“He offended me with his terrible taste!” —Barry in the film High Fidelity
You probably know the scenario. Somebody sent you a link to an upcoming movie or TV series. “We NEED to support projects like this!” Or somebody passed along a Catholic novel to you. “We need to support Catholic writers like this!” But then you went and saw or read and it didn’t move you. Maybe you didn’t even like it. Are you a bad person?
One of the more noxious ways that political “culture wars” have been insinuated into everything is how seeming anything can be made into a political signifier. Grow your own arugula in a home garden? You must be a left-winger. Like to hunt deer with a black-powder rifle? Must be some right-wing gun nut. Watch Colbert? Liberal. Duck Dynasty? Conservative.
As a part of this classification of everything into political categories, what can often happen even among the well-meaning is the attempt to classify art as part of Our Culture of The Good Guys and then to make that art obligatory. But art doesn’t work that way. Art is to a certain extent subjective; making it obligatory takes what should be an opportunity for discovery and enchantment and makes it into a dreary exercise in taking your medicine because it’s good for you.
It can also create further divisions as people start to appropriate other elements of culture to bend it into being part of Our Culture. So you have people wielding things like Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings as cultural clubs; if you do / don’t like Harry, you are / aren’t a good Catholic. Tastes differ, and trying to make what you like obligatory for others or suggesting that someone else’s taste is wrong or immoral isn’t a great method of persuasion. (Obviously some things are objectively bad, like Fifty Shades of Grey or the art of Thomas Kinkade*, but there’s vast amounts of worthy art out there that you may or may not like simply based on your personal taste.)
Perhaps a better way for persons interested in promoting culture is to sidestep this. We surely could use more people out there pushing Catholic literature, but there’s a less divisive method than insisting that others read it or they lose the war. Do you really love a recent Catholic novel? Write a review on Amazon or Goodreads, share a copy with friends, post some of your favorite passages from the book on Facebook or Tumblr. If you read a Catholic book and it didn’t strike your fancy, don’t sweat it. Find another and don’t let anyone make the experience into a medicine-taking moment.
The only way people are really going to connect over books, music, film, or other form of art is if your genuine love and enthusiasm drives them to seek it as well. Trying to force enthusiasm for something because you’re told it’s essential to a movement is a surefire way of ending up with people not only having less genuine enthusiasm for the promoted art, but also casting a pall of political projection over the art as well.
* I kid. Or do I?