Lady Gaga Vomit

On Sewer-Diving: Commerce as Culture

I screened Kubrick’s “Lolita” with three students after school Friday. Afterward, it got me thinking: In recent class discussions on Confucian self-cultivation, I’ve been predicting  to my students that soon, due to the trajectory from Kardashians and Sopranos to meth dealers on Breaking Bad, Miley Cyrus twerking, and Lady Gaga wallowing in vomit,  we can look forward to a drama in which the protagonist — protagonist, mind you — is a Serial Child Molester.

One has to keep looking for new ways to shock, after all, and to market all attempts to create the viral buzz and hype needed to herd the sheeple onto the latest “if you’re not watching you’re not hip” bandwagon. And since we’ve already done porn-moms, mobsters and meth dealers, our culture marketers can only seek deeper in the human sewer.

So something along the lines of the sympathetic child rapist seems inevitable.

But watching Lolita with my students made me think, “Damn. We’ve already done that. Nabokov and Kubrick did it with Lolita in the 1950s.” I’d probably not read or watch it now, even while knowing it was surely an excellent piece of literature, because other excellencies don’t require sewer-diving. (I passed on watching Breaking Bad, knowing full well my friends who said “It’s great” were probably right.)

The only TV dramas I do watch now are Chinese (though I plan to get into Korean as well). They avoid the sewers without damaging the drama, and I leave them feeling cleaner. One addictive taste (that happens, by the way, to open with my favorite Chinese emperor, Kangxi):

It makes me want to offer a course simply called, ironically, Counter-Culture. What would it teach? Culture before the money-grubbers selling to the lowest common denominator took humane culture down.

6 thoughts on “On Sewer-Diving: Commerce as Culture”

  1. I understand what you are saying (but have to admit that I watched Breaking Bad and really enjoyed it) and the offshoot phenomenon seems to be that the news media is referencing true crime with fictional. This local news article was described as being straight out of a Breaking Bad episode. This of course must mean that real life is an elaborate piece of fiction.

    1. Hello Graham,

      We had a class discussion in which I argued that the very exposure to Breaking Bad created ideas in the audience — educated it — about advanced drug production and consumption. A graduate course, so to speak. (And again, not having seen it, my take is admittedly based on hearsay from those who have.) So now journalism is creating a second wave of hype, you’re telling us, by alluding to the show to discuss crime — creating more pressure on readers to watch it in order to understand “the news.” Oy.

      It makes me want to offer a course called something like “non-degrading entertainment and art.” Study things like Big Band, jazz, Chaplin….

      Hope you’re well.

    1. Hi Sue,

      Funny thing is Lolita struck me as a masterpiece of a novel, and Kubrick’s film adaptation a masterpiece of film.

      Now it seems a “chocolate versus fruit” choice. Both taste good, but one is healthier than the other. But our culture pushes chocolate over fruit. It’s easier to constantly re-brand chocolate, nearly impossible to create “New! Banana Ultras!”

      Hope you’re well,

      1. Clay, I would love to discuss this with you. A friend of mine also thinks it is amazing as literature. I don’t teach literature, and I read for the story. So bad story = bad lit to me. I would love to understand it more deeply.

        1. I didn’t find the novel great for any esoteric academic reasons; I just found the language masterful, the ideas and characters wonderful.

          I read it out loud to my fiancée at the time, and she swooned along with me. Maybe it’s just a taste thing?

          Again, though: it’s a slippery–and slimy–slope from Lolita to Gaga’s vomit and meth dealers. So why not read something *inspiring* instead of *repellent*?

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