The media make a potentially fatal mistake by dividing arts coverage into high and low, old and young, and by trivializing our passionate attraction to things. In Out There I propose that all creative expression has the potential to be both thought-provoking and popular; to write about flea markets as if they were museums (and vice versa); to celebrate singers and chefs.
A short example:
Why should I, or anyone, have been surprised that a few years back, Yoko Ono was number one on the dance-club charts — with a gay redo of her and John’s Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him? It was a nice story: a young friend had told Yoko that his once-hip mom cited those old lyrics when the boy came out to her, so Yoko gave him some post-hip ammunition (Every Man Has a Man…) to sing back.
Some of us think of Yoko Ono primarily as a talented, well-funded Fluxus artist; some as an avant-garde screecher; some as a mythic has-been, the demon who broke up the Beatles. How can any cultural critic know exactly which reader, listener or viewer is out there? Pleasing a shape-shifting audience would seem to be impossible, especially when the culture also won’t hold still.
During most of my professional life I’ve been a citizen of two different worlds: the fine and the popular arts. When I was a restaurant critic, many of my arts friends teased me about my frivolous hobby (though no one refused a dinner out). My food friends couldn’t fathom why I’d occasionally speed up a meal to go to a gallery opening or make a curtain. The two camps were baffled equally by my lifelong attraction to barrel-bottom TV, tear-churning beach reads, coming-out potboilers: cultural junk food. And real junk food, too.
Pleasure, I told them, was my reason. Material pleasure, I discovered, is never entirely physical: it always latches on to emotions, memories, ideas. And the pleasure of thought is never entirely cerebral: it invariably comes with heart and skin attached.
So that’s my starting point. Did I mention that I love stories, and TV remains our narrative cornucopia? That eating is culture? That I’m a gay man who has no trouble getting angry about what is — and isn’t — out there?