For many years, I’ve had a habit of using my Saturdays to have a delicious lunch and then go watch a movie. However, starting a couple months ago, I found myself watching a series of terrible movies, ending with the at best mildly thought-provoking “Looper.” As a result, I’ve suspended my Saturday cinematic activities. (I still try to eat the lunch.)
I’ve realized that it isn’t that movies are getting any worse, but rather that I’ve changed. I subscribe to the theory Daniel Levitin proposes in his book “This Is Your Brain on Music” — that people appreciate works of art as puzzles. They want to be surprised and challenged. If, for example, a musical melody incessantly goes right where you think it can ago — like a nursery rhyme — you tire of it. And if a movie plot twists and turns in all the predictable ways, you tire of that as well. I believe that I’ve seen so many movies, and have become aware of all the predictable — we could say “mainstream” — plot twists, that most big-budget movies no longer challenge me. (I still find a lot of enjoyment in low-budget horror, which is known for taking risks in storytelling.)
I’ve also noticed a similar experience with music. I often see singer/songwriters performing music of utter banality. Again, the music is going exactly where I think it’s going to go. And, it often seems that the more banal the songwriting is, the more popular songwriter is. People who take chances in art are not lauded, but shunted off to the corner. Because they’re producing something challenging and unfamiliar.
Look at the New York Times bestseller list. What kind of fluff resides there? Books like “The Secret” or Dean Koontz’s various atrocities. Products that are easy to digest for the average man.
“Average” is the key here. We might think that people would gravitate towards the greatest forms of art. But people gravitate towards the familiar. Average people gravitate towards average art, art that is like them. And, by definition, there are a whole lot more average people than there are exceptional people (or unexceptional people, such as retards.)
This is been a key realization for me. The cream doesn’t rise to the top, mediocrity does. Since we define success as mass appeal, it’s the most average work that’s going to be successful. Obviously, this spells bad news for someone such as myself — more God than man, brimming with talent.
Interestingly, I’ve just started the Jung section of my book “Freud and Jung” and come across this quote from Jung. “To be normal is the ideal aim of the unsuccessful.” I don’t think Jung means successful in a financial sense, but in the sense of discovering great, meaningful ideas that last.
Later, he’s quoted as saying…
Not a criticism of individual contemporaries will decide the truth or falsity of these discoveries, but future generations. There are things that are not yet true today, perhaps we dare not find them true, but tomorrow they may be. So every man whose fate it is to go his individual way must proceed with hopefulness and watchfulness, ever conscious of his loneliness and its dangers.
The point being that greatness is not appreciated in its own time because the average man — the stinking, snoring, farting mediocrities that make up most of the human population — are incapable of appreciating it. And great thinkers such as Jung and myself face a lonely road.