This blog is slowly devolving into a forum for unfocused reposts of my rants from other outlets. Here is my attempt to cleanse my Twitter feed of a hour-long vent. Don’t expect a particularly cogent or well-structured argument.
Neither do I intend this as the last word on the subject; this is just me, trying to get a hold of my own perspective on a thing. Once I’ve got that nailed down, I can start to cross reference and see how it measures against other perspectives. Until that point I’m just caught in the mire of my own reactions.
So. Here we go. Down the tunnel, 140 characters at a time.
I have real trouble appreciating anything in its own right. I always think, what is it in aid of? What does it help me to do or understand? What is the larger implication of the thing? What constructive role does it play as a part of the whole? What does it say, that this exists?
If the answer is nothing, that it’s just special because it exists, and someone worked really hard at it, and I couldn’t do it myself, well. I guess that’s nice for the person who did the thing. Must have been exhilarating. If I know the person well, then maybe I can empathize.
An original creative work — to create something lasting, for people to use and interpret forever — will always be somewhat meaningful. But the more that performance creeps in and trumps the raw, formal architecture of the thing, clouding it in the ephemeral, the less I care.
This may be in part why I so enjoy forms like animation and videogames, where performance is minimized in favor of raw, original creation. Here, I think, a person has built something — from the ground up, measuring every brick. Every part is there because it suits the whole. Nothing is left to chance, without that accident in turn being caught and measured and carefully incorporated into the final message.
I love a carefully built studio album, especially by a single author or small creative team. A live performance…it’s a fleeting variation. It’s special because someone trained really hard to perform it without flaws, or to put a fleeting creative spin on it, in that one moment. And I guess that’s great for that person. But how is this performance useful or innately interesting? What does it do for, or say to, me?
Something like Trent Reznor’s live show I can get behind, because it’s a show; through his set pieces he layers a new meaning on every song. It’s something he has thought through on every level to give his audience a new and original experience. It’s not just special because it is. It’s not special because, wow, listen to Robin Finck’s guitar solo! Didn’t he nail it tonight! Or wow, listen to Reznor’s vocal range!
By the same measure I have trouble singling out skilled acting performances as meaningful in their own right. If they help the whole, great! If that performance is a useful piece of the overall architecture of the film or TV show, then I can appreciate its contribution to that.
That is, I appreciate it to the extent that it serves the message of the thing, which I appreciate to the extent that it enlightens me. And in turn I appreciate that specific enlightenment to the extent that it affects my broader understanding of life and my own observations; to the extent that a thing contributes to something, that contributes to something, that contributes to making life more meaningful for me.
I guess it comes down to subjectivity in the end, which everything has got to when all we can ever know for sure is what we sense ourselves. And by that extension I guess you could call this a relative self-centered perspective, on a grade of these things.
But that’s the thing. You don’t have to care about my self-centered perspective except to the extent that it helps you to understand your own. But neither do I. I have no reason to care about something that exists just for its own sake, to appreciate in its own right, because someone accomplished it.
It’s great when people accomplish things. I don’t begrudge them that. I’m all for meaningless little private victories. When they’re private.
If I’m going to appreciate something, by the selfish nature of my existing as a person, I’m going to appreciate it because it affects me. And the things that have the most meaningful effect on a person are the things constructed with the most care and thought, for that effect.
The things that are most useful are the things that are built especially for that use. They are tools, whatever form they might take.
I like a tool. I appreciate a tool. I can use a tool. A tool is constructive, or more accurately is built to facilitate my construction. I’m not going to fetishize a tool or put it on a pedestal for its craftsmanship. I’m going to appreciate a tool by how well it works for me.
Everything good that we do as a people is part of an overall mission to build a better environment, a better understanding for our future. It’s not a linear path because the world is too complex, but everything that is built to aid in building something good is itself virtuous.
Meanwhile those things that are contrived only to be appreciated in their own right serve only to stunt and stymie that necessary progress. I’m not saying that a guitar solo is going to destroy the world. I’m saying that the lack of a forward momentum bogs us down in confusion.
The point isn’t that this person can or did play guitar really well. The point is the precise thing that he played, in its correct context. And if that specific series of notes and rests, as performed, does nothing to aid or constructively influence the message of the whole, then boo.
It’s showboating. It’s narcissism. And in most cases it’s probably not there to draw attention to these properties and make us question them. It’s saying, hey, look at me! I am innately special just because I exist and I’m doing a thing!
And, no you’re not. If you can help, great! If you’re just amusing yourself, then great! But I am not here to bow down and suck your toes because you’re so wonderful. If you’re doing a thing that helps me out, I will appreciate it. And that’s basically what it comes down to.
Okay, sorted that out for myself. Now I can go retract it from everyone else’s face. Sorry about that, people.