hard sentence to understand: No one said anything about James Frey’s work being just about as shitty as writing can get, without being that way on purpose, owing to some silly metric like how many books he’s sold.

  14. darby

      personally i only like high art. i think its healthy to judge people for watching low brow stuff like rihanna because really i am better than they are because i only read my large books that i hold with my very heavy hands due to the weight of my golden rings. it makes me feel better about myself. its just what i like and im not embarrased by it. basically if you like rihanna and pop culture then you are a philistine brain of mush that i laugh at because you are nothing and i will eat your brain like it is tofu.

      i also love the song cotton eye joe. i like to crank it and roll down the windows at red lights and do snapwink-headbob-fingersnap-gunshoots at people in other cars.

  15. lily hoang

      amazing! all of it.

  16. Ufa

      Shills. And hypersensitive shills to boot. People don’t hate James Frey because he’s popular; they hate him because he’s a charlatan, and a bad one at that.

      Also: don’t pretend that you’re surprised that your audience, or, some of your audience, would be agitated that you’re pushing garbage like Frey. It’s really kind of disingenuous and bratty. But then again, the fish stinks from the head.

  17. Roxane

      The thing is, no shilling took place. No pushing took place. There is a wide precedent for mentioning excerpts of forthcoming work. There was nothing extraordinary about my post, whatsoever. James Frey doesn’t need an ounce of promotion. What we do here is discuss things that interest us and the range of things that interest us is wide. Like it, don’t like it, whatever. But stop assigning more significance to that tiny post than is necessary. It’s ridiculous. When I’m promoting something I write hundreds or thousands of words about that writer or book. There’s no mystery about it.

      I’m done.

  18. sm

      I can empathize with that hypocrisy. Why am I fascinated by genre but cringe when my students insist on writing half-baked vampire stories? I think because, for some readers (of any kind of text), the popular is all they know, all they’re exposed to. It’s the Mount Everest theory of consumption. As a teacher, I feel like it’s my job to expose them to more–all those literary nooks and crannies. Also: the more choices one makes about pop culture (I like Lil Wayne but not Lil Jon; Stephen King but not Dean Koontz; Gore Verbinski but not Michael Bay) the less monolithic it seems.

  19. STaugustine

      Work on it… you’ll get it in time. You’ll be surprised how often that turns out to be true!

  20. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Idunno. People are pieces of shit. You shouldn’t really care about pieces of shit judging you. Like what you like, everyone else can go fuck themselves, right? Right.

      And if you involuntarily cringe at something, check yourself, tell yourself “That’s not fair” and be open to something you’ll probably dislike. Because who knows, right? Right.

  21. Jhon Baker

      nothing. There is nothing wrong with liking something popular. There is only something wrong with liking things because everyone else does. Quality and Value are largely subjective views and we can always remind ourselves that there is no accounting for taste, but more so, if we only ever liked what was challenging and cerebral then our brains would overload and be at the constant risk of being pedantic and outright boring.

  22. GBS

      “If more than ten percent of the population likes a painting it should be burned, for it must be bad.”

  23. Sara Habein

      To echo other comments, I unashamedly like what I like. I don’t really have guilty pleasures. Am I occasionally too judgy? Sure, but we all can be sometimes. But I have no time for caring what other people think about the things I like. And I have no time for people insecurely wondering if it’s “okay” to like something. You don’t need permission.

  24. stephen

      I like pop music

  25. NLY

      ‘Popular’ isn’t ‘without merit’, ‘high’ is ‘low’, ‘low’ is high’, and maybe the thousandth time we have the conversation we’ll manage to remember we’ve had it. The idea that popular art isn’t inherently without value probably shouldn’t require a tentative blog post in its favor, at this point.

      The point as I conceive it has always been to see all art by the same standard. ‘High Art’ is not art sanctioned by a judging panel, but art which achieves high quality wherever it arises. We also have to be less polarized about which art we appreciate, which levels of quality we are willing discuss. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a ‘good’ movie, or an ‘okay’ song. If it has something in it that you specifically are spoken to by then you have every reason to like it, even if it’s straight up ‘bad’. The goal is to keep perspective, presumably, and not conflate all things you enjoy with each other. “I enjoy ‘X’ and I enjoy ‘X’, therefore they are automatic co-equals.”–rather, listen to “Bad Romance” with the same ear you listen to Monk or Mozart or The Shins with. Pay attention to how it speaks to you, and why. Unless you enjoy making lists the only real point to assessing quality is understand yourself and art more effectively. There is no prize and there is nothing to lose, not even respect.

      On the Roxane conversation, people weren’t disdainful of Frey because he was ‘popular’, from what I could pull out of the barely coherent exchanges. They were disdainful because he was in some way amoral and was not–to their best of their reckoning–an artist of quality. The equation wasn’t between ‘popular’ and ‘without quality’, it was between ‘asshole’ and ‘not worth supporting’. Whether or not any of that is true, I can’t say. I’ve got no dog in that race.

  26. Nathan Huffstutter

      From the outset, Roxane’s stance has been that she was not being brazen or heroic, but that she was guilelessly giving a shout-out to a novelist she enjoys. Personal aesthetics are personal and you’re right, they require no justification and no one should be judged on the basis of their taste in food, music, literature, fashion, etc.

      Looking at Roxane’s snippet post, however, at some point you have to apply Occam’s Razor. On the one hand, it is possible that despite teaching writing at the university level, despite co-editing a respected press, despite contributing to scores of web and print journals, and despite herself posting on this website about James Frey’s fiction sweatshop, it is still possible that she had no real inkling of Frey’s reputation and standing among people who read literary magazines and frequent lit-based websites.

      On the other hand, it is possible that she did recognize the level of contempt in which Frey is held, and that with the snippet she was throwing herself to the wolves so that she could turn around and unleash a little righteous indignation, and that when the wolves got uglier and uglier and more and more personal, then it’s possible that she anticipated certain white night peers would arrive on the scene and offer validation. And that well-meaning validation would truly be satisfying, since it would carry the weight of name contributors rather than alias-using commenters

      You get to choose what you think is the most likely explanation. I respect Kyle Minor’s writing and his contributions to this site, and I’ve always thought your posts were thought-provoking, so I would hate to think that you both have been co-opted into a drama that played at exactly as intended. But for you and Kyle, there are important distinctions: it is one thing to like eating at the Olive Garden from time to time, but it is another thing entirely to go onto a website for chefs and foodies and post “Hey, who else is psyched about the new O.G. Tuscan Trio?” It is one thing to enjoy Rihanna on your iPod, it is another thing to go onto a hardcore punk message board and post “who else is jamming to Umbrella right now?” And if you or Kyle were to do such a thing, you would have to look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself why you’d set yourself up for the inevitable abuse, and if that predictable abuse went on to entangle your friends and peers, then you might owe them an apology.

  27. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      I read this and thought, There is so much cocaine in this comment.

  28. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      “Opulence, I has it”

  29. deadgod

      Oh happy popularity – for martyrdom, sir, is what these people like: it is the only way in which a man can become famous without ability.

  30. deadgod

      my internet interface doesn’t have that app


  31. Bhirts

      ‘everyone’ likes sunshine but is anyone embarrassed for liking it? does anyone feel that it is ‘lowbrow’? ‘everyone’ likes to be loved by their parents, but some people are embarrassed by it, i.e. teenage boys who wish they were more bad ass, teenage girls who wish they were more aloof; but rarely would one of them, save maybe on the most superficial, jocular way, judge on of their friends for it. ‘everyone’ likes sex but a lot of people are embarrassed by it, people who are uncomfortable with base urges in themselves. Many of them don’t just feel embarrassed and contend with the problem themselves but condemn others who openly glorify and adulate sex as an act, sex as a state of mind, as an aesthetic.

  32. Bhirts

      most people don’t seem to have a problem ‘judging’ someone for liking child pornography.

  33. deadgod

      I loved Bright Shiny Morning so I’m really looking forward to this book.

  34. mimi

      i like lil wayne and lil jon
      i haven’t read stephen king or dean koontz
      i liked ‘the ring’ but haven’t seen any of the other movies by either of those directors, and i had to google michael bay
      the only song by rihanna that i like is her new s&m one

  35. Roxane

      That’s called an opinion.

  36. deadgod

      lily, do you wonder whether you “like” popular things – in those particular cases that you do – because they’ve been successfully engineered under the overriding calculation that you not dislike them? or, in other cases, that you’re afraid to reject them?

  37. Sean

      Wait, wait, this is a little unfair. Your history as a recommend-er and commenter on this site has in no way prepared us for James fucking Frey. I mean that was an outlier curve-ball. A slimy one, actually illegal in actual baseball to put snot on the ball, but I digress.

      My point is I thought a friend or relative hijacked your HTML account, the way people do with each other’s facebook. Etc.

      Having said all this, like Frey all you want. I like Velveeta.

  38. Roxane

      Nathan I knew about the Frey scandals and Bright Shiny Morning. I don’t know everything about every writer. I could have guessed I supPose but I didn’t know he was reviled as a writer. I didn’t even know there were comments on the thread until a friend texted me thus the day between when I posted and when i responded. My only issue is that the level of response is disproportionate to the amount of damn I gave to a throwaway post, very little.

  39. Sean

      A riot?

  40. Sean

      just drank a bottle of Shiraz and will now officially over-comment.

  41. JB

      “Man is what he reads.” / “Bad literature is a form of treason.”

  42. Arno

      “You see, for me [art] ‘s not one of life’s ornaments, to be greeted affably rococo relaxation after a day of hard work, I’m inverted on this: for me it’s my very breath, the one thing necessary, and all else is excretion and a latrine.”

  43. mimi

      a pop song lasts about 3 minutes and i can listen to it in my car driving to work
      i can dance to it while i’m getting myself dressed in the morning
      or at a party
      or with my daughter in the kitchen
      a movie lasts about 2 hours and i get to sit in the dark, usually with someone i like, and no one talks to me
      a book takes a word-hugger like me hours and hours of my precious free time to read, so it had better be worth (to me) my time and effort

      i think those are the crucial factors for me

  44. mimi

      ps – when i’m dancing in the kitchen with my daughter it is *not* to lil wayne or lil jon

  45. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      I was gonna make a joke about a website program called Google Blow but I just google’d it and there’s actually a website called Google Blow.

  46. Guestagain

      A person should be able to simply shut down and enjoy a song or movie or book for what it is and nothing more without feeling their judgment and critical faculties are being compromised by some evil conspiracy of manipulation, or that they are exposed to ridicule by repressive hipsters/cool people who have modeled themselves derivatively on prior art anyhow.

  47. deadgod

      It’s also called a push (push 3 b : to urge or press the advancement of) and a promotion (promote 2 c : to present for public acceptance through publicity), though shill (shill : one who acts as a decoy (as for a pitchman)), while capturing the flavor of enthusiasm, might not be commercially accurate.

      Many of the blogicles here – most of them – involve open-hearted pushes for and promotions of their contributors’ enthusiasms. Denials (deny 2 : to disclaim responsibility for) of this inoffensive perspective are less common.

  48. A. Art-

      “Those who live, live off the dead.”

  49. Guestagain

      can I get a witness!

  50. jtc

      this will probably get lost in the mix, but I think after years of hating pop music, then liking it, and now coming to a point where I again hate it for the most part, but hate it for informed reasons, and am still able to appreciate some aspects of probably every pop song, even though I rarely find one that I’m totally happy with, I think after all THAT I can say…

      Pop music is very easy to like. What you’re saying Lily to me sounds like someone being embarrassed about liking chocolate. Of course we like chocolate, especially the fucking processed chocolate we eat with 3 different types of syrup, a glaze made out of god knows what, and maybe a pinch of cocaine in there somewhere.

      People like pop because it’s easy, because it isn’t trying to do anything at all really. For the most part, this is why people like it and why people hate it.

      What it comes down to is what are you getting out of it? Chocolate=carbs, carbs, carbs. Pop music=some sort of vicarious experience, and listening to a quality beat.

      (Let me say here that although the lyrical content of pop music is chocolaty, mostly worthless, and although the structures are recycled like something that’s been recycled way too many times to have been worth it, the people behind pop music, making or sampling the melodies, the counter melodies, the rhythms and counter rhythms, are smart. These people know what they’re doing. I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I feel like it’s a bad thing, because, for the most part, I think mass appeal involves, somewhere, exploitation. I’m not sure why I feel this way, but I do.)

      But what I really get out of pop music, and this is why I’ve mostly stopped listening to it, is a lot of bullshit, melodrama, and insincerity. Pop music really is empty. It’s fun, but it’s empty, just like chocolate cake or masturbation.

      I’ll stop here, leave it at masturbation. I guess that’s why I’ve stopped listening to pop music. It wasn’t a conscious decision–just more and more, the more I listened to non-pop music, and the more I thought about it, I really couldn’t handle it. I have a negative physical response these days when ke$ha comes on the radio, or katie perry, or people…

      One other thing: part of my problem is that I always think about this issue of the message: what is the song trying to say. That’s why I don’t like pop music. That’s why it strikes me as vapid. But I can’t blame you for liking it. I like chocolate too. But, I really do believe there’s something to be said for vegetables, for boring stuff. Because it’s healthy, yes. But also because I do believe that eventually it will pay off, that the overall quality of life of a vegetable eater will be better than the person who settles for the quick fix of chocolate cake.

      And masturbation.

  51. lily hoang

      Hi Nathan, I wish I could go onto a hardcore punk message board right now and ask who else is jamming to k$sha. That would be an even less respectable scenario. I’m kidding (about k$sha: what’s in a name? Well, um, a lot.). I agree with some of what you’re saying here, but I’d say the comments on Roxane’s post were filled with vitriol that was entirely unwarranted, especially considering that the post did seem like a “throwaway” and/or vacant post.

  52. lily hoang

      You are clever. I like it.

  53. lily hoang

      Pretty sure I understood what you were trying to say. It’s just: the way you wrote it made it difficult to understand. I did not mean that your concept was too sophisticated for my little brain to understand. (It may be true. Sometimes, my little brain doesn’t “get” your sophisticated concepts, sure.) I doubt I’ll get that much smarter “in time” either. Sorry, Steve, I’m all out of epiphanies for a while.

  54. lily hoang

      Hi Deadgod, Sure, I know that people are engineered to like certain products and products are engineered for people to like them. So the last time I really listened to pop music/radio was in high school. I remember really liking Ace of Base and Alanis. Then, pop music wasn’t cool anymore. I started listening to indie music and NPR. Well, there’s no NPR station where I live so I started listening to the radio again, and woah, I realized there’s some interesting + fun music happening there too! I wasn’t afraid to reject pop music. I like it. Not everyone does. I just don’t want to be judged for liking what other people like, just because other people like it.

  55. lily hoang

      Hooray for Sean! I didn’t drink a bottle of Shiraz, but arguably, I’m also in a *terrible* position to be commenting.

  56. lily hoang

      Wait wait: you’re saying pop music is empty like chocolate cake or masturbation? When describing chocolate cake or masturbation, the very last word I would use is “empty.”

      I like vegetables and do not find them boring. I find them rather exciting and enticing.

  57. Scott mcclanahan

      I really like this post Lily.

  58. CW

      Maybe it’s just one of those things where we’re tired of hearing it (talk about ‘how good’ an overwhelmingly popular thing is, not the thing itself)…or not totally convinced people are actually thinking about it…so it’s exhausting to hear over and over opinions about a thing you’re not sure people are even actually thinking about…not that thinking is the most important thing…but it’s appealing, certainly…like when someone mentions an obscure author or musician you’re convinced no one will ever mention (convinced that you’re the only person who someone happened to notice this fantastic little thing tucked away)…that’s exhilarating because suddenly there’s someone to talk with about it…someone else is thinking about that obscure thing and you’re not alone. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAyKJAtDNCw

      I like a lot of pop music, sure…but just saying you like it, maybe, sometimes, is an annoying thing…like saying, well one of my favorite writers HAS to be Shakespeare, (DFW too fits in this category) do you know him? He’s really great…Maybe the best way of pronouncing your enjoyment of a pop song, or artist, playing on your iPod, Lily, would be to dance while you walk…dancing is, in a way, a deeply personal response…and one that, maybe, puts you in a vulnerable position…and reflects a high level of engagement with the music…i wish we could dance to books…Roxane kind of seems to.

  59. Nathan Huffstutter

      I’m interested in why people do the things they do, and one of my weaknesses is that I don’t see most actions as random or throwaway, even when that may in fact be the case. Again, I agree that the vitriol toward Roxane was unwarranted, though I would say it was predictable. A key distinction between your follow-up post or even Roxane’s Sweet Valley High post is that in these you both provided context and personal connections, whereas her so-called “vacant-post” had, to me, the appearance of a Kick-Me sign.

      On the one hand, this website is great in that it can guide you toward writers you might not otherwise know, it publicizes articles and essays of interest, and the content can make you laugh (thank you Jimmy Chen) and it can make you think (thank you Christopher Higgs).

      On the other hand, the site enables people’s least endearing qualities. For me, there’s the habit of shooting off opinions where my opinion isn’t necessary, a quality that tends to be exaggerated by the frustrations common to writer’s in the submission process. Instead of waiting 6-8 months for a cold form rejection, boom, HTMLGIANT, instant gratification. The content on the site enriches my life and writing, but the act of typing and posting comments comes from a place of vanity, isolation, rejection, need, etc, and even though I try to temper that with the accountability of using my real name, that doesn’t change the self-serving motivation.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is that if some people also have a lot of undirected anger, then this forum enables that as well. You might even argue that this enabling is part of the business model, or maybe it’s a complete coincidence that after I post a comment, my inbox then floods with offers for Lasik surgery, baldness cures, and discount auto insurance.

      Oh, and for the record, top two for plays on my iTunes last year: “Daniel’s Blues” by Strand of Oaks, indie acoustic, indie-cred with a Ghostbusters reference to boot, and Robyn’s swooning, acoustic piano version of “Dancing on my Own.” They coexist nicely.

      Rock on.

  60. mimi

      i have a lot of undirected goofiness tempered with the accountability of using my real nickname

  61. jtc

      again, i’m talking in terms of what we get out of it. enjoyment, yes. lasting enjoyment? anything beyond the very brief pleasure of it? no. not “empty” like the void, but “empty” like closer to the void than these other things. have you heard of “empty carbs?” This is what I’m talking about.

  62. deadgod

      That’s an important distinction, lily: if one likes something, and it turns out that many others also like it, one rejects the fake criticism that liking that thing is pernicious just because others like it. But that wording can be understood differently; it’s real criticism – criticism you might agree with – that liking something because others like it, and not separately from others’ reactions to it, is a Bad Thing Indeed — as Steven is saying, evidence of an easily and dangerously manipulable disposition ‘to herd together’.

      What I meant by “afraid to reject” was the ‘popular culture’ designed to provoke consumptive and political action (as opposed to the engineered likability of products that are themselves – along with a notional lifestyle – the ‘consumables’): marketing and propaganda (of the foxgoebbels school), respectively. ‘If you don’t use this detergent, your family’s clothes will be dirty, their days will be spoiled, and you will have failed them.’ ‘Your empirically compelled sense that the middle class has less of the total “money” than it did 30 years ago is being caused by the gardener and the maid and the dish washer.’ — that kind of thing.

      I think mimi’s emphasis on the differences between song, movie, and book is vital. One consumes a pop song – I do, anyway – while doing something else (driving, in my case; I don’t control my listening to a radio or CDs any other time). It’s a soundtrack which, while grabbing one’s attention briefly, let’s go as easily as it’s let go of. A film is a different kind of commitment of attention, and more is wasted in the case of sensation-calculated corner-cutting. Writing fritters away – or rewards – a third kind of attentiveness: absorption in the stuff of “being that can be understood” in spaced units of devotion of that understanding.

      I didn’t like Ghostbusters – I thought that, given the resources spent on the movie ($$$, Bill Murray), it was a moronically sensational save-the-world-from-bad-magick confection, and those flicks leave me feeling ripped off. I wasn’t feeling or thinking about the show 15 minutes after I walked away from the theater. A comparable pop entertainment that I do “like” is sports. – take the Super Bowl (just for a minute). This year, I was greatly entertained for four hours or so (1/2-time ‘show’ excluded) – the temporal equivalent of, say, a Stalker/Cries and Whispers double feature. So, in this way, although I’m an eager elitist – Ghostbusters was lousy – , I’m also a little bit of a hypocrite.

      But, for me, when it comes to writing – and let me leave aside for a moment the Subjectivity Rap – : man, if it’s not good (and I didn’t “like” it when I was a kiddie), forget it. Whether or not there’s a conscious conspiracy to do so to nefarious ends, one’s mind is being (re-)(counter-)(dys-)programmed directly by words, and, if one isn’t willing to make an intolerable wrestle with Agenda Clarity a part of one’s reading, then I think that person is responsible – blame-worthy – for becoming (a little bit at an accumulating time) not-responsible.

      Puritanism? Not really – nobody’s taking away blockbuster fare from the plex, and Cameron’s not living on peanut butter and Ramen. Why, look at the defensive outrage a little self-righteous blow-back gets! (“Self-righteous”? – I am “right” — ha ha ha.)

      sugar, sugar + highway to hell + all that she wants = radio loud enough to turn pedestrian heads

  63. Don

      Rihanna’s performance at the NBA all-star game was awesome.

      (ps. San Antonio lost today!)

  64. postitbreakup

      NOT that I’m participating (heh heh) but as someone who also posts half-formulated thoughts on here and then gets frustrated that my poor expression of them detracts from their meaning, I would like to offer the following revision of that sentence.

      “No one called James Frey’s writing shitty because of its popularity/sales numbers, they called it shitty because it is.”

      (NOTE–I don’t care about James Frey outside of what I’ve already posted on here, and haven’t read more than a few pages of his, I’m just trying to get across what I think STaugustine’s point was without the potential for confusion or ad hominem.)

      Because I share that POV, except not only about JF. There are some things that are popular but also great (DFW’s work), and many many things that are popular that aren’t great. I’m sure there are SOME people who dislike something because of its popularity, but I think MOST people (especially people on here) dislike things that are awful, and then, SECONDARILY, are dismayed that a lot of awful things happen to be popular. Blaming dislike on popularity is missing the point.

      Also, just statistically, the more people like something, the more people that will have been exposed to it and also have a chance to dislike it. It’s easy to post somewhere about obscure writers/songs that nobody’s heard of and expect few responses, positive or negative. But when you post about somebody that’s on the bestseller lists or the top 10 radio/iTunes or grossed 100’s of millions at the box office, you’re going to get a LOT more responses–again, both positive and negative.

      ALSO, I truly believe that there’s an effect when something is popular that makes people who don’t like it feel a stronger need to discuss their dislike, as a reaction. It’s not that they initially disliked whatever it was because of its popularity, it’s that, now that it’s SO popular, the people who initially disliked whatever it was because of their own aesthetic (or moral!) reasons now feel on the defensive, rightly or wrongly. Or that there’s an “emperor has no clothes” effect going on, which has always been an extremely frustrating feeling for me when I have felt it.

      Like, I really can’t stand _____ based on his writing style and _____. But if there weren’t people constantly gushing about him, he would just be someone minor to dislike. But when I am bombarded by exultant posts about him, I feel like everyone has drank the Kool-Aid and I have an urge to shout, “wake up!” that wouldn’t have been there if I weren’t bombarded by everyone saying “He’s so great, so unique, so the voice of a generation, blahblahblah”.

      Note that this urge is not any more right/wrong than the urge to judge people based on their tastes (discussed in Lily’s initial post), but it’s also distinct from that urge. Again, the popularity of crap amps up people’s already-present dislike of crap, but it’s not the sole or initial or even most significant reason for their disliking crap in the first place.

  65. postitbreakup

      God dammit. correction: *also “HAS POSTED”. I’m not saying STAugustine consistently posts any one way or another, I’m ONLY talking about that one sentence and about confusion I have caused too.

  66. STaugustine

      That’s pretty funny! But, seriously. Lily picking on the one sentence she found inelegant enough to “attack” points to the low rate at which I turn out sentences inelegant enough to attack (and the weakness of Lily’s overall argument). Remember: it wasn’t a sentence from a short story, an essay or even a blogicle: it was a sentence from an unedited, on-the-fly comment…. the substance of which Lily very wisely avoided engaging with.

      The core of my comment was this: “only the most esoteric, and well-established, literary genius on earth could claim to find literary elements of any real and/or unique value in Frey’s material and *still* be considered “credible” (ahem) as a Lit Critic or Writer”. Translation: Lily’s friend Roxane has outed herself as a not-very-perceptive critic by gushing over the work of a shitty writer.

      If a talented chef says she/he sometimes eats Big Macs because they’re fast and taste good in a crappy way that’s a fun contrast to the finer food she/he is used to… sure. But that’s not how Roxane framed her praise. If you can think clearly and understand the overall topic, the conclusion to draw is that Roxane has outed herself as someone who knows what she likes but doesn’t know very much about Lit, despite the extra-literary factors (mostly socio-political) which have gifted her with the “credentials” to bluff it as any kind of “authority” regarding the Art.

      It’s her faux-authority and her subsequent Pied Piper (or Judas goat?) function that I object to as damaging to Literature-as-Art. “Whatever that is”, as a tone-deaf bluffer once put it.

      If anyone thinks I’m picking exclusively on Roxane, I’m not. I have a problem with Ed Champion for the same reason (though Ed and Roxane make very different presentations and Ed is arguably a bigger threat to impressionable proto-writers). I sometimes have a “problem” with Tao Lin, too, but not because he can’t write… because he can definitely write (whether or not his mercenary instincts will keep him in a larval state until his talent dries up).

      Call me “mean-spirited” and an “ass hole” etc. I welcome it. As long as you think seriously about the serious points I’m making. I deliberately avoid “online friendships” because they always, in the end, render frank discussion taboo… too many “friends” to protect/worry about. Unless all of your online friends are lofty, super-capable geniuses, a “friend” or a “friend-of-a-friend” is going to be hurt/offended when you have a frank discussion on a topic of any importance.

      *After the web of “friends” in any online community is sufficiently developed, that particular community develops the IQ (and sensitivity to offense) of its dullest member.*

      Which is an elegant argument in defense of “incivility”… if you really think about it. “Really thinking about it” is usually what I’m advocating in one of these skirmishes.

  67. STaugustine

      “The only similarity is that they are both “best sellers.”

      Which is exactly why your point was ridiculous.

  68. Yikes

      Wow, here’s a question… who is worse:

      Lily and Roxanne for liking James Frey and Rihanna, or Steve Augustine for writing 10,000-plus words telling them why they shouldnt like it? I mean, are the people in your “real life” as bored of the droning sound of your voice as I am of the droning sound of what you type?

      PS – I dislike Frey, Rihanna, and Steve Augustine in about equal measure. But at least Frey and Rihanna have managed to turn whatever talent they have into something tangible. It would be even sadder if they – like Steve Augustine – were relegated to sniping from the sidelines…

  69. STaugustine

      Are you saying you won’t be my buddy?

  70. lily hoang

      Geez Don, first you call my team boring, then rub it in when they lose. I’ll be laughing when my boring team takes it all. (Or, I’ll be laughing too when they don’t. B/c it matters little to me, ultimately, once a game is over, it’s over. Also: Manu’s hurt, so it’s hard to say what’ll happen.)

      And I didn’t see that performance but I am YouTubing it now. Thanks!

  71. lily hoang

      Thank you Scott McClanahan. You are nice.

  72. lily hoang

      I would love to be in the car beside your car, Deadgod. I would love to see you rocking out. If I found a magic genie who would grant me infinite wishes, that would be one of them. If I found a magic genie who gave me only three wishes – etc – I would probably wish for something else. Maybe.

  73. lily hoang

      To clarify, I just said your sentence was difficult for me to understand. It wasn’t meant maliciously in any way. Then, you, Saint A, swooped in with yr majorly condescending tone and told me to wait for your genius fucking epiphany to kick in, if I just think on yr brilliance long enough. (Even YOU have to admit it was a pretty dick thing to say to someone.) You responded, which prompted my bitter/sarcastic response. I shouldn’t have played into it. I was being an insecure jerk.

      I like you, Steven. Let’s not fight. I didn’t/don’t think you were/are “picking on” Roxane or me. This is just how you operate on the Internet: a bit abrasive and righteous. I get it. I’m that way too. A lot of us are. Survival.

  74. lily hoang

      That was actually not my point. My point was that popularity doesn’t dictate the level of art, which was why I compared Frey (best seller) and DFW (best seller). You were the one to suggest I was putting them in the same category (other than best seller).

  75. STaugustine

      Lily, I wasn’t being “condescending”, I was saying *sarcastically* that if you read the sentence slowly, you’d “get” it… because I knew (as you know) that it wasn’t about you getting that sentence or not. Right? It was just flamewar 101. No prob.

      I’m only “fighting” whoever comes in for a “fight”. But I’m also making several points (some of which aren’t “nice”). I’m compelled to make these points because I take Lit-as-Art seriously. My points aren’t intended for anyone who sneers, automatically, at “Lit-as-Art”. HTMLGIANT has a wide readership; I’m using it, right now, as a platform to communicate with the handful of people, scattered in the broader field, who are open to my argument. Every little bit counts! I’m not trying to change people who like James Frey or Rhianna.

  76. STaugustine

      Who suggested that “popularity dictates the level of art”? I certainly didn’t. Straw man? One of the books that had the biggest impact on me as a youngish reader was a bestseller by Milan Kundera.. and Harlan Ellison was my favorite author (when I was a teen)

  77. STaugustine

      (and if there were inelegant sentences in those last comments it’s because I’m also uploading new episodes of “Ben and Holly’s Magical Kingdom” to my daughter’s PC, while also dealing with her lunch)

  78. STaugustine

      (and if there were inelegant sentences in those last comments it’s because I’m also uploading new episodes of “Ben and Holly’s Magical Kingdom” to my daughter’s PC, while also dealing with her lunch)

  79. mimi

      hey professa, i just googled ‘ben and holly’s magical kingdom’
      and, my favorite authors as a teen were wiesel and kosinski
      i was less goofy back then

  80. Djuna

      Deaddog, “was the sea created first, or the fish, or the fish [sic] vender?”

  81. STaugustine

      “wiesel and kosinski”

      Jeezis, Mimi! (laugh) Morbid Teen much..?

      (and re: “professa”… you’re thinking of DG with that, I’m sure)

      Now Google “Peppa Pig”… if you have an under-5er in the house, he/she will love it

  82. AC

      Ding. Ding

  83. mimi

      not so much morbid as serious
      i was trying to get in touch with my jewish roots (one fourth)
      i was trying to understand the flight from bucharest to the south side of chicago where zisu became a grocer
      i was trying to understand my jewish nana (a difficult person to understand, still)
      w & k helped

      these days i’m more into reznor, rihanna, lil wayne, peppa pig and the like

  84. STaugustine

      Re: Rihanna: I have to admit I heard a mashup of a Rihanna song-meets-“Blue Monday” that kicked my ass a year or two back (in the way Cee-Lo Green singing Reckoner did, in a way) but I suspect if you’d spent much of the past 20 years in recording studios (composing is my chief source of income since around 2002), as I have, the Rihanna-GaGa-Britney monster (with its meh-vox and recycled hooks) would lose some of its mystery (laugh). When I hear those tracks I hear top-notch engineering and little else… but that’s just me! I also think Rihanna was “sexy” before they started styling her like a clown to compete with GaGa Cola.

  85. mimi

      gotta admit i’m a sucker for engineered loops (i to be like repetitively mesmerized for up to ten minutes – ahem) (donna summer ‘i fell love’, ravel’s ‘bolero’) and mashups and hooks (and reznor’ed hotmk)
      but still, quality (‘whatever that is’) of sound prevails for me
      in other words, i know what i like
      and i like what i like and i listen to it in my car or when i’m getting myself awake for the day
      (also, agree with you on the latter day rihanna clownish red wigs – blecchhh)

  86. mimi

      gotta admit i’m a sucker for engineered loops (i to be like repetitively mesmerized for up to ten minutes – ahem) (donna summer ‘i fell love’, ravel’s ‘bolero’) and mashups and hooks (and reznor’ed hotmk)
      but still, quality (‘whatever that is’) of sound prevails for me
      in other words, i know what i like
      and i like what i like and i listen to it in my car or when i’m getting myself awake for the day
      (also, agree with you on the latter day rihanna clownish red wigs – blecchhh)

  87. mimi

      *feel* not fell

  88. Nathan Huffstutter

      I would say this comment goes in the “worse” category for the lack of parallelism in the second sentence, “Lily and Roxane for liking James Frey and Rihanna…” which improperly links Lily with Frey and Roxanne with Rihanna. In art, attention to detail is one of the prime individuating factors, and the lack of that attention is part of what STaugustine has been railing against. The comment also seems to be simultaneously denouncing and wielding identical tactics, implicating the nastiness of STaugustine’s words while belittling him as a person who is “…relegated to sniping from the sidelines…”

      STaugustine articulates passionate opinions and he stands behind them. The fact that he has the time to articulate his opinions (“…writing 10,000 words) does not in any way invalidate those opinions. The fact that those opinions come from the “sidelines” does not in any way marginalize them.

      The most dubious thing about STaugustine’s comments are the deliberately scab-picking, salt-throwing digs he takes at Roxane by suggesting she owes her standing to “socio-political” factors. At this point, he is no longer speaking for himself, he is presuming to speak for all the editors who have accepted Roxane’s work, the faculty who hired her, the readers who appreciate her work on its own terms, suggesting that all these individuals must have had extra-literary motives. This in turn casts doubt about STaugustine’s own motives, and you have to wonder where he has crossed the line from pure literary criticism and into the personal realm of axe-grinding.

      Sometimes it’s a good idea to step back and appreciate Mimi’s “undirected goofiness.” I don’t know anything about her, but I smiled a huge smile at the image of Mimi dancing in the kitchen with her daughter. My little girls like The Supremes and Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, and hearing a two-year old say “put on please Thao with the Get Down Stay Down” can, in and of itself, make you forget about scab-picking and salt throwing for several hours.

  89. STaugustine

      “gotta admit i’m a sucker for engineered loops”

      vintage Chemical Brothers + Aphex Twin + Tomcraft and even Olive (first album)… sure!

  90. STaugustine

      Appreciate the clear-eyed comment. I only want to point out that the overlap between “literary criticism” and my “personal realm of axe-grinding” has been, pretty explicitly, near-100%, since my first comment. This shit bugs the fuck out of me. What I mean by “this shit” is explained in my previous “10,000 words”. Again: of course I’m an ass-hole and of course people will be irritated/outraged/offended. I’m not casual enough about “Lit-as-Art” to dissemble diplomatically. If I can inspire one proto-writer to turn away from the safety of the herd and seek serious standards against which to develop… (and so on)

  91. mimi

      we like SOS by abba

  92. Nathan Huffstutter

      Assholes say things they don’t believe. Assholes say things without thinking. Assholes repeat the obvious for no reason other than to curry favor. I don’t think you’re an asshole. I don’t agree with everything you say and I don’t agree with every rhetorical barb you throw, but I do agree that literature should be a dogged pursuit of serious excellence (or serious funny or serious intrigue or serious whatever, so long as the standard is quality). I do agree that settling for mediocrity and encouraging sameness can have more crippling effects than mere mediocrity or sameness. For what it’s worth, I’ll be your buddy.

  93. STaugustine

      The perfect way to end my part in this thread would be to argue with you (with the polarity set to “reverse”) about whether I’m an ass-hole or not, Nathan… but I don’t have the energy to right now! laugh (but trust me: I *am*, buddy!)

  94. kb

      No. You can’t just say anyone who dismisses “pop culture (indusrty)” type swaddling does so out of superiority. There are real undercurrents within a whole lot of it that accumulate to produce some very real problems, to human subjects and society as a whole. I can’t sit here and say, like, well, Nietzsche and Adorno, those guys were just being elitist cranks with gold rings and etc. Maybe those dudes had egos, but they weren’t tearing everything down because of their egos.

      If it weren’t for being dissatisfied with what is continually presented to us through the media machine, where would any of us be? In high school or whenever we didn’t like the crap everyone else liked so we found new things. The definitions of high or low brow or whatever are weird though. I think Hank Williams is pretty much my favorite musician. Some people think that’s low brow, some think it’s cool ironically, old fashioned, actually rather emotionally/psychologically deep and haunting, etc. I don’t know where I would place him in the high/middle/low spectrum. What he was when he was alive and what he is now is different. He was pretty much pop culture back then.

  95. deadgod

      Most of the not-many mesh-ups I’ve heard (on youtube) were weak: the mixers mashed where motive mixology would have meshed.

      – but, for me, a terrific exception is 99 Problems/Voodoo Chile. (Not much of a Jay Z fan – musically dull – ; that Hendrix cut is my All-time Favorite rock-n-roll track, which might dilute my (already thin?) recommendation.)

  96. deadgod

      1. time; 2. health; 3. travel.

      (- in case that genie gives you the task of passing out three wishes each to infinity acquaintances.)

  97. deadgod

      1. time; 2. health; 3. travel.

      (- in case that genie gives you the task of passing out three wishes each to infinity acquaintances.)

  98. deadgod

      The first (chicken) egg came from two birds that were almost chickens. (Thanks, Charles and Alfred.)

      The sea – and gobbets of sticky clay – spawned the fish that evolved into briny fishmongers.

      Each Djuna is a condition for the possibility of its ancestors.

  99. Yikes

      Jesus Christ get a room, you pair of shameless ball munchers. Reading this nonsense I feel like I’m listening to what Steve Augustine says to himself in the mirror before he begins his nightly ritual of shoving his greased fist up his asshole and massaging his prostate until he ejaculates over his pristine set of first edition Proust lithographs.

  100. Steve Augustines purple lesion

      (I noticed something about you, Steve. I like how you mention you have a kid in this kind of “well, I’m doing XYZ for my kid as I type this…” type of way every time you’re being a particularly asshole-ish asshole. You did it a few times before, and if I cared more about this I would look it up, but people will have to just take my word here because I cant be bothered. When you do it its as if youre trying to say – “hey – I have a kid who I take care of, so I cant be ALL bad, right?” But , you know, everybody’s parents are assholes, and that device is getting old, buddy. )

  101. EC

      And we all know what “tangible” means, right, Mr. Lesion? $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$!!!!!! So come on, Mr. Augustine — if you’re so smart, how come you’re not rich?

  102. mimi

      thanks ‘guys’ (deaders & SA) for your inputs, (tomcraft! olive!) fun ! i like
      also, like ‘mesh-ups’ as, yeah, like, there should be meshing
      (agree with you on the J-Z – only like the ‘hard knock life thing’ – or wait, is that kanye? – hold on, i’ll be right back – )
      hold on i’m commenting too fast w/o fact-checking wiki-checks

  103. STaugustine

      Who sez I *ain’t* ritch, bitch?

      (btw thanks for sock-puppeting me in this thread while I took my daily Moet colonic, EC… you wrote exactly what I’d have written if I hadn’t been busy with a platinum funnel up my ass, speaking Swedish with my “nurse” and licking the private parts on my prize teacup pig… owe you one!)

  104. STaugustine

      Yikes, I must say, if you’re trying to get me to be your buddy… it’s working! Where do we start, Buddy? Hey, let’s tell each other stuff we’ve never told ANYONE before! You go first…!

  105. STaugustine

      No, Buddy, I am a TOTAL ass-hole! I’m not kidding! I mention my kid because that’s usually what’s happening when I’m sitting at the keyboard… my kid is drawing or singing or eating lunch etc because I’m spending the day at home with her. I’m only NOT a total ass hole with my family and close friends: with them I’m Mr Wonderful. Everyone else I am a fucking TOTAL ASS HOLE to. Not being facetious. My favorite experiences were making a Jehovah’s Witness cry and a Scientologist shout at me in public. I am not “nice”.

  106. Nathan Huffstutter

      If Steve did this “nightly,” would the first edition lithographs still be pristine?

  107. STaugustine

      Duh, Nathan: Edenic jism, for one thing!

  108. STaugustine

      I like how this thread is ending up like one of those quasi-post-mod movies of the ’60s… eg Casino Royale (orig)… the go-carts, gorilla-suit and pie fights finale!

  109. STaugustine

      “1. time; 2. health”

      3. 75 more wishes

  110. deadgod

      I thought it wasn’t necessary for genies to stipulate that ‘each “wish” is precisely a wish and can only include 1 (one) wish’.

      If I get a genie who forgets that Implicit Stipulation, or is its own lawyer, or has trouble with oxymorons, my list will only have one element: 1. two more wishes.

  111. Guestagain

      I enjoyed reading this, it’s close to my view; dance is one criterion for good pop music (the beat/melody/lyric triad) which despite its vapid disposability and simplicity is, like anything else, still very difficult to do well. If you don’t agree then try it, just try to write a good pop song that puts people into the dance trance and captures or propels the mnstrm cultural moment for only this moment, it’s deceptively difficult and not so much to formula as it appears, and there are thousands who attempt it and fail. If you take the couture and celebrity and media persona away from Lady Gaga, it’s obvious that this girl Stefani is a great songwriter and artist and getting balled up in assessing everything in terms of serious art is missing the joie de vie and just dancing and that’s kind of a shame, I keep reading this damn site because I’m astonished at the level of intellect and insight here, but kind of feel bad for you guys sometimes, you might consider broadening your horizons and letting out your inner moron.

  112. EC

      milk sugar

  113. Don

      Manu being hurt is no excuse because Memphis is missing Rudy Gay. Tim Duncan got destroyed by Randolph and Gasol. It was awesome.

  114. Tyneduncan

      There is nothing wrong with liking what other people like as long as you don’t dismiss something which is different or shocking.People see or listen to things which they are comfortable with,anything which doesn’t fall into this category is not accepted and called rubbish.That’s why it is good to have an open mind about everything.
      Nice blog!