Confessions of a Gay Male Feminist: Dan Brown Must Die? function isEmailAddr(email)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Dan Brown Must Die?

Unlike most American universities, the University of New South Wales does not have a student-run newspaper. Instead, UNSW produces a student-run weekly magazine, which primarily serves as an events calendar with a few articles written by elected members of the student union.

In a recent issue, the cover story was entitled, "Dan Brown Must Die," with the author using the popular novel, The Da Vinci Code, as an example to illustrate the decline in quality that pop culture has taken. The author also highlighted Madonna, action movies, and the Harry Potter series as further proof that what we know as "pop culture" is nothing more than frivolous tripe.

Although I enjoyed the book, The Da Vinci Code, I recognise that Dan Brown is not the William Shakespeare of our time; but to call for his immediate destruction seems a little excessive. As I read this young undergraduate's article, I just imagined a third-year English major who rebelled against the status quo, and every action he took was a carefully thought out move to undermine the Man.

While I acknowledge that art, film, music, theatre, and literature are all matters of taste, I don't think that labelling all mainstream media as bad is incredibly productive, and have to wonder if it actually does anything positive to change or subvert the culture at large?

A subversive act is one that works against the grain of popular culture. The Punk Movement was a rebellion against musical and social norms. Sex Work is a subversive act against archaic and sexist laws and regulations. And while writing (if I do say so) can, in of itself, be subversive in nature, criticism for criticism's sake might actually be more destructive.

I get especially annoyed when educated, academic-types criticise popular books. I feel it is an incredibly classist -- among other things -- viewpoint for highly educated individuals to take. And while there are, indeed, some poorly written books that have been manufactured for the sole purpose of turning a profit, in an age where television and computers rule, I think novels that actually do have an impact on society should be commended, overall, rather than decried.

Harry Potter is actually a very good example of this. When I was in elementary school, teachers struggled to get students to read. Reading groups were created. Bribes were placed before us. Practically everything was tried to get us to read during our free time, and yet, many of my fellow classmates never did (I, however, became intensely involved with the Boxcar Children and Goosebumps series). Not so suddenly, however, JK Rowling began writing the now larger-than-life series of books about a boy wizard; and children (and adults) are so anxious to read them that bookstores must hold midnight release parties to curb the enthusiasm. And while Harry Potter has received far more critical praise than The Da Vinci Code, at least both have prompted discussion over written material rather than the latest reality TV game show.

Following my post on radical culture last week, I must again express my sadness at those who feel that it is their duty to dictate to others as to how to best express themselves. While I recognise I clearly have an agenda I am pushing on you, the readers, the only ones I outright condemn are those ever-present hate mongers like Ann Coulter.

Otherwise, I wish people -- like the young and angry student writer at UNSW -- would learn to pick their battles and better identify which causes are actually worth fighting for.

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