The embers of the most recent battle over “What is good?” are cooling to ash, and our own humor-based comment found a cold reception. To be honest, I don’t quite understand why calling poor comics poor, whether they be superhero, indie, kiddie, or “mainstream,” is always taken as a personal attack. I thought that would be left to the artists who are called poor, not the readers of the genre the work belongs to. But such is not the case.
And of course, reading crappy comics or watching crappy movies or reading crappy blogs doesn’t make you a crappy person, and it’s a free country, and blah blah. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe to always give crappiness a free pass. Yesterday, economist Paul Krugman was awarded the Nobel Prize, and while I’m about as capable of understanding his theories of free trade as I am quantum physics, many people pointed to his post Supply, Demand, and English Food as an example of his thinking. Basically, he asks, why was English food, until the past 10 or 12 years, so dreadful? The reason. Krugman argues, goes back to swift Victorian industrialization, and the difficulty of transporting fresh food to rapidly expanding urban centers. However, British food remained suspect for years and years past the point where decent ingredients became available…and Krugman’s answer is somewhat germane to the discussion here, I think:
For the answer is surely that by the time it became possible for urban Britons to eat decently, they no longer knew the difference. The appreciation of good food is, quite literally, an acquired taste–but because your typical Englishman, circa, say, 1975, had never had a really good meal, he didn’t demand one. And because consumers didn’t demand good food, they didn’t get it. Even then there were surely some people who would have liked better, just not enough to provide a critical mass.
And then things changed. Partly this may have been the result of immigration. (Although earlier waves of immigrants simply adapted to English standards–I remember visiting one fairly expensive London Italian restaurant in 1983 that advised diners to call in advance if they wanted their pasta freshly cooked.) Growing affluence and the overseas vacations it made possible may have been more important–how can you keep them eating bangers once they’ve had foie gras? But at a certain point the process became self-reinforcing: Enough people knew what good food tasted like that stores and restaurants began providing it–and that allowed even more people to acquire civilized taste buds.
Only last week, I was bowling with the family in Waterville, Maine. Future Mr. Beat, who is English, was happy to discover that at the alley they had one of the fine local brews on tap: Casco Bay Riptide. He was so happy that he remarked to the barkeep on how excellent the brew was. She replied, “It is, but no one drinks it. Everyone likes Bud LIght.”
At the risk of not only being branded a snob, but an INTERNATIONALIST snob, I have to mention here that FMB, who is nothing if not a beer aficionado, will not under any circumstances drink Bud LIght because it is vile, an opinion which I share. Interestingly, Budweiser is drunk in Europe, but it is nothing like the brew sold in the US…that brand of puddle water would never sell in England or Europe. It’s not that they don’t have their crappy frat beers in England, like Carllng, but that they are just better — by every objective and subjective measure — than our crappy frat beers. What this says about America and our standards doesn’t keep me up at night….but plenty of other examples of the like that don’t involve alcohol do.
Anyway, are comic books like beer…or even food? Not exactly; however, I do believe that when presented with an endless expanse of poor fare, one will eventually forget what a superior example of art is like. All of us need to remind ourselves on a regular basis of how great comics can be, and demand better quality in our beer, food, AND entertainment. And that’s what I’ll endeavor to do, in my own imperfect way.