No cultural clichés!

In a possibly apochryphal story, someone complains that they can’t appreciate Shakespeare’s plays because they’re so filled with clichéd expressions. Of course, those expressions were either innovations of Shakespeare’s or other figurative language spread through Shakespeare’s. If you come to works of art in a vacuum, with no sense of their cultural context, then even works of genius can seem banal.

Another example: a friend of mine who found Mozart’s music boring, because for him it was all generic “classical” music, only too familiar.

And now, another friend who (despite his attraction to action movies of many sorts) can’t appreciate classic Westerns, like Red River, because he feels they’re too predictable.

I’m sure there are other examples from other arts, though I can’t provide them from my own experience. Probably there are people who can’t appreciate Monet’s water lily paintings, or Charles Dickens’s novels, or John McPhee’s non-fiction books.

I have a pretty extensive collection of western movies, most of them directed by John Ford or starring John Wayne or both. My huge collection of dvds (of movies and tv shows) largely satisfies my tastes — lots of comedies, lots of musicals, a fair amount of science fiction/fantasy and horror/monster stuff, and of course lots of gay-interest stuff — but wouldn’t appeal to my friend. So I had hopes for the westerns. But my favorites in the genre are largely Ford / Wayne things: The Searchers, Stagecoach, Fort Apache, Rio Grange, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Plus Red River (Wayne but not Ford, and for gay interest, Montgomery Clift) and My Darling Clementine (Ford but not Wayne). Even if my friend hadn’t seen one of these movies before, he feels he knows just what people are going to say and do next; he’s got the genre down only too well.

One Response to “No cultural clichés!”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Ruth Lawrence on Facebook:

    I knew a guy who rejected Austen as cheap romance pulp-writing.

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