Cheap Shots: The postmodernist problem

By Carina Chocano

By Salon Staff

Published February 9, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

Read the story.

Thanks to Carina Chocano for putting George Will in his self-righteous, self-interested place. How dare he try to commodify art and keep it in the control of those who assign canonization (thus keeping art, and ultimately the canon, forever away from artists and critics who describe a society that Will does not want to see)?

The funny thing with Will is that, increasingly, no one cares what he says. He should go back to writing about the glory days of baseball and America, when a slender, insecure, rich white guy like himself could feel more in control.

-- Jared Feuer

In your recent article, you poked delightful fun at the frothings of some right-wing respondents. This is amusing and makes one feel better than the knuckle-dragging apes who sent those letters in -- I can understand that. Nevertheless, I feel it is my duty to inform you that in the chaotic world of Usenet, online forums and so forth, it is considered "the height of cheese" to attack someone's post on the basis of spelling or grammar. The vocal and enraged rarely think to check the MLA before they e-mail you an obscenity-laced semi-coherent screed. I have seen equally deranged gibberish from both ends of the political spectrum. While I probably don't share most of your political sentiments, I do enjoy nearly all of your articles. You demean yourself somewhat by stooping to what even barely socialized 14-year-old forum posters know not to do. Better to post the letters themselves, and let ignorance do the work for you. As a professional writer, you are better than that, and your readers should expect better as well.

On that note, keep up the otherwise good work.

-- Andrew Benton

While what you might call an "extreme right wingnut," I found your parsing of your insult-grams from what I would call extreme right wingnuts highly amusing.

I worked for W's dad, but I could not vote for the guy after his thrashing of McCain in South Carolina. I sat it out, essentially, by voting for a Libertarian.

Give the guy some time. He's actually growing on me.

Face it, the first boomer president screwed it up. Yes, the economy hummed along, but his personal problems did not sit well with many people, including supporters. (How else do you explain a 60-plus percent approval rating and 70 percent of people wishing he'd just go away?)

In our first shot running the country, we proved we were not mature enough to pull it off. In '96 we found the last World War II vet standing, but he was a tad too bedraggled.

So what have we got this time? A rather dull lad who'd probably make for a great neighbor, who's gotten even duller in his old age. He may not give us a laser-like vision of what the future ought to hold, but he sure as hell won't embarrass us by being caught with his pants down.

And besides, he comes with his own legal guardian appointed for us by his father, who also happens to have been the last of the World War II generation to have been president.

So perhaps it's a nice transition into boomer-generation maturity. For, given how incredibly whiny, pampered and self-absorbed we are, it's taking us infinitely longer than our parents -- who fought a war in their late teens and 20s -- to finally grow up.

-- Geoff Woollacott

What Carina Chocano misses is that she, and the pomo leftists she defends, are birds of the same feather as Will. (The term "postmodernism" may be passé, but unfortunately the thing itself is still very much with us.) Both sides in this debate want to use the arts for ulterior political purposes. Chocano and the pomos (that would be a nice name for a rock group!) want the arts to propagandize for gay rights or radical feminism or whatever the cause of the moment. George Will wants to use the great art of the past to celebrate tradition, order, religion, nation, mom, apple pie and the Republican Party. Neither side really cares about the aesthetic and spiritual encounter of artist with audience. Instead, they want to program the viewer on how to respond according to the canons of right- or left-wing political correctness. In that sense, both Chocano and Will are Stalinists in regards to the arts.

Will's advantage (for all his naiveté) is that the art of the past that he is celebrating is, largely, great art, while the stuff that Chocano and her friends are pushing is by-and-large junk. Chocano will reply that the criteria of value are "political." If that is the case, why are we able to enjoy works from cultures and points of view remote from our own? The sophomore discovery that all our responses are "culturally conditioned" does not relieve us of the obligation to distinguish the great from the trivial, nor does it give us permission to drown all distinctions of quality in the name of a demagogic populism.

-- Joe Willingham

When George Will says museums bring art viewers "down low" by having them enter through a side door, does he mean like the Louvre, the greatest connoisseur in the world, which has a side entrance near the children's carousel?

-- Penny Clifton

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