I’m thinking out loud, which I just remembered is the title of an Ed Sheeran song. How appropriate. (You’ll figure out why Sheeran, popular musician, is relevant if you read on.)
Ramble of the Day
Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking, mostly out loud, about the concept that popularity is inherently bad, or at least not the best. The most popular movies are not the best movies. The most popular musicians are not the best musicians. The most popular vacation destinations are not the best vacation destinations. I think you get the idea.
Isolated, the concept makes sense. It is seemingly unlikely that any one thing will meet two high standards. Most everything lives in the in-between area on each scale to measure it, making it difficult enough to end up on either end of one scale. Ending up on the right end of two scales seems to good to be true. No wonder the most popular is hardly ever the best, or even close enough.
Of course, we don’t live in a vacuum, and once real life examples enter the conversation, the argument itself changes a little bit, at least in my mind. The question isn’t really if Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the highest grossing film in the United States last year, should be crowned the best film of 2017 instead of The Shape of Water, the American Academy’s pick for Best Picture; it’s about whether or not popular films deserve some recognition as the best.
The Shape of Water did better with critics than The Last Jedi, and is objectively a better film, but that also isn’t the point. This also is not an argument that is specific to the Academy Awards, which has long been in the midst of its own debate about the merits of popular film. (I would argue that the Academy still only acknowledges films — and actors — that are still inherently popular, but that is a different discussion.) I like to apply it to music, and how people who are really into their music choices almost always detest the choices on the radio. For what it’s worth, I agree that the music on the popular radio stations is not the best out there, and that radio stations are not very good at playing more than six songs. It’s as if there is an inherent distrust of popular belief.
The concept of skepticism regarding popular belief is really fascinating, considering large percentages of society relying on public consensus. The very obvious example is elections, which are universally embraced as not just a good way to gauge public opinion, but absolutely mandatory. The public’s opinion is necessary and crucial information. If we can trust the public with our most popular decisions, why not something obviously less important?
In my mind, the argument that pops up is that in matters of film, television, music and whatnot, asking the experts in the field to determine what is the best is probably a great way to go. Yet, elections aren’t for experts in politics, but perhaps voting eligible citizens should all be experts of politics in some sense. It’s not as if a regular citizen needs to be an expert in foreign policy, but being fairly knowledgable about local politics of relevance is a normal ask. These same citizens don’t have to be experts in film or music; the stakes are not the same.
Perhaps snobbery exists in expertise — not that it is particularly snobby to say The Shape of Water is better than The Last Jedi, or to make similar statements. Yet, I cannot help but think about how popular certain artists are and distrust that person’s followers. Is Drake, the most streamed artist on Spotify this month, the greatest rapper out there, currently active or not? I don’t know if a lot of people who genuinely enjoy rap would say yes, and I wouldn’t trust the tastes of anyone who would, to be honest.
If I am to continue being honest, I’ll admit that I can’t quite explain this concept of the public liking average talent. Maybe I need a bit more time to think about it, but I know right now, I mostly need sleep.
tl;dr: Popularity, quality, and many, many questions.
Links of the Day
FIFA is once again planning to revamp the Club World Cup, and might rearrange the entire football calendar in the process.
David Squires retells José Mourinho’s Saturday at Stamford Bridge in his latest cartoon.
Today’s longer read: David Conn reports on the money laundering conviction in a Kyrgyzstan court that is holding up the sale of Blackpool FC for The Guardian