It's OK to Hate High Culture, by Paul Rudnick, Spy Magazine, August 1987

There are three titanic hoaxes, a cultural triad no human has ever enjoyed for even a millisecond: poetry, opera, and ballet. Each claims a massive, often hysteric following, each rakes in substantial moneys, each has an obscenely enduring history. And each remains a whole and utter fraud. A diabolic punishment, an all-devouring lie. These items are, if not distinctly evil, at best con jobs on a galactic scale.


Small and fey. Poetry is simply poor punctuation. A poem is a thought unworthy of a paragraph, random words tossed on a page, literary lint. Poems are Laura Ashley prints for the mind, unicorn dung. They possess none of the time-honored virtues of fine literature: You can't curl up with a nice trashy poem. Poems are rarely adapted as miniseries. Your parents would never forbid you to bring that Jackie Collins poem into the house; a volume of Millay seldom falls open to the good parts. People never bicker over who should play Tiresias in "The Waste Land," Valeri Bertinelli or Pam Dawber.

Why are poems composed, or perpetrated? To break up the page in The New Yorker. Without poetry Ann Beattie would smush into the cartoons, and the eight parts on ice-making would hurtle against the windbreaker ads. Without poetry, high school girls in corduroy jumpers and black leotards might have to make some friends. Emily Dickinson never left her cottage in Amherst, and with just cause: No one asked her to. Don't invite Emily, she might recite one of her things. Scholars swear that Shakespeare didn't exist, that his verse was penned by Ben Jonson or Marlowe (under a pseudonym, so they wouldn't be blamed). Has anyone ever got lucky after pulling, "Hey, babe, read any good poems lately?"

As with operas and ballets, all poems are identical. If you must, skim two lines of any poem, shudder and know the truth. That's right, they all mention "love's fragrant bower." And silvery snowflakes and autumn's pungent grief and echoing silence and little cat feet. You never have to read another; like the actors in Platoon, you have tasted hell and survived.


Big and embarrassing. Opera is eons more loathsome than poetry; with opera, you've paid a lot of money and you're physically trapped. You're stuck sitting there while ungainly genetic mutants bay at the walls. An operatic soprano is not a talent, it is a threat. An opera is a simple tale rendered in pain, in wails demanding medical attention, not bravos. Operatic scores are not music. Music lasts three and a half minutes, requires the presence of three sultry black women, and has picture of Madonna on it. Songs are not about cruel fate, the gods or immortal passion; songs are about how mean your parents are, how hot something is, and what to do with your fine love thang. Singers do not continue to sing after they have been stabbed, only after they have overdosed. Singers can be the King, the Boss, the Chairman of the Board, but they cannot be the dame. If opera had value, it would be in the front bins at Tower Records. If opera had purpose, K-Tel would release two eight-track cartridges, check or money order only, of Renata Tebaldi—party sounds.

Why then the hordes of seemingly worshipful devotees, the slavering for Domingo, Pavarotti, and other nuclear accidents? These clutching fans, these howling acolytes, all these people are paid off, a claque. The opera legends and their families disburse handsome sums, every Verdi recording includes a coupon for a full rebate. This is the only plausible conclusion; no one would experience opera voluntarily. Opera may well be a fundamentalist plot to discredit gay men. (Don't buy the smoke screen—real homosexuals like Gypsy.)


Too, too tedious. Ballet may well be the most fiendish scam, as it dangles sex—teasing the unwary among us into infinite evenings of rotting swans and plotless stumbling. Excluding words and featuring occasionally soothing tunes, dance has the potential of being ideal moron fodder, attractive flesh paraded for our dining pleasure. But nay. The bodies are anorexic, crowned with chinless pinheads; the crotches are airbrushed, neutered in nylon. Dancers twirl and hop and pose; they avoid sex, preferring metaphor, floppy tulle, and buckets of eye shadow. For most of us, movement is handy: Sturdy legs can trot you to Macy's, a Stallone sequel, the corner newsstand. In ballet, movement appears both difficult and dull; standing en pointe is of interest only if the mallowmars are on the top shelf.

Dancers are likened to athletes, but organized sports are also a hoax, with the minor entertainment dividend of watching Olympic track starts trip. Dancers are athletes minus the good stuff—the endorsements, the urinalysis, the scratching. Some insist that ballet exists as a girlhood phase, easing the transit from horses to bulimia. But ballet was concocted, of course, to discipline children. At Christmastime, toddlers fidget, lusting for toys and treats. To calm the rumpus, parents wield a grisly stick—"If you don't behave, we're all going to Nutcracker." Civilization is founded on hoaxes, on false fun, on educational playthings. Torch the concert halls, nuke the toe shoes, shred anything in pentameter - who'll notice? Subdivide La Scala into a multiplex, ban the Bolshoi—only art museums are allowed, as they provide gift shops. All that should remain of High Art is T-shirts, mugs, and calendars. Stop faking cultural orgasm — go watch TV!

HOME (Return Home)

Copyright © 2017 by Peter Lloyd-Davies. All rights reserved. Privacy Statement.