April 15, 2014

House of avant-garde

Being partial toward art simply because of its obscurity hampers enjoyment and discussion.

I discovered House of Cards by accident. Browsing through Netflix on a lazy summer day, I stumbled upon the series and decided to watch the first episode. Then I flew through the first season and could not wait for more.

That is, until I got here. After passing under Hull Gate last September, it felt as if, along with the reading packet, House of Cards was an O-Week assignment that I had accidentally completed. It seemed impossible to meet someone who had yet to watch the show, much less someone who hadn’t heard about it. This craze amplified as the second season premiere neared.

I was having dinner at Medici with a few friends the day after, and amid the collective praise of the show, I decided to voice my opinion: House of Cards has become too mainstream. I’d lost all interest in the show after the casual mention at the IOP, the stream of excited Facebook posts about spending entire days watching the show, and the texts from friends asking if I had started the new season yet.

The show itself hasn’t changed, and had House of Cards not been a popular topic of discussion among students here, I would probably be watching the second season right now (instead of writing this article). But within my seemingly irrational reaction to others’ enjoyment of the show, perhaps there lies something intelligible.

My sentiments stem from the feeling of ownership over the art that I experience. Regardless of form, art evokes personal feelings, associations, and interpretations that inevitably become bound up with the art itself. And if I’m not reading about a band in The New York Times, then the feelings and experiences I associate with said band are not colored by anyone else’s—my sense of ownership is heightened.

When others are exposed to an experience I once viewed as my own, though, their interpretations and enjoyment of the art will inevitably differ from mine. Because of this, my already embedded sense that I understand the meaning of the art necessitates that others’ different experiences are less valid than mine. In the end, I didn’t enjoy House of Cards simply because I was able to experience it singularly, but because of the accompanying sense of superiority in discovering something that I thought was obscure, rare, and largely unknown. Those scenes of the show that I thought were powerful had a sort of precious, scarce quality associated with them—their effect on me gave me the sense that I had access to something valuable.

We have all heard the phrases “I liked x before it was cool,” even in reference to sports, such as basketball’s “fair-weather fans.” These remarks are a way of grasping for that ownership. By asserting that you discovered this band or this film long after I had, by virtue of time, I hold a deeper right to it.

But the obscurity of a piece of art has no bearing on its quality, and no matter what form it takes, this propensity to value the obscure over the popular has implications. The first is that it hinders the sharing of meaningful, valuable art with others. Art creates the opportunity for people to bond and grow with each other, regardless of their individual experiences with the work itself. Should I and others maintain this petty way of viewing art, we may cut ourselves off from enjoying things that have already entered the “mainstream” by discrediting them as not worth experiencing.

Because, as I’ve said, House of Cards has not changed. It’s just as good of a show.

Or at least, that’s what I’ve been hearing from my friends.

Andrew Young is a first-year in the College.