Smarter Than Your Average Audience Member Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2013-07-03 18:00:00 No comments

Steven Brust took a slap at the idea that people are automatically stupid. I agree with him: if you assume people are dummies, then you'll get dummies. If you assume your audience is up to the task, that's the audience you'll get.

But his examples don't really seem to support his case. Is the best example of a TV show "aimed at smart people" that he could come up with The West Wing? Is the Grateful Dead really a shining example of "music that engaged the brain"? I know he was ranting, but ...

Maybe the problem is that we have opposing ideas about what constitutes entertainment for intelligent people, or why such people seek it out in the first place, and because I see that stuff -- what we do with the thing after we get our hands on it -- as being at least as important.

The fact that I like something "intelligent" is at first more an assertion of my taste than my intelligence. My intelligence may be engaged through the choices made by my tastes, but at the same time, it's the taste more than the brains that make those choices in the first place. I know plenty of highly literate people who don't read Dickens because he's just not their kind of guy. And I know some people who don't know jack about music but who like jazz, but their enthusiasm for the material doesn't make them experts in the subject. They just like to have aural wallpaper.

So, how your intelligence is engaged by the work in question is entirely up to you. The mere fact you engage with it, or the mere fact that you created it and found an audience for it, is not by itself the only thing. I'm not smart for merely wanting to read Dostoevsky. I'm smart if I'm able to read him and get something out of him that I didn't have in the first place. Otherwise I'm in the position of the hipster who lines his loft with fat classic books for show.

To me the real sign of a work "aimed at smart people" is when you can walk out of it with something you didn't have going in. And one of the signs of a smart person is when he can recognize that he's been given such a gift and can do something with it.

So, yes, it's stupid to say, generically, that people are stupid. I just felt there was far more that could be said on that note.

Tags: audiences creativity