Brownie Points?

It just never goes out of style, does it, berating people for liking things that not everyone likes. We just cannot get enough of that kind of thing. Witness Stephen King at the National Book Awards on Wednesday, as reported by the Guardian.

King called on the publishing industry to pay more attention to writers such as himself, accusing the literati of a “blind spot” when it came to popular fiction. “What do you think,” he asked, “you get social academic brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture?” He accused many in publishing of making it “a point of pride” never to have read anything by mega-selling authors such as John Grisham, Tom Clancy and Mary Higgins Clark…

Pay more attention is it. More attention than what? What does he want? Jillions of dollars aren’t enough, he wants yet more attention? Well of course that could be just the Guardian’s paraphrase, so I shouldn’t pick on the word. (Only it’s so hard not to think of Willy Loman and ‘Attention must be paid!’) But what does he mean ‘blind spot’? He gets published, does he not? What does he want? Awards? People who don’t want to read him to read him? That’s a rather strange demand, isn’t it? And also a rather greedy one? Not content with being widely read, he wants to be universally read? Does that follow with all popular entertainment? Once a movie passes a certain point in sales, it becomes mandatory for the entire population to see it? Or does the rule only apply to intellectuals – maybe that’s it. Or should I say to nerds. That must be it – sometime while I wasn’t looking, a law was passed that all nerds have to read every book that sells more than 2 million copies and attend every movie that surpasses the box office take of E.T.

Yes but seriously. King’s not a bad guy. But he really shouldn’t say this kind of thing – he shouldn’t feed the anti-intellectual beast. It’s far too fat already. The matter is quite simple: some people don’t want to read Grisham, Clancy and Clark for a very compelling reason: they’re terrible writers. They may or may not be good story-tellers, but they are dismal writers. I’ve sampled all three, so I can say that with confidence. People who don’t like that kind of thing aren’t pretending not to like it in order to ‘get social academic brownie points’ – we really don’t like it. I’m terribly sorry but there are many many aspects of ‘my own culture’ that I do indeed want to stay out of touch with. Not to get brownies points, not as a point of pride; just because they make me feel sick or stupid or both, and because life is short and time is limited and I have better things to do. That is not a crime, it’s not even an attack on democracy, and people like King really shouldn’t talk as if it is.

And speaking of bogus populism, Matthew Yglesias has a pretty funny one at The American Prospect, from David Frost’s interview with Bush.

THE PRESIDENT: I’m looking forward to — it’s a huge honor to be invited by Her Majesty to stay in Buckingham Palace. It’s hard to imagine me even considering staying in Buckingham Palace when I was living in Midland, Texas. It’s just one of those things. And Buckingham Palace has got a tremendous mystique to it, and so Laura and I are really looking forward to coming.

Aw shucks, isn’t that sweet, li’l ole small-town backwoods barefoot boy makes good. Kinda like Abe Lincoln, ain’t it. Why doesn’t he embarrass himself with that stuff…

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