It’s a conversation we’ve all had before. You’re sitting with one of your indie, Mile-End hipster friends at Bagel’s Etc. finishing off the remainder of your baked potatoes and, misfortunate as you are to be hung-over, you make the cognitively unsound decision to utter aloud, “Dude… Leonard Cohen’s music fucking sucks.”
Faster than you’ve ever seen a quasi-alcoholic move into action, your spirited friend makes the leap to town pride overdrive, accusing you of having an overblown superiority complex.
“That’s just your fucking opinion, man. You have to go on stating that shit as fact? Am I not allowed to enjoy Leonard Cohen’s music just because ‘Mr-the-ultimate-barometer-for-what-sucks’ over here can’t grapple with the fact that something he believes in could possibly be wrong?”
And so you think to yourself, “Shit. My friend hasn’t showered in three days, but he may be right. Maybe it was pompous of me to state my opinion as fact. Maybe I should cut that shit out.”
Today I’m here to tell you that you absolutely, positively should not cut that shit out.
We’ve reached a day and age where words like “indie,” “expressionism,” or even “music” have become such umbrella terms that people feel the only barometer by which to evaluate artistry is one’s own opinion of it. And if that isn’t pompous, I don’t know what is.
Fact is, there are (and always ought to be) objective criteria by which all music, film and visual art can be judged qualitatively. We’ve just grown so accustomed to this “individual opinion matters” mumbo-jumbo that we’ve become lazy in our appraisals. Picture the same scenario described above, except this time instead of buckling like a belt when verbally attacked, throw back a punch.
“I never said you weren’t allowed to enjoy Leonard Cohen’s music… just so long as you recognize that it indisputably sucks harder than Anna Nicole Smith in a room full of millionaires.”
Indisputably, muthafucka! Now you’ve got his attention.
“I mean, the dude’s a great poet, don’t get me wrong, but he can’t bloody sing. And don’t give me that ‘well, it’s part of the charm’ crap because you won’t meet a single person on this planet who wouldn’t rather hear Jeff Buckley sing one of his tunes than the man himself. Gravelly voice my ass. It’s like having sandpaper drawn across your exposed kidneys. Might even be tolerable Q92 listening, but his use of backup vocals is tackier and more needlessly overused than Eric Clapton’s, and the instrumental parts are soulless and uninspired.”
And there you have it. His opinion means nothing because you’ve laid down the facts. Someone with less than an octave vocal range and monotonous delivery is a bad singer. Excessive gospel backup vocals are tedious and just plain tasteless. Uninspired music is, well, uninspired.
The same goes for film and theatre. Be analytical, ask yourself: is the camera work distinct and inventive? Are the performances credible and do they appropriately reflect the intentions of the work? Does the screenplay have loose ends and frivolous dialogue or is it a tightly-woven piece? Has proper attention been paid to set decoration and costuming? Do the actors make good use of and react suitably to their space and surroundings?
In brief, this is a prompt of sorts. Don’t just accept whatever the American Film Institute says. Instead, take the initiative to ask a Concordia film student why Citizen Kane is indeed one of the most formidable films of the past century. It is important to take the initiative to know what’s what when it comes to art, as opposed to just falling back upon mere opinions. Paying even cursory attention to the small details in art/film/music history can drastically enhance your ability to measure the subtle difference between good art and merely average works. That and you won’t have to feel guilty over breakfast anymore.