Monday, April 27, 2009

Criticism, As An Establishment Tool

It may be less so today than it is has been in the past, thanks to the social changes of the 1960s and 1970s and the cultural and theoretical leaps of the 1970s and 1980s, but criticism can be an establishment tool: a way to reaffirm conservative traditions and values. Criticism can be a way of solidifying the status quo, of policing works, things, and people who are different. Sometimes those people who are different are people who belong to traditional minorities--but sometimes they are people whose cultural interests are different: people who prefer Rembrandt to installation art or video; people who prefer European classical music and jazz to indie rock and hip-hop. Criticism can be used to mock, to shame. It can be used to disseminate prejudice. It can express malice and resentment toward figures of mastery, toward what is perceived as safety and security in a society that is impressed by hedonism and riot. Criticism can be a way for the mediocre to join together against excellence. It can be a form of laziness, a rebellion against having to recognize the abundant, diverse talent in the world. It can be an establishment tool simply by encouraging things as they are, the prevalence of the lowest common denominator in much of popular culture.