Wednesday, July 14, 2004


Sorry about the delay. I’ve been…busy.

A few shout-outs before we start:

I just saw the Blunt Theatre Company’s outdoor production of “Measure For Measure,” directed by Jamie Taylor. It had always been my favorite comedies by Shakespeare to read, and my least favorite to watch. ‘Til this production. I gotta admit, that Taylor girl’s got some game.

Also, these weird human emoticon photos that Pete’s put up on this page were taken by Damian Wampler on closing night of “Mayonnaise Sandwiches.” Check out his Web site at

Now, on with the show…


Although I always have issues with film critic Charles Taylor, there was one article he wrote recently, “Let's Save Literature From The Literati,” that I actually liked and agree with, although he does give television too much credit (I think that the ability for us to follow labyrinthine plots in television series is more due to the part of our brains that can retain gossip rather than the part of our brains that can follow complex, abstract thought). It’s a challenge to…well, let’s call a spade a spade…the literary snobs who bemoan that our culture reads less and less (you know, that “Poor Us” attitude that permeates all forms of the self-proclaimed intelligencia) and therefore believe that our culture has become more stupid and lazy.

Taylor writes:

“[Andrew] Solomon, the author of a much-praised study of depression, ‘The Noonday Demon,’ is writing in response to a recent poll that showed reading for pleasure is down among Americans of every race, age, gender and economic class. He's concerned and depressed about that, and he should be. It is depressing, as Solomon notes, that we have one of the most literate societies in history but a decreasing number of readers.

What's wrong with his piece, and with almost every other literary attack on visual culture, is the inability to understand that there is such a thing as visual literacy, and the assumption that reading is a mentally active experience and looking a passive one.”

To put it another way, does reading “Harry Potter” mean you’re an active intellect and watching “Safe” mean you’re a passive boob?

The extrapolation from this literati attitude is that people are becoming more intellectually lazy and willfully ignorant. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Honest.

(Pete, having just read that I admitted to liking something Charles Taylor wrote AND not believing we’re drowning in a cesspool of imbeciles, is probably looking out the window to see if it’s raining frogs.)

Every medium has its share of junk (television, of course, more than others, although I still can’t get enough of “Six Feet Under” and “elimiDATE”) and its share of pretense. But to consider one medium more “highbrow” than another is really…well…dumb (this is also because I am an ardent champion of comic books, an unfortunately ridiculed medium. This stance, obviously, very rarely gets me chicks). I mean, if all us theatre-makers were judged by the same aesthetic criteria as “Seussical,” many of us would flee screaming.

We all lament about our degrading culture and how we’re all becoming more and more stupid. Maybe it’s true, I don’t know (all of you who know me well have heard me give that rant ad nauseum). But there’s no real hierarchy of media. A “reader” isn’t more or less of an intellect than a film-watcher. A novel isn’t intrinsically any better or worse than a play, and a play isn’t any better or worse than a comic book.

(Many of you reading the above may be thinking, “Well, duh, James. Really profound.” I know, I know, it sounds pretty obvious, but with all this lamentation and elitism tied to certain creative media, I think it bears repeating.)

It’s just as good to be theatre- or film-literate as booksmart.

Alas, my reading has slowed since I was younger. I’m not sure if this means I’ve become more lazy, or stupid (I haven’t ruled it out). But I really don’t think that’s the case. I do enjoy experiencing works from other media. In other words, although my annual reading output has dropped, I still like highbrow shit. But I don’t feel inferior or illiterate because I’ve been watching films, plays and dance more often than I’ve been reading books. And this elitism and demand for constant highbrow appeal (exemplified by pundits like Andrew Solomon and Ann Douglas) provides circular logic. Why would we want to read if all the authors wrote with the idea that we’re too stupid for their work? Why would we go to plays if playwrights and directors inherently believed that we, as audiences, are lazy idiots?

As a writer/producer of plays, I rarely see passive zombies at Nosedive’s shows. It’s extremely rare that people come out of our plays and not “get” them. Neither Pete nor I have been able to outsmart our audiences, no matter how complex we try to make the play (either visually or aurally). There are many smart people out there who are eager to try new experiences with different media, whether or not they’re constantly reading for pleasure.

Although we may all wanna try to curb our “elimiDATE” watching at least a little bit.

Intellectually slothful,

James “Lowbrow” Comtois

July 14, 2004


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