by Paul Gaszak, English Faculty
I’ve never met a man, woman, child, dog, parakeet, wallaby, or any other creature with a nervous system that does not like the song “Love Shack” by The B-52s.
If it comes on, I must listen to it. It’s irresistible. And I’ll never tire of it. Though, ironically, it wasn’t until this week that I bought the song for the first time. When it was first released in 1989, seven-year-old me was in a record store with my mom and I asked her if she’d buy me the cassette single. Taking only half a glance at what was in my hand, she said “‘Love Sucks?’ What kind of terrible song is that? Put it back.” (I didn’t call her to ask for permission to download it on iTunes. Or to tell her she got the title wrong the first time.)
Over twenty years since its release, the song remains popular. However, I have never met anyone who calls “Love Shack” their favorite song.
Why not? Someone must, right? Maybe Fred Schneider and the rest of The B-52s?
Hmm. Back to music in a minute.
This summer’s two highest grossing films have been The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. Both films are based on comic books, which prompted comparisons by fans and critics alike. The films are very different. The Avengers is light-hearted, funny, colorful, and completely fantastical. The Dark Knight Rises is somber, sorrowful, drab, rooted in realism.
One of the more interesting comparisons between the films that I’ve read from fans and critics is that they found The Dark Knight Rises to be the “better” film, but that The Avengers was more “fun” and they’d be far more likely to watch that over and over again.
How can one movie be more fun and warrant more repeat viewings, yet the other is the “better” film?
Back to music.
How many of you have either said or been told this: “The best music album of all time is __________; however, the album I listen to most often is __________.”
Most often, the “better” album is deemed more serious and artistic (like a musical equivalent to The Dark Knight Rises); the album most often listened to is the “fun” album (like The Avengers).
The same goes for movies. Of the top 50 highest grossing films in U.S. box office history, only two films (Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) won the Oscar for Best Film. While that may say as much about the Academy as anything, it also says that the serious, artistic films that we hold as achievements aren’t the same ones that people will – you know – go watch. The Avengers likely won’t win the Oscar for Best Picture, but as the third highest grossing film of all-time, it will likely have made more money – and earned more viewings – than all the other Best Picture nominees combined.
Why is it that “fun” art is so often demoted a few artistic levels because it is in fact fun?
This demotion seems to take root as we age. When I ask a group of students between the ages of 18-22 what their favorite song is, plenty will name a song currently getting heavy radio play. And it’s usually a fun song. Thus, if I’m looking for people who say “Love Shack” is their favorite song, the answer is probably college students in 1989. Though those people have probably “grown out of it” by now. And if I ask students about their favorite film, plenty will name a recent one. I don’t get a lot of Godfather or Citizen Kane responses.
Once past college age, people’s responses seem to shift, but it also seems as if “adults” begin to approach such as subjective question as favorite song or favorite movie with a hint of insincerity and caution, as if there is in fact a correct answer. You can almost hear people thinking, “My favorite movie is actually Anchorman, but people will respect me more if I say Dr. Strangelove.”
However, I do think it’s possible to have “serious” favorites that aren’t the ones in heaviest rotation. For example, my favorite movies are Chasing Amy and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Both are funny, but also very serious, heavy and emotional. I love them both dearly, but I only watch them once in a blue moon. Recently, they were both on TV at the same time, but I passed them both over. Sometimes it is just too much, too emotional, too draining to watch them. I am far more likely to watch Billy Madison or Wayne’s World or Tommy Boy on a whim, all of which lack the traditional “artistic merit” of more serious films, but they’re fun and hilarious.
But I’m lying even now. My three favorite movies are actually Chasing Amy, Eternal Sunshine, and Braveheart. Sometimes I will consciously omit Braveheart in fear that people will see it as a “lesser” candidate for favorite film status, even though it won the Oscar for Best Picture.
It seems that we want “fun” but we also condemn it. We can love something fun, like “Love Shack,” but we can’t love it too much, because then people like me will scoff at the sheer ignorance of such a fun, feel good, adolescent choice. It is true that the fun choice can also be the artistic choice, but that’s not necessarily the point. The problem is that there seems to be a strange, misinformed elitist view of “art” that doesn’t just originate from stuffy “professors” like me, but all of our culture. We have shunned fun in the same way as fast food – we want it and consume it, but know it’s not good for us or that it’s not the superior choice. That shouldn’t be the case.
What’s wrong with fun? We should all just go have some fun right now – and remember to bring your jukebox money!