There’s nothing wrong with a little fluff. I grew up flat-out addicted to Stephen King books, and I still consider IT and The Stand important works of recent American fiction. Sure, they’re bloody, and they’re crass (or, as they’d say with a sneer on Project Runway, vulgar)—but they speak to and inform the larger culture.
The Da Vinci Code is a another masterful recent example. It might as well be written in crayon, and it reads like a screenplay, but the pace and the details are exhilarating. The depths of the plot—that Jesus had a family and his lineage extends to the modern day—is stunningly confrontational in terms of traditional Christian religion and culture and it brings a refreshingly head-shaking experience to bought-at-the-grocery store paperbacks.
I think the best art does that. Sure, you go into the Naked Lunch expecting “art” and all the accompanying bodily fluids and struggles with morality; you don’t do that with yr standard television cartoons of Friends and Four Kings, but does Naked Lunch really challenge you to your norms, your standard operating procedure? Or is it so self-contained that you’re just dipping yr foot in the “art” pool?
Alec Eiffel and I were having a discussion recently, which ended with a mantra: reading should be fun. You should love what you’re reading, and want to read it. There can be a pleasure in struggling through a difficult text, or grappling with heavy issues, but you shouldn’t hate the book you’re reading.
The Pretty Fakes slogan is “Pouring bourbon on the line that separates art from trash. And then? Setting it on fire.” My favorite media is in that same space of art and trash. Probably the most financially successful example of that being Pulp Fiction.
“Trash” introduced me to the first struggles with morality I remember acknowledging. I remember watching Magnum, P.I., when he refused to murder (via sniper rifle) the man who killed his wife. Even at eight years old, I wanted to know Why Not? I told you how I became a vegetarian because of comics, and Professor Fury has detailed the role of comics in awakening in him the idea of complicity in societal sins of the past. Are we just flat-out deluded? Or are there secret depths in pop, just waiting for a receptive mind?
On the same branch of a similar tree, why is the post-Vietnam experience of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” so soaked in anthemic synth, or the heartrending ennui of “Dancing in the Dark” set to a dance beat? Were these accidental depths plunged by the artist, or are they consciously orchestrated to trick as many people as possible into self-reflection? Are James Frey’s lies a forgivable offense because it made so many of us look inward at the darkness and failures of our own lives?
Perhaps the best candy tricks you into swallowing the big questions when you think it’s just something sweet and light. King, Springsteen, Animal Man, and the adventures of Thomas Sullivan Magnum have some deceptively simple stories that have transported me to much more complex worlds. What are some of yr favorite bits of trick candy?