For most Americans, Ash Wednesday is nothing more than the day after Mardi Gras, where everyone comes into work with a hangover — including the few people wandering around the office with ashes on their heads. Now, we don’t mean to be scolds, and we’re the last folks in the world who would push a religious agenda on you, but we’d also like to point out that all the partying you’re doing tonight is in preparation for some serious self-denial in the time between tomorrow and Easter. And regardless of your beliefs, there has to be something you’d benefit from giving up for a while.
So, in the spirit of the cultural resolutions we made at the end of last year, we’ve picked ten cultural habits — vices, crutches, tendencies — to give up for the next seven weeks. Tell us what you’re kicking to the curb in the comments.
We’ve had our fun with Charlie Sheen, and now it’s time to say goodbye — not least because what’s behind our obsession with his multimedia meltdown isn’t that funny. Of course, celebrity crises can be entertaining, oddly absorbing, and even reassuring (they may be rich, but their lives aren’t perfect!). But what they really do is distract us from both what’s actually going wrong in the world and what is truly worth caring about in the realm of culture. And, whether it’s Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Amy Winehouse, Mel Gibson, or any number of other famous crazy people, what we’re laughing at tends to be addiction, mental illness, and bigotry — which have real effects on not only the stars in question but also the family members, friends, and strangers who bear the brunt of their bad behavior.
The print-vs.-digital debate
Is The Daily saving magazine journalism or destroying it? Does Tolstoy on a Kindle deprive you of that musty book smell and weighty-tome feel that has characterized our experience of reading the masters for centuries? Are eBooks devaluing the work that goes into all literature? Or is it unethical to kill trees when there’s a perfectly good, paperless way to read? These are all great questions, but frankly, we are sick of this conversation. Let’s take a good month and a half off from it and appreciate what’s really important here: the fact that we’re so passionate about this debate means that journalism and literature are far from dead, no matter how we consume them.
You know what’s weird? When the very funny American spin-off of a hilarious British sitcom outlasts its predecessor by a whopping five seasons — and then plans to do more, even though the lead actor is leaving in a few months. There have been plenty of hints that the show has been all out of plot since Jim and Pam got hitched, and although we loved The Office in its prime, we are going to use Lent as an excuse to pry ourselves away from it once and for all. It’ll be tough, seeing as it’s part of a Thursday-night line-up that includes some of our favorite TV comedies (Community, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock). But it will be nice to have that wasted half-hour of our lives back.
Major-museum art shows
Don’t get us wrong. As New Yorkers, we love having scores of world-class art museums only a walk or subway ride away. But a lot of the time, we find ourselves heading to the Met or the Brooklyn Museum for the fourth or fifth time in a year instead of making frequent visits to Chelsea, the Lower East Side, or Williamsburg, to catch gallery shows by folks who aren’t established enough to earn a place on the hallowed walls of these institutions. Our beloved art museums are pretty much the opposite of a vice, but if, during Lent, we take a gallery walk each time we would have otherwise visited them, we’re sure to discover a wealth of great art we might have missed.
Caring about Woody Allen
Oh boy, is this one painful. If we were to make a list of our favorite directors of all time, Woody Allen would surely be in the top ten. But for over a decade now, his ratio of good movies (Vicky Christina Barcelona, Match Point) to awful ones (Cassandra’s Dream, Whatever Works, Anything Else, Hollywood Ending, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion… etc.) makes shelling out $13 to see his latest project just seem like a bad bet. Will we watch Annie Hall and Manhattan and all Woody’s other classics over and over for the rest of our lives? Sure we will. When we hear he’s shooting a new movie in Rome, though? We’re not getting too excited.
Anticipating albums that have been “in the works” for decades
My Bloody Valentine were one of the best bands of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Their 1991 album, Loveless, is an undisputed classic. So it makes sense that shoegaze fans have spent years hanging on every hint band mastermind Kevin Shields has dropped about a new record. But you know what? Despite reuniting to tour in 2007 and adding new grist to the rumor mill with claims that the next MBV album was almost finished, we’ve still got nothing. So now, we’re releasing them from our expectations — because even when these long-awaited opuses do see the light of the day, they’re rarely all they’re cracked up to be. (Hello there, Chinese Democracy.)
Non-competitive reality TV
It began nobly enough, with The Real World — which teenagers of today may not realize wasn’t always about drunk frat guys bedding girls who think bikini tops are proper dinner attire. No, back in the ’90s, the show threw together legitimately interesting people from different backgrounds and facing a wide range of issues, as a sort of social experiment. Did drunk hook-ups happen? Of course. But those casts actually learned (and, in turn, taught us) about finding common ground with people we wouldn’t generally meet or like. Nearly 20 years later, that show is a nightmare — as are the non-competitive reality series, from Jersey Shore to The Real Housewives franchise it’s spawned. While we’re pretty sure Top Chef and other skill-based shows aren’t frying our brains, we know for a fact that gazing glassy-eyed at Snooki and friends as they live their fairly boring lives is keeping us from living our own. These shows are like televisual crack. Which, in case you’d forgotten, is whack.
Getting pissed off about stupid book deals
Speaking of Jersey Shore, did you realize that about half of the core cast now have books out? In fact, last year, we allowed ourselves to get worked up about a slew of ridiculous celebrity book deals, from Michaele Salahi to that octopus who accurately predicted the World Cup winner and then died a little while later. It’s not that these signs of cultural apocalypse aren’t still depressing; it’s just that the best thing we can do is stop paying attention to them and keep focusing on great books and authors who aren’t getting the attention they deserve.
Judging albums before we hear them
In a Tumblr follow-up to his positive review of Toro Y Moi’s new album, Underneath the Pine, Marc Hogan wrote, “My initial draft for the review was much longer, and I remember trying to draw an analogy between ‘chillwave’ in music and ‘mumblecore’ in movies, where both are kinda silly-sounding names, rendered ridiculous within subcultural circles long before they’ve become widely known among the public at large, but both have resulted in a few works I love.” We have been guilty of making fun of chillwave before, and we’re sure we’ll eventually do it again. But Hogan makes a good point about giving individual bands and albums a chance instead of ignoring everything we assume we won’t like just because it’s been labeled a certain way.
Paying to see movies we know will be terrible
You know what’s weird? Even though we have a lamentable tendency to judge and subsequently avoid bands and albums before we hear them (or even read the reviews), we manage to do the exact opposite with movies — we go to see them even when we’re sure they’ll be bad. Not just the highbrow ones! (Well, hello again, Woody Allen.) Just last fall, we walked into Burlesque, knowing full well that it wasn’t even going to succeed as camp but holding out some vague hope that it would be “fun.” We walked out feeling like we’d wasted hard-earned cash. And yet, we have recently been expressing a desire to see The Roommate. This time, we’re going to hold that thought and take in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives instead.