Monday, June 09, 2014

FAKING CULTURAL LITERACY

Was an interesting piece in the NYT last week by Karl Greenfeld about how numerous online sites as well as facebook and twitter and hashtags allow us to comment on many things we could not really explain in any depth. We may have not read THE GOLDFINCH but we all know it concerns a famous painting. We may not have seen 12 YEARS A SLAVE but almost anyone can give you a plot summery.

This sort of thing predates online info on a smaller scale. It took me years to realize a friend who commented on movies all the time had not actually seen any of them, just read reviews. Novels, as well.

I guess we are all guilty of this. Reading headlines and not the stories beneath them is one of my biggest sins. I have never actuallyclaimed to have seen a movie that I didn't, but in some cases it may be that over time I come to believe I have read books that I haven't because the chatter about them is so intense. Did I ever read HUCK FINN, I am not sure any longer.

And not having read or seen such things does not stop us from having an opinion. We form opinions on prejudices and intuition as much as concrete information.

Are you guity of faking cultural literacy?

23 comments:

Liam Sweeny said...

Before I started writing, I was a non-fiction freak. So I could go in-depth on anything BUT (fiction) books, songs, celebs and movies.

I didn't make claims, but in polite conversation I may have nodded a few times when someone else had an opinion. So, sure, I'm guilty of it sometimes.

Charles Gramlich said...

Don't think I've ever done that for a movie, either, but maybe for books, if it was something I might have read as a kid.

Dana King said...

I think I'm pretty good about not doing this, with one exception: I will sometimes pretend to "get" a reference to a movie or TV show, even if I don't, if only to avoid the stares od disbelief and, "Dude, ou HAVE o see this," which is almost always followed by a detailed description of the movie, which often only confirme why my life had remained meaningful, even though I'd not seen it.

Keith Rawson said...

I think we've all been guilty of this at one time or another, whether it's music, movies, books, etc., and when I was in my early 20's I did it quite a bit just to be apart of the conversation. But now as a man in my 40's, I avoid getting involved with discussions where I'm only "aware" of the material.

Joe Barone said...

I did that a few times (quite awhile ago) and was ashamed of it. I try not to do it and haven't for a long time. Still, I cite books I read forty or fifty years ago and may only vaguely remember except for an overall impression.

Nowadays I don't write for others. I write because I enjoy writing. My blog posts help me go back and recall a book if I need to.

Aside from family and friends, I enjoy writing more than anything I have ever done. So long as I'm able, I can't visualize retirement without writing something almost every day.

John said...

I've never done such a thing. Sounds like the kind of thing a desperately lonely person would do in order to have a sense of belonging. Shared experience through surface knowledge rather than actual experience. It's just like "friending" strangers on Facebook. Having fake friends who may or may not like the same things you do but who appear to based on what they type in their messages. That's pretty telling for the kind of world we live in now.

Sometimes I get the feeling that some of the book blogs I read are written by people who have never read the books either but who do a fantastic job of gathering information from other sites and culling it all together. In fact, there are two in particular I can no longer visit because I am convinced they are utterly fraudulent.

Gerard said...

I know I read HUCK FINN because I remember be horrified when the family feud broke out into murder.

I feel qualified to comment on WHITE HOUSE DOWN because I watched every minute of that crap on Friday evening.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Well, I think I do do it--inadvertently mostly. I read so many reviews of books and movies and TV that after a while I begin to defend them (usually defend) when other people who have not seen them attack them. I don't claim to have read or seen it but I might sound like that. By the time I read a book, I have read perhaps a half dozen review of it and even more with movies.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - That's the thing about modern technology and blogs. That's why if I really need accurate information on something, I check it on several sources - just to be 1000% sure.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Not quite what I mean. I mean discussing a book or movie as if you have actually read or seen it.

Anonymous said...

When we were in Arizona my brother told Jackie she was "naive" about Facebook (as you know we are definitely NOT members of that cult) and tried to explain why his 450 "friends" (few of whom he actually knows) were important.

Sorry, do not get it. The world knows enough about my business without my helping it out.

As for the other, I agree we've all done it at times. I've always had a kind of reverse snobbism about the "in" books, almost defiantly NOT reading them just because everyone tells me I MUST do so, whther it is The Name of the Rose, Da Vinci Code, The Lovely Bones or Gone Girl.

I am more likely to make a disparaging remark than pretend I've read something I haven't, but there are definitely times I feel I've picked up so much about a movie or TV show from everything written that I have some idea of what it's about.

By the way, I found that NY Times article almost pathetic in the author's seeming need to feel relevant and au courant, but maybe that's just me.


Jeff M.

Richard said...

I don't think I've done that, though in my youth I may have, trying to impress. If I read a review of something, I may repeat what it said, as in "I read a review of it, it's about "__" and it sounds interesting. But I don't try to make someone else's knowledge or opinion sound like my own.

George said...

The key word is "fake." I think people resort to fakery when they're embarrassed not to have read the book or movie under discussion. My response is to simply say nothing.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sometimes you find yourself responding to the thesis of an article you have not actually read. Case in point, the article saying adults should not be reading YA books. I think many people will respond to that thesis without reading the author's points. This is just an example. I have not read the piece myself.

Dyer Wilk said...

We definitely live in a culture that’s overloaded with information. It’s what the Internet has given us––access to people, access to knowledge, access to (often unwanted) opinions. I think one of the downsides to all this freely accessible information is the expectation that you will be familiar with what everyone is talking about. The assumption is that everyone has seen the latest episode of Game of Thrones, or that everyone has read that popular book. And there seems to be pressure to keep up, or at least appear that we’re keeping up. I find it all a bit ridiculous, but then again we all went to high school and succumbed to similar pressures on a smaller scale. It takes guts to admit you’re not familiar with some aspect of pop culture, and even more to tell people that you’re not going to drop everything you’re doing just to familiarize yourself with what they’re talking about.

Cap'n Bob said...

All the time.

Cap'n Bob said...

Bwah, just kidding. I have a tough enough time commenting on things I have seen and read to bother with those I haven't.

Todd Mason said...

I have enough opinions already...no need to fabricate any. (And I sometimes feel bad about not having finished an anthology, or not rereading the book again, at very least not thoroughly, after a long stretch in my FFBs, but we do what we can do....) I do have to wrack the brain from time to time to recall whether I've read or seen or heard something, particularly going way back or if I found it literally unmemorable...

Todd Mason said...

Confusing two books in memory by the same writer, or two similar books, is always Fun.

Todd Mason said...

(As are the ones I half-remember at best, one reason, aside from not yet getting back to them and perhaps quality in one case, that I haven't FFB'd, for example, Art Buchwald's IRVING'S DELIGHT, or Peter de Vries's WITHOUT A STITCH IN TIME (which I briefly conflated, as I was about to type it, with J. B. Priestley's SALT IS LEAVING) or Richard Brautigan's THE ABORTION, or Herbert Gold's SALT for that matter...I see all of Brautigan, maybe, is available online at https://sites.google.com/site/brautiganarchives/home

pattinase (abbott) said...

Being older confers forgetfulness in excess of wisdom!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Being older confers forgetfulness in excess of wisdom!

Deb said...

I'm always astonished at the number if times I'm absolutely sure that X wrote Y or that A happens in B--and yet when I go back to reread, I'm completely wrong. I try not to pretend a cultural literacy I don't possess, but I often find myself looking just as foolish by insisting that something happened in a book I HAVE read only to find out it didn't. Oh well, as Anais Nin said (I think), memory is a great betrayer.