Anti-Anti-Intellectualism: Why It’s Critical to Think Critically about Culture

In an interview with Electric Literature about his book, Better Living Through Criticism, A.O. Scott talks briefly about anti-intellectualism in the United States:

There is, in the United States, a tradition of suspicion and mistrust of experts. Some of it is a healthy, democratic, anti-authoritarian impulse. But the defense of a consumer’s right to do whatever they want and have a good time, and to not reflect about experience, is a kind of fake populism. … I think that the defense of the right of the audience to be left alone, and not be bothered by difficult questions, is really a defense of publicity and advertising. It’s a way of selling things to people with little resistance. It’s a way of marginalizing not just professional critics, but the critical potential of the audience.

Elsewhere, citing an altercation with Samuel L. Jackson on Twitter after his negative review of The Avengers, Scott says,

Six months after the Avengers episode, he [Jackson] revisited our Twitter quarrel in an interview with the Huffington Post and gave voice to a widespread complaint about criticism in general, and about the criticism of popular culture in particular. “Ninety-nine percent of the people in the world look at that movie as what it is,” he said. “It’s not an intellectual exposition that you have to intellectualize in any way.” This is an old and powerful—in some ways an unanswerable—argument against criticism, rooted in the ideas that creative work should be taken on its own terms and that thought is the enemy of experience.

Meanwhile, responding to the comment “Why does this guy have to over think everything?”, PBS Idea Channel writer and host Mike Rugnetta had this to say:

Culture and its products and we ourselves deserve critical inquiry:

Critical = having to do with discerning, demystifying, deconstructing, finding threads, unpacking

Inquiry = having to do with questioning, interrogating, pondering, debating, discussing, hypothesizing

We live lives full of artifacts, produced and consumed, circulating in and out of our paths minute by minute, sometimes second by second, sometimes weighed and considered but much of the time silently or at most begrudgingly accepted as things that must be, that simply are, that have escaped time and space to become natural or banal, insignificant in their ubiquity, their commonplace-ness, able only to be attended to for as short a time and with as little attention as required before moving on to the next in an endless series: advertisements, utilities, hotel rooms, emails, plastic microwaveable containers, the last episode of Doctor Who, grocery store aisles, the way we greet strangers on the sidewalk, the words said only in break rooms—

These artifacts become enmeshed, sometimes embodied in our relationships to them and the way we wear them, interact with them, share them on Twitter, talk about them with friends, put them on shelves in our living rooms (just so); and inevitably, they become involved in the processes and acts of the everyday, at work and school, when we visit the uncle we barely know in the next state over, during the county fair, when we’re hanging with friends over coffee, while we’re stuck in traffic, when we peer up into the rear-view mirror to see the driver behind looking somehow straight back—

Artifacts, practices, processes, language and other systems of meaning  and becoming all interconnect and produce and reproduce the world. And us. The mere fact that such is the case is reason enough to give all of it regular and serious thought. It’s fun. And, I think, important.


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