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The Rise of Anti-intellectualism

Should artists have to dumb down their work

By Olivia BarkerPublished 29 days ago 3 min read
Top Story - March 2024

I saw a video months ago of a man criticizing writer and director Jordan Peele and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. His main complaint was that Peele’s films were too complicated for the average moviegoer to comfortably consume. He goes on to say that the average moviegoer doesn’t want to google hidden meanings or watch the film 2-3 times to notice small details.

My response is this: you don’t have to. There are countless movies out that cater to the average moviegoer. Movies that aren’t allegories where there is no symbolism or metaphors or subliminal messages. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying art that is straightforward, but to criticize an artist solely based on your ability to understand what they create is anti-intellectualism.

I personally enjoy films and literature that doesn’t give everything away. I love revisiting something I didn’t understand or researching the meaning behind the imagery used. I’m not going to be the art police and force anyone to watch something they don’t enjoy. I just firmly believe that the purpose of art is to start a conversation. It’s meant to take us outside of our normal patterns of thinking.

It’s also ok to not understand things. A film is not bad because it’s hard to understand (a film is also not inherently good because it’s hard to understand). Everyone is allowed to enjoy their preferences. No one can take that away from you, but the absolute rejection I’ve encountered to anything that requires more than an ounce of brain power worries me.

I love reading and try to virtually connect to other bookworms by watching reading vlogs every week. It helps me wind down after a long day of work and sometimes I’m able to get book recommendations. I tried to watch a reading vlog of a creator that was themed around autumnal books because I saw in the thumbnail that she was planning to read a book that I’d enjoyed a couple years prior. When she sat down to give an update on her read of this book she began to complain about the language being hard to understand. She wrote the book off as “bad” and told her virtual audience that the author was pretentious for writing it.

The author doesn’t write my checks so I simply clicked off of the video a bit confused. She didn’t mention anything about the story that she didn’t enjoy. She only mentioned her inability to understand what was being said in the narrative. I know that reading taste is very complex and enjoyment of books is subjective, but to think of a book poorly because you as a reader had trouble understanding it implies an unwillingness to think. An unwillingness to learn.

“Just let people enjoy things” is the rallying cry of anyone who sees viewing any piece of art or media as something completely neutral or even something that should be mindless. I disagree. Art should invoke some kind of response in your frontal lobe. Why does searching the web for the definition of a word ruin your book reading or movie watching experience? Why does gaining knowledge threaten your ability to enjoy things?

Critical thinking and media literacy has been on a sharp decline. Generation Alpha is largely illiterate. Social media is full of posts spreading misinformation and commenters assenting what could be disproven by a quick Google search. Lyrics are misinterpreted (I'm not implying that there is only one way to interpret a song, but for the love of all things good, I saw someone say they wanted to walk down the aisle to Hozier's "Cherry Wine"). Movies and TV shows are labeled as regressive or offensive because a large, or just loud, demographic didn't understand that it was meant to be satirical.

Of course mindless scrolling or easy-to-watch TV is fine, but it doesn’t hurt to challenge yourself every now and again. Don’t fear the unknown and don’t reject what is hard to understand.

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  • Belle14 days ago

    I have actually thought a lot about this lately and whether or not education has something to do with it. In academics, our intellectual minds are commodified and assessed to a point in which some people seem to reject its use for fun entirely. I don't think that the use of intellect should be strictly professional/academic, and it should have use within serotin-producing spaces... I loved reading this. Very provactive and endearing.

  • ROCK 22 days ago

    Newly subscribed; I found this provacative as a writer. I believe that truth can be written but no one will believe it unless it's their own. Politically "woke" is a commodity these woeful days. I like your enthusiasm.

  • L.C. Schäfer22 days ago

    I pretty much agree with all this 😁 Just a couple of things that occurred to me while I was reading. First, just throwing it out there, sometimes an author, or a director, or songwriter... can do both. They put something out that you can enjoy and completely immerse in... that has layers and layers of meaning if you care to look 😁 It can be appreciated on multiple levels. I get how having to google meanings would count against a piece for some people. What is the writer or artist trying to do? For me, I want the reader to enjoy it, first and foremost. To be completely immersed. Having to stop, and pull out of the story or the song, or the film, to google something... I'd argue that's not great. It breaks immersion. It should be at least somewhat clear from context, for a reasonably bright person. I'm not fond of the subtext that there is always a smartphone on hand so that can suspend your disbelief to google. Immersion during, and reflection after, is what I prefer.

  • angela hepworth23 days ago

    accepting my own ignorance and lack of deep analytical thought when i did, and actively working to broaden and develop those analytical skills, has made me fall even harder in love with the media i was previously consuming because i was only half consuming so much of it. taking the time to really understand difficult or symbolically/thematically complex books or shows or whatever we indulge in makes them so much better to experience - like a commenter below me said, i think it’s so largely the jealousy of the people who cannot think deeply about anything due to laziness or a lack of interest or focus. super interesting piece here!

  • “M”24 days ago

    Congratulations, you really did a great job ♡

  • Congratulations on your top story !

  • I agree with you . There is a dumbing down of whatever I call it of the type of personality of cutting down certain intelligence of people who write, produce or compose music . I believe this group of jealous people have always been around but now that we are all together on the internet they are the ones poking fun and putting down literature and art they don't understand . When they make comments such as you are writing about , it's because they feel so important that they made the comments hoping people will respect their opinions . They are insecure folks. I am a baby boomer . Once upon a time I had a friend that told me, "You are different than most people , Vicki who have a college degree. You don't brag about it but your boyfriend does and I hate him for that" I looked at her and thought to myself that I did not see our friendship in the near future . We were definitely on a completely different page I life . It's sad but folks who do not study art, literature etc or go further than high school are extremely jealous of those that do. So sad

  • Phil Flannery26 days ago

    You clearly know what you're talking about. The dumbing down of this generation through social media and the like is merely the new version of what has been coming since mass media began; we are saturated now. The most difficult book I ever attempted was Neuromancer. I couldn't get my head around it. The most difficult movie was Inception. I'm a simple man. If it matters, I'm a Boomer on the cusp.

  • jacki fleet27 days ago

    Well deserved top story. Congrats. We seem to be living in an age of fragility where only groupthink is allowed. The hive mind does not challenge the narrative and sadly what is often labelled as dis or misinformation comes from the controllers of that particular narrative. We live in a world where those that challenge the narrative, want to discuss the pros and cons, and have an intelligent conversation are ridiculed, shadow-banned, blocked, labelled, etc. An army of paid trolls see to that, and people silence themselves to not rock the boat. It is as though thinking original thoughts or complex thoughts shatters the facade and causes brain pain to those who would shield themselves from such activities. The saying 'ignorance is bliss' comes to mind, however in reality ignorance is not bliss, or not for long.

  • Kimberly J Egan27 days ago

    Congratulations on your Top Story! I have to say that I've been shocked about the ignorance and sloth in Generation Alpha (and, to a certain extent, Generation Z). What's worse, it seems so many people are proud of and revel in their ignorance. We're seeing a steady decline in intelligence/education and ambition. As a woman entering her later years--who may soon have to rely on younger generations for aid--I am very concerned about our future.

  • Lamar Wiggins27 days ago

    Very well said! I can't believe that someone would attempt to review a book they said, "had too many big words." If you ever intend to improve your reading skills, it's time to break out the dictionary. Or just stick with the comfort of reading children's books...wait! Those have big words too... There's no hope for her, lol. Thanks for sharing, Olivia and congrats on your Top Story!

  • sleepy drafts27 days ago

    Oh no... the Cherry Wine misinterpretation! I have a tattoo about that song and reading that someone wanted to use it to walk down the aisle is... well, worrying to say the least. The lyric, "like sleep to the freezing" is not meant to be a romantic one, ahhh, lol! This is a fantastic article and something I've been thinking about also. I'm so glad to see this rise of anti-intellectualism addressed. I've noticed it a lot on BookTube also, and I have to agree, it's discouraging. Thank you for writing about this! What’s encouraging about this piece is to know that other readers and writers who value the experience of re-reading or re-watching a piece of art still exist too. 💗

  • Anna 27 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story!🥳🥳🥳

  • I agree that gaining knowledge has nothing to do with enjoying or not enjoying a movie or show, it's all your experience and what you get from it. I do feel if people avoid certain things that cause a shift in their perspective, it can really close off their mind to many things, some bad, some good. Great essay 👌

  • Andrea Corwin 28 days ago

    oops, Congrats on TS!!

  • Andrea Corwin 28 days ago

    I agree! I liked your part about vlogs because I get recommendations also. I am constantly googling things. This is a great article with common sense and truth.

  • Sandra Matos28 days ago

    I agree with you. I do think that everyone should be allowed to express their own opinion. I myself was very critical of my friends who liked a certain fan fiction novel that later became a motion picture, and I am ashamed of that judgemental part of me. But I am pretty sure most people can understand that "tome." I am all for "undumbing" everything. Great read!

  • KJ Aartila28 days ago

    Yes! I agree so much with you!

  • Kendall Defoe 29 days ago

    Preach! I am Gen-X, but I teach the Alphas, and I am shocked at how little they understand about the media they are addicted to. And if you don't like something, just stop watching. Simple, but often forgotten!

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