So trashy, so good



Do you recall that passage in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov where Alyosha listens as Ivan recites the poem about the meeting between Jesus and a leader of the Spanish Inquisitio­n? No? Neither do I. But we should, right? We should remember and have read all the classics, just as we should have watched all five hours of Das Boot and know the oeuvres of Frank Capra, Orson Welles and Fritz Lang. We should know how to drop random Latin phrases into witty asides; we should always be bettering ourselves, weighed down by the heft of unread books. We should spend our lives pursuing a better, more educated self. Yeah, nah.

One thing I have watched – studied, even – is my own cultural devolution. (Fun fact: the band name Devo is an abbreviati­on of ‘devolution’, which seems appropriat­e – my tastes have become far more Devo than Debussy in recent years.) In my early career, I felt the pressure of should and the absence of a ‘good’ education. I hadn’t read Tolstoy and I’d been to more Rolling Stones concerts than I could name classical musicians. Apparently, my parents’ greatest sin was letting me read The Baby-sitters Club books rather than forcing me to study Twain and Austen. They also let me get two perms before the age of 12. I was never going to be part of the intelligen­tsia.

For years, I tried to find entertainm­ent in classic films, spending Friday nights falling asleep in front of technicall­y great but dull movies. I mocked my friends for their trash tastes. That was, until I settled down one evening to unwillingl­y watch Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. A door opened – one I’d tried to ignore so many times. This time, I ran on through. Rom-coms, dude films, comedies: I realised I love them all. I nearly wore out my DVD of 50 First Dates, and Caddyshack must be one of the greatest movies of all time. Anything Seth Rogen is my kind of canon.

This lowbrow life is not for everyone. There are people out there for whom sitting down on a Friday night with a pipe and a leather-bound copy of The Canterbury Tales is the perfect respite. Years ago, I wouldn’t have disagreed – learning and immersing yourself in the classics is rewarding, but like most rewarding things, it’s hard work. I also know that, for me, it’s often less about how enjoyable it is, and more how it should be enjoyable. How important it is to have done these things. But life shouldn’t be a checklist or a void we need to fill to meet the expectatio­ns of others. My dog doesn’t care that she should pee outside and just pees on the carpet right in front of me. And she’s one of the most present, wise beings I know. As a renowned philosophe­r once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I’m not suggesting we rule out high culture altogether – it’s about balance and abandoning the idea of ‘should’. I’ll read the classics if and when I want, then happily move on to Pixar’s oeuvre while playing Mario Kart. To quote another deep-thinker and sailor with a penchant for spinach, “I am what I am and that’s all I am.” It might mean I receive fewer invites to dinner parties with critical theorists, but I prefer pizza at 5pm anyway, so you can keep your 9pm entrées, cutlery and clean clothes. I’ll be right here, watching my dog snore with her belly full of food and wondering how she figured out the meaning of life, despite never having read a single word or even mastering toilet-training.

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