Why I Love “Low” Art

Caroline Hagood
November 28, 2017
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Where to begin with why I have always valued entertainment considered (by snobs, let’s be honest) to be “lowbrow”? For one thing, this preference led me to my dissertation. I wrote about female poets, including Hilda Doolittle or H.D., Adrienne Rich, and Theresa Cha, responding to male filmmakers in their poetry. The radical potential of these poems about film frequently goes under the critical radar. The study of the effect of film form and theme on poetry has not yet been fully explored because many don’t want to sully the “high” art of poetry with the (still considered by some snobs, let’s be honest) “low” art of film. However, in the realm of film-influenced poetry, the avant-garde or “high” and commercial or “low” arenas are difficult, if not impossible, to separate.

The French New Wave art films that Rich references are inspired by Hollywood and H.D.’s experimental 1930 film Borderline features Paul Robeson of Show Boat fame. Some of the most challenging poets were most attracted to commercial culture: H.D. was obsessed with Garbo, Stein (and practically every other poet in France and America) loved Chaplin, Loy wrote on Marie Dressler, Maya Deren filmed boxing, and Abigail Child remixed film noir and pornography.

To draw on film at all is to draw on its popular and mass-cultural tendencies as well; for every Fireworks (Kenneth Anger’s 1947 acclaimed experimental work) there is a Hollywood Babylon (Anger’s much-maligned 1965 tell-all on Tinseltown scandals). The powerful and disquieting effect of these two registers usually thought of as separate, film and poetry, the commercial and the experimental, being deployed together in the service of a radical gender project is the story I so often want to tell.

Then again, some of why I often prefer “low” art has to do with the fact that a lot of what’s considered smart is actually bad or boring, and everyone’s too afraid to say it for fear of being seen as un-smart. There, I said it. I know that this is subjective on some level, but, really? There’s often a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes at work when it comes to “taste.” But I feel confident saying some of the stuff considered so smart is really just awful.

I also study pop culture for its dispatches from earth. I’ve always been trying to find out how people live, how they cope with this world, how they deal with the daily ups and downs that are funny and sad. As I watch these TV shows and movies, I’m often like an alien watching earthling activity to find out the exact definition of being human. Then, after I learn it, I intend to launch it back out through my writing.

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