Tolkien and consumerism

There’s an old line of criticism that Tolkien’s works are politically irresponsible because they fit cozily into this introverted, consumerist approach to civic life. (Mentioned in Cantor’s disc. of Tolkien in Inventing the Middle Ages.) And I really don’t think that’s what Tolkien was about, and I think that, at least in a lot of popular culture, and in local cultures across the US, Tolkien provided the resources to articulate a subculture in Hebdige’s sense: I think of Gandalf’s in Frostburg, MD, at a local level, and all of the rock music that drew upon Tolkien in creating an identity for itself. (You can see this among American Catholic undergrads, too, I think, where students draw upon Tolkien as Catholics of a particular kind to articulate who they want to be.) These show that while Tolkien could certainly be used as mere escapism, there’s something more there.

I think some of my beef with Peter Jackson is that he’s reduced Tolkien to pop cultural pabulum, and thereby made it less meaningful as a source for subcultural articulation. He’s made Tolkien obviously crass and commercial, without any sense that crass commercialism is a deep part of what Tolkien was revolting against. He has deeply reduced Tolkien’s text, and done violence to its spirit.


Death and complexity

I think I am saddened most by the deaths of people who are complex. Around me, C was usually acting out this aggressive, macho persona, but there were hints of this more sensitive, even nerdy kid who was captivated by Tolkien and fantasy. My uncle’s┬ádeath made me sad in the same way– he was also a complex man.

In both cases, some of the sadness is because I felt like there were sides to each that I didn’t quite have the full experience or measure of. But there’s a deeper sadness here, too, a second law of thermodynamics sadness, that psychological, personal complexity goes lost and dissipates.

Reading Game of Thrones

Dear God, though, George R.R. Martin is a maddening author. The first three books are really surprisingly good in their way. Not always brilliantly written by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re compelling: sharply plotted, really good potboilers that are also simultaneously very richly envisioned. The endings of each of the first three books are really remarkable; the end of the second book is beautiful. The last two books, on the other hand… it’s not that they’re awful, but they’re just interminable. At the end of each obscenely long book, you just think: wait, what actually happened over the past 1500 pages, and the answer is: not much. And since one of the main attractions of the books is the intricate plotting, it really blunts one of the main attractions of the books.

I’ve read that in the interest of getting the books out as quickly as possible, the publisher has basically stopped editing his books. That sounds about right to me.

The man can write a set piece, though, and that ability does not abandon him in the last two books. But the brilliant set pieces only make up something like five to ten of the most recent book’s 71 (!) chapters.

And this from someone who really does like long, rich books…


So it seems like we’re in the post-Ke$ha hating phase, where reviewers are realizing that she’s actually a competent musician and in charge of her image and music, etc. Which is fine.

But we’re in a regrettable period in terms of pop music, I think: there was an interesting post-Blackout moment where pop music took an interesting dark turn, and now we’re back in sunny Katy Perry land– even when it comes to musicians who should know better, like Kesha and Nicki Minaj. Even Gaga is less interesting than she should be, ultimately: I think the Gaga songs that will stand the test of time could fit on an EP, and the rest is packaging.

My hope for pop music at the moment is Grimes, given that she continues to evolve. Each of her albums have had a few great songs; Visions was an interesting accessible move; hopefully she’ll just get weirder and more compelling.