Celebrating Mediocrity

January 30, 2009

mcdonalds-coffee

My brother commented on one of my articles recently suggesting I make a list of hit films, books and songs that, although very popular, are not good in the artistic or critical sense; in other words, what’s my top ten hit media items that I feel are really just crap?

Well, this isn’t really that. This isn’t a countdown of what’s the worst popular junk in systematic dissection, this is more an article about the enthusiasm for mediocrity as a whole.

There’s a recent TV commercial for McDonald’s, a company I loathe almost as much as Wal Mart. In the commercial two young guys are in a traditionally “trendy” looking coffee shop. Both are wearing glasses, one is reading a book. Both speak in low, stereotypical “pretentious” voices. One says to the other “did you know McDonald’s sells coffee now?” The other says “well what are we doing here then?” He whips his glasses off saying he doesn’t really need them. He says he’s tired of sitting in coffee shops and talking about “films” and that he really just enjoys “sitting and watching football.” The other agrees but concedes he actually does need his glasses.

So really, this commercial is showing that there is no need to go to a trendy independent coffee shop where poetry readings and acoustic open mic sessions are  held and where people discuss art, film and philosophy. No, now you can go to McDonald’s and get a dollar cappuccino and take it home to sit on your couch and watch football till your brain drips out your ear from the numbness of average, ordinary mediocrity.

I’m not going to get into a criticism of football. I’ve written about baseball often on this site, if you click on “baseball” at the bottom of the page and read back at all of my baseball articles from last year you’ll even see at least two that comment on why I feel baseball is a superior sport to football on various levels. That’s not something to get into yet again here. I don’t loath football, I’m just not a fan. Perhaps it’s somewhat silly for me to equate baseball as a symbol of positive American values and football as a symbol of negative American values, but it’s mainly just for fun in my case. No, I’ve been known to watch a super bowl occasionally (I’ll definitely tune in to the halftime show this year because Bruce Springsteen is my favorite musician of all time). Not everyone who watches football is a symbol of mediocrity, but the idea that there’s nothing better for the average guy than to sit on his couch and watch football all day, possibly eating fast-food, is a bit of mediocrity celebration.

On a smaller scale, much of what is incredibly popular is insanely mediocre. Your typical active rock radio station plays the most uninspiring new rock imaginable (Nickleback anyone?). Hip Hop stations play the same club jam and pop rap hit like “Live Your Live,” “Apple Bottom Jeans” (Re-Remix), or a mash up between Justin Timberlake, Akon and Bow Wow. Country stations wallow in mediocrity. Alt-country, classic country or even slightly edgy country will not be on the radio–instead get ready for Toby Keith, Big & Rich or any number of other brain numbing works. A slew of mediocre books were turned into mediocre films over the past months ( Marley and Me, He’s Just Not That Into You, Confessions of a Shopaholic). I’ve mentioned authors that churn out sub-par work on a regular basis that manage to sell truckloads worth of books (James Patterson post-the first five Cross novels, Nicholas Sparks, many would say “Twilight” ).

The point is, quite often very unintelligent, unoriginal, and utterly crappy material becomes very successful, be it music, movie or book. I can list a lot but there’s really no point. Why do such things appeal to so many people? Many would say that they are safe, middle of the road affairs that appeal to the lowest common denominator so that they can reach the widest group of people. Typically such things don’t require too much thought, too much absorption and concentration or any measure of taste cultivation. Really, the best of any medium quite often requires the reader, listener or viewer to participate in the process a bit by thinking, involving themselves in the field to better understand the author or artist. So what makes this troublesome is not that people like “crap.” People are different, they can like anything they want to. What’s problematic is that the better work is too often buried underneath mediocrity, pushed out of stores to make room for the top selling garbage, and ignored by the radio stations, TV stations and book stores.

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