Fumbling for subtext

Every time a new piece of divisive pop culture arrives on the marketplace, a weird thing happens (and by happens, I mean in the internet/social media sphere, where pissing matches have been elevated to Olympic feats.) And that happening is, no matter how vapid, dumb, forgettable, or just plain bad this piece of culture might be, a divide will form where (often, but not always) the side that takes up the mantle of champions, defenders, and adherents will hoist the “here’s why you’re not getting it” banner, and then proceed to pry chunks of subtext out of this movie, album, celebrity, etc., like so many half-exposed, underdeveloped wisdom teeth.

The internet (and social media in particular) has been a godsend to the armchair essayist in this regard, and as such, we’re entering the golden age of subtext clickbait: pieces that are designed to read as insightful as they are enraging, stacking up untold amounts of metaphors, observations, lessons, wisdom, and navel-gazesthe more ludicrous, the betterin order to assure readers that, yes, this thing is very profound, and therefore don’t worry, your taste is absolutely impeccable.

This phenomenon played out in supersized form (is Star Wars capable of any other magnitude?) with The Last Jedi. Just uttering the film’s name nowadays has become an act of grenade-lobbing, but my criticism of it (I wasn’t a fan) comes from a different place than many, I think: it’s a fairly rote, predictable, even boring film, and fairly inconsequential, even when taken as a single unit of storytelling, and not as a piece of a larger saga (in the latter context, it becomes even more inconsequential.)

Of course, that’s my opinion; people are free to love or hate movies as they see fit. But then you find something like Film Crit Hulk’s novella extolling the virtues of the film, and, wellwhat can you say? Somehow, internet thinkpieces and Twitterati have turned this boring chunk of not-quite-popcorn fare into a Jodorowsky.

The same thing occurs at Pitchfork, which I read religiously for news, but has become nigh-unbearable in its “Everything is important” crusade, slinging words and phrases like “masterpiece,” “legacy,” “underrated,” and “the _____ we need right now” with mind-numbing regularity.

I’ll cut it short, at the risk of sounding like the proverbial get-off-my-lawn crank, but my point, I suppose, is this: not everything is great. Not everything is deep. Some things are just OK. Some things a lot of people love are just OK, as are the things no one’s ever heard of.

The search for meaning and importance in the film, music, and art of the internet age goes way too deep, way too often. And I understand why: the need for content demands it. But by turning every piece of film or music or writing into a cultural touchstone, it makes nothing a cultural touchstone. If everything’s important, nothing is.

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