Friday, 24 April 2009

An Intellectual Level

Note: this post features excessive use of linking to wikipedia and imdb, as a result of way too many references to popular (and unpopular) culture which I couldn't always be bothered to explain myself. And then I didn't know whether I should italicise titles, or put them in inverted commas so I just linked them.

One of my friends and I have an on-going joke (I'll warn you, it won't make you laugh) which came from an episode of Desperate Housewives. This friend loves culture: dance, art, theatre, books all interest her. Since I like these things too, we will go see plays together or discuss our current reads, all the while marvelling at how grown-up we sound. Sometimes my friend likes to make fun of me for not knowing who Akram Khan is, and then I'll tell her she's pretentious. I can still remember the outraged spluttering I was met with when I admitted that I found Trois Couleurs: Bleu dull.

But it works both ways. My friend also likes to watch a lot of crap TV, possibly even more crap TV than I watch - and that's saying a lot. It is when we come to the topic of TV that I will defend Desperate Housewives as witty and intelligent, whilst she assigns it to the 'good shit' category of entertainment (as opposed to 'good good' i.e. Trois Couleurs: Bleu or 'shit good' i.e. something good she didn't like or 'shit shit' i.e. Big Brother).

One evening, we were going to see Ralph Fiennes to play Oedipus at the National Theatre (my verdict: unabsorbing, her verdict: magic) and the conversation turned to TV.

Me: 'Ooh, did you see Desperate Housewives yesterday?'
Her: 'Um, yes,'
Me: 'Well, Oedipus reference!!!'

OK maybe those weren't our exact words but it was a few months ago now. I was referring to the episode 'We're So Happy You're So Happy'. In this episode, Lynette tries to learn more about her son, Porter, by pretending to be his age on an Internet chat website. Porter ends up falling for Lynette's online persona and sending her the love poems which Lynette had introduced Porter to. Tom, Lynette's husband and Porter's father makes the genius reference to the Ancient Greek tragedy Oedipus (if you don't know the story, click on his name), telling Lynette to quit talking to Porter online before he...

Tom: 'Kills me and blinds himself'

The inner geek in me absolutely loved this subtle reference, and was all excited about sharing this with the only other person I know who reads Greek literature and watches Desperate Housewives. Oh, no. Apparently, she does not engage in 'good shit' on an intellectual level, and now I am mocked because I do.

Even if maybe there isn't that much in Desperate Housewives to explore on a deeply profound level, I started thinking about how much people miss with entertainment. After all, we are only watching, listening or reading this stuff to be entertained and it is not the end of the world if we do not catch all the subtleties which the creators of the works probably put in to keep themselves from feeling bored.

Take The Little Prince, which I have been re-reading lately and loving the quaint story and the beautiful illustrations. This time round I am getting the vague impression of some sort of deep message about human nature, but since I'm not studying it in a work setting (which is probably the only situation when you need to analyse art) I haven't really dwelt on that at all. Like many other famous children's books, it is simply a great story, with something in there for the adults too.

Still, I think there are some things which cannot be completely successful if you do not truly understand them. I once watched a three hour long Macbeth and, having never studied it, found it the most boring three hours I have ever spent being 'entertained'. Actually, I don't even think it was Macbeth. It may have been Hamlet. It's not just old-fashioned Shakespeare which can be difficult; I found that I hated reading Philip Pullman's hugely successful His Dark Materials trilogy when it first came out and was targeted at my age group. I did actually quite like the first one, which is undeniably a good yarn. But by the time I got to the third one, the whole metaphor for atheism vs. religion (which I only found out about recently) had gone way over my head and I was bored to death. So maybe there is some importance in really understanding something to enjoy it.

Right now, I am re-reading His Dark Materials on a highly intellectual level.

Look, Pullman's novels have even been published with different covers (read about that here) for adult editions and children editions. I'm pretty sure the adult editions don't contain any risque extras, but I suppose if you're reading the book with the adult cover, you're reminding people that you are reading the book on a highly intellectual level.


  1. I like this post really much. I do the same thing as you do with your friend, only I do it with ny sister and "Gilmore Girls". Since we don't live in America, we probably don't get half the references, but it still brings us great joy when we do :)
    I agree with about having to understand the "good good" (in your friend's words)to like it. And it's not so bad if you don't, too. I hated reading Hamlet, and don't feel stupid about it - I don't really fancy Shakespeare.

  2. Great post dear!!!
    Well, I don't watch Desperate Housewives...

    Hope you're having a great sunday.