Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Joy of Contrarianism

A great deal of philosophical, scientific, and broadly intellectual investigation involves the search for universal truths: A is A, force equals mass multiplied by acceleration, murder is immoral. Yet man has always had a fascination with the aberration, be it bad boys or black pearls. There is often pleasure in variety, even in anomaly. As applies to human action, the maxim may simply Grouch Marx's that no one wants to be part of the club that will have him as a member, a predilection which can take an unhealthy turn into oikophobia and hatred of the familiar. Whatever the condition, I hope it's not serious, because I've got it.

How else can I explain the contrarian joy I find in not watching the Oscars tonight? And major sporting events, and the darling shows of the critics, and so on down the populist line. It's so pleasant to walk another path and remain in ignorance of the vulgar, and for once I don't wholly mean vulgar in a pejorative sense but merely common. Of course it's always hard to tell whether I don't like the subject or simply its popularity. I suppose if the whole nation were suddenly glued to Don Giovanni that I would join in.

Maybe not, though. Maybe I'd put on The Magic Flute out of spite. Childish perhaps, but possible, for popular success confuses the two most cherished elitist beliefs: that great art has universal relevance and that the majority is always wrong.

Perhaps that's not the appeal of contrarianism, then. Maybe it's the way standing out, even if in some infinitesimally small way, seems to magnify the deliberate nature of the change. Just the teensiest bit of effort makes one feel less the lemming and more the individual, even when the change is of no other consequence. The slightest choice seems to liberate one from the torpor of conformity and to energize my studies. I'm doing no great work this evening, I don't think, but how precious it seems, how much more mine.

I also feel, quite foolishly perhaps, that I'm getting a jump on all the rubes when I'm walking out of step during popular events. In fact I've often imagined I could best Lex Luthor and take over the world in a cinch were I to play Don't Stop Believin' in every American bar during the World Cup, which I figure would incapacitate most of the our humble globe's population.

World domination aside, I'll have to make do with that comforting ignorance of bourgeois boobery. I don't know a lick about any of the frippery which adorns tonight's spectacle. Such are the joys. Sure, I'm missing out on dishing some facile ridicule, and who doesn't like that, but they're fish in a barrel. What non-Congressional body could possibly be more ripe for insult?

No, I'm just going to sit with my tea, T. S. Eliot, and Bach in this corner of civilization which is tonight especially private.

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