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Tuesday, August 15, 2023


 People like the canon. For the elite, it is good as a reinforcement of elite education. For the middle-brow taste, it is aspirational. So think of Harold Bloom's books on the canon, marketed to a middle-brow public. 

The canon brings familiarity: people prefer the familiar to the unfamiliar. The fact that it is popular increases its popularity even more, because people like things that they know other people like already. It provides for easy social connection.  It is like liking Patrick Mahomes where I live. It is pretty safe, because if I meet a stranger, the fact we both like him creates a bond (even if we both just say we like him because that is expected.) 

People can claim not to prefer canonical or popular things, but then they are usually choosing the most popular thing of a given subculture, so a metal fan will like the most popular metal bands. 

I'm not being judgmental.  I don't think there is anything wrong with following these urges toward canonicity, familiarity, and popularity. It's a little like Yogi Berra's joke: "Nobody goes there, it's too crowded."  


Phaedrus said...

When I returned to Buffalo after my first stint at Stanford, I realized pretty quickly that my literary and academic interests would not endear me to most people in Buffalo's bars (which had a huge role in that city's social connections and cultural life). I decided I needed to become an erudite football follower - and hired a tutor to teach me the game. (I later signed this tutor to co-author the first book on Fantasy Football.)

Jonathan said...

I subscribed to Sports Illustrated as a kid. I asked my parents to get it as a birthday present, out of a similar sense of self-preservation. I never hired a tutor (that is hilarious, such a good idea!) but I would watch enough to of the big three sports to master the lingo. I don't know hockey because I grew up in California and nobody cared about it. I'm surprised at how much I know, because we were watching baseball at someone's house and people kept talking about scoring points, and I was thinking, there are no points in bb! No referees!