Pigging out on pop culture junk food

Your health extends beyond diet and exercise — intellectual and creative consumption are as pivotal as eating your vegetables and vitamins.

You may not get scurvy from neglecting the arts, but the American obesity crisis possesses a twin brother in the form of our cultural intake.

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There is a tendency for generations to view their successors’ pop culture as lacking in style, taste, talent or originality.

This trend has confronted some great cultural gems. Rock n’ roll was condemned as “devil’s music,” beat literature was described as rambling and indulgent, jazz met accusations of obscenity and even artists like Van Gogh went unrecognized until post-mortem.

Despite this predisposition, modern creative output faces a different challenge.

Our issue is not a matter of a lacking talent pool or harsh judgment, the creative volume we possess is bountiful as ever. What is problematic is how exposure to the masters of the arts has become a niche hobby.

Last week, I performed an impromptu study, admittedly unscientific. Throughout the day I asked people to tell me their favorite modern artists, authors, musicians, movies and shows.

More interesting than any particular responses was how many people told me they didn’t remember the last book they read for fun, didn’t know any current visual artists by name, or simply hadn’t gone to the movies in some time.

After some deliberation, my thesis came together as follows: Our cultural palette has been distorted by constant force-feeding of what I will call “high-fructose-entertainment-syrup” –– the junk food of creativity.

Recently, I went to see “The Master,” an incredibly well-acted and shot film with Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The only theater playing it was the Lyric Cinema Café, one of my personal favorite Fort Collins institutions.

In this independent theater, you can lounge on couches instead of theater seats, buy a local craft brew, get gourmet snacks and dishes, and do it at a reasonable ticket price. Nevertheless, this cinema struggles to maintain enough business to stay financially afloat. What gives?

The reason for this I will analogize to taking the creative nutritional pyramid and turning it upside-down, replacing quality with fillers. If obesity extends beyond physical dimensions, our cultural trousers would require an elastic waistband.

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Six of the 10 highest grossing films of 2012 are sequels, a prime indicator of cultural apathy.

You remember MTV, right? The “music” television station. As a product of the 90’s, my after-school hours were spent watching music videos and envying Carson Daly’s job on T.R.L. These days, “meatballs” getting drunk on the Jersey Shore and 17 year-olds fighting custody battles for illegitimate children replace my Weezer and Beastie Boys’ videos.

Make no mistake. Some crap is necessary. We need these things as a frame of reference — like they say, the sweet isn’t so sweet without the bitter. We should consume junk culture the same way we do a bag of Cheetos or a Mountain Dew: sparingly and supplemented by a nutritious diet.

What we digest culturally feeds forms the perceptions we develop about everything from sexuality to politics. I would rather not see popular culture dictated by Snooki and the cast of “16 and Pregnant.”

We have all fantasized about living in a different time period. For many writers, it’s among the Parisian literary circle of the twenties; for rockers it could be the Woodstock era. My greatest hope would be for us cultivate a modern renaissance that our children look back on with envy.

Hipster subculture is something that has seen exponential growth over the last decade. For me it’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, I commend the patience and determination to sift through the diluted ocean of media for the good stuff: musicians that actually play instruments, artists that provoke thought — but come on guys, drop the elitist mentality.

Good music, books, art and so on are creations that should be hailed and screamed of from the rooftops, not treated as if you’re Gollum guarding his precious.

One of the truly exquisite traits humanity possesses is the ability to create beauty outside of ourselves. Our capacity to capture the human condition through the arts, whether horrific or sublime, distinguishes us as a species.

In the end I ask only one thing: Help me out. Don’t allow us to be a generation that casts the exceptional to the margins, watch your junk food culture intake and, above all, never stop creating and sharing.