[Originally published Jul. 24, 2012.]
Wilson asks the question: Why does everyone hate Céline Dion? Except, of course, it’s not everyone, is it? She’s sold more albums than just about anyone alive. Everyone loves Céline Dion, if you think about it. So actually, he asks the question: why do I and my friends and all rock critics and everyone likely to be reading this book and magazines like the Believer hate Céline Dion? And the answers he finds are profound, provocative, and leave you wondering who the hell you actually are—especially if, like many of us around these parts, you set great store by cultural consumption as an indicator of both character and, let’s face it, intelligence. We are cool people! We read Jonathan Franzen and we listen to Pavement, but we also love Mozart and Seinfeld! Hurrah for us! In a few short, devastating chapters, Wilson chops himself and all of us off at the knees. “It’s always other people following crowds, whereas my own taste reflects my specialness,” Wilson observes.
…We forgive people who can’t sing or construct a song or play their instruments, as long as they are cool, or subversive, or deviant; we do not dismiss Dion because she’s incompetent. Indeed, her competence may well be a problem, because it means she excludes nobody, apart from us, and those who invest heavily in cultural capital don’t like art that can’t exclude: it’s confusing, and it doesn’t help us to meet attractive people of the opposite sex who think the same way we do.
Do you think I’m smart? Or a good writer? A stand-up fellow, even? Better than average, at least? Well, I’ll assume so, if for no other reason than the fact that you willingly return here to read. Anyway, the reason I ask is because I’ve dutifully taken in critically acclaimed albums and books that made no difference in my life at all. They didn’t open up new ways of experiencing the world. They didn’t inspire me with new artistic possibilities. The qualities that others praised as innovative and mesmerizing struck me as trivial or overblown. Conversely, I’ve been lifted into a buoyant mood by simple ear candy, making my mind feel alert and engaged, facilitating the energy and awareness that sometimes leads to keen observation and penetrating insight. I’ve been inspired by brilliant metaphors and turns of phrase found in otherwise forgettable fantasy fiction. The Muses seem to delight in popping out of the strangest hiding places.
If you like what you see here, you should know that an awful lot of unimpressive pieces helped construct the mosaic, is what I’m saying.
Aesthetic taste just isn’t a reliable indicator of overall character, the best efforts of so many pop culture cliques to try to reassure themselves otherwise notwithstanding. I find that most of the people I would call truly interesting are the ones whose taste is scattershot and contradictory without betraying any shame over “guilty pleasures.” And I’m bored silly by all those poor little insecure magpies, collecting various pop culture objets d’art, hoping for some vicarious transmission of superiority thereby.