Against the Current, No. 38, May/June 1992
I WAS AMUSED by Jesse Lemisch and Naomi Weisstein’s defense of commodity fetishism (“Cornucopia Isn’t Consumerism … ” ATC 36). While I agree with them that the left must fight for roses as well as bread, I feel that they err in equating political values and cultural aesthetic.
They label those who oppose “the dominant contemporary media aesthetic–glossy, electronic, colorful, fast-moving”–as “puritanical.” I think this is untrue, and unfair. One does not need to be a puritan or a socialist to find MTV (for example) overwhelmingly ugly.
Of course cultural values are to a large degree earned, and ethnic puritans and red-diaper babies are probably more apt to find MTV ugly than are other groups in the population. On the other hand, the majority of those who find MTV ugly are probably neither red-diaper babies or ethnic puritans. Which proves that, thank goodness, culture is also to some degree a matter of individual taste, dominant or not.
I am aware that the snobbery which surrounds much of what the authors call “militant amateurism” is real. I would submit that it is typical of the efforts of an oppressed cultural minority–in this case, the left–to maintain itself and survive against a hostile majority. The snobbery may be offputting, but in the case of many of us, the aesthetic sensibility which the snobbery seeks to defend is painfully sincere.
I will agree that it is not morally wrong for the authors, or anyone else, to enjoy MTV, or their Griffin 300XL, or whatever. I hope the authors will also agree that it is neither wrong nor puritanical for some of us to choose to dance to a different drummer.
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September-October 1992, ATC 40