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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Scholasticism, Cynicism and the Optimist: I like Christmas!

Everybody relax, I know it is not that time yet. But I did feel the time has come, and I have a confession to make. This is very hard for me to say. I like Christmas. Yes, yes I do. I love the lights, and the food and the baking and the shopping and the wrapping and the festival spirit around it. I particularly love the Rankin and Bass clay-mation specials that come on every year.

But I am not (very) naive, or stupid. I am aware that the holidays are a hard time for most, because it is a lot of pressure put on people, and they feel their losses more keenly, or they are disgusted by the commercialism, or they simply hate the politics of gift giving. Not only that, the great hullabaloo made over Christmas often seems threatening to those who don't celebrate it.

So I feel guilty about loving it. And I do, I love the whole season. Apparently I was supposed to grow out of it. Apparently I shouldn't want to send my friends christmas cards, first because it is hokey, and second because it will only make those receiving them feel more undue pressure.

I would call myself a silver-lining person. I am always happy with a plan b, and I can always see the good, or joy in the things I am doing. This is very annoying to some of my more cynical friends.

I am so silver-lining that I see the absolute need for a cynical approach. The need for direct criticism is important for pointing out injustices, for fighting to make things better, and for questioning the intentions of authority. And the cynical approach is the norm in academia, as it should be, because you question motivations in texts and analyze biases. This is all very important.

However, today in museology we talked about Blockbuster exhibits. Throughout the class we talked about the compromises a museum has to make to put on a Blockbuster and the oftentimes minimal reward that the museum gets out of it. I wanted so badly to defend the Blockbuster but found myself mostly without a proper argument. Some of the critics of the Blockbuster exhibit said one of the problems was that it conveyed an improper sense of history and culture, and that it appealed to the lowest common denominator (which is a whole other set of issues). I also have to admit that some of my favourite exhibitions have been about movie artifacts, because I am a movie buff. I remember going to the Lord of the Rings Exhibition in Toronto and going through twice with my friend because there were not that many people there that day.

And I think this is some of the problem that I find in the scholastic community. As a proper discerning, intelligent adult and historian I am not supposed to like the Blockbuster; nor am I supposed to like big budget hollywood films, cheesy pop music, anything made by Disney, historical films that are blatantly flawed, any movie that was based on a book, gangster rap, Dan Brown, Harry Potter, any type of consumerism, or really anything that has become popular. The problem is I like all these things.

Perhaps because of who I associate with and my connection to universities I often feel I am drowning in cynicism. However they keep making these things that I like (though it helps when you like most things). Somehow my likes and dislikes are connected in part to the popular zeitgeist; all new products are directed at me as the typical consumer.

I am not trying to say that people should like all those things, or that counter culture is a bad thing. The problem instead that I have is trying to define for myself some intellectual space; being okay with herd mentality, and trying to tease out the good that people derive from these popular movements, as opposed to just seeing the pitfalls and the bad. What need is it in them, and in me, that these popular trends satisfy? How can I be intelligent and like these things. Can my like for them be more than just my guilty pleasures? Why can't I have fun at, and maybe even look forward to, Christmas?

(Photo Above, my sister and I enjoying Christmas last year)


  1. I hear where you're coming from, and I completely agree. I find that dealing with the academic community is sometimes like dealing with hipsters. What they like is 'edgy' and 'real' and 'underground', meanwhile they criticize the 'sellouts', and the 'mainstream'. It can get heavy on the head.

    I'm a fan of blockbusters exhibits too, but I like them because of their pure grandeur and spectacle. I think every once in a while it is necessary to blow the roof off the friggin' place, for no other reason then spectacle. Canadians don't get this for some reason.

    Ps. good use of the word "zeitgeist", Jian Ghomeshi would be proud.

  2. As someone who loves celebrity gossip (thanks PerezHilton) I'll also admit that I enjoy many of the above mentioned things that academics shake their heads at. I also see no problem with it. What's wrong with using history as a means of entertainment if it gets people amped up about it?