It is happening. I can feel it. For the longest time it was difficult to put into words, but now it seems crystal clear. It’s the blandness that culture offers that is driving me crazy and pushing us all towards mediocrity. Bland movies, music, television, food, political discussions… if you can conceive of a facet of life, chances are we as a people are being fed the mass consumption version and the horrifying part is, we are just fine with buying into it. Let me start at the beginning.
Readers of this blog are aware of my stance on pre-packaged meals straight from the grocery store. While wandering around Kroger, I could not help but be reminded of the tasteless, unhealthy awfulness that is packaged to us in such convenient boxes. I began to think… it appears to me that blandness has crept into nearly every facet of our lives. Of course, this has always been the case I would argue, but here’s the difference… I think we as a society are becoming more accepting of the blandness.
What is blandness? I think of it as the adjective that describes the popular aspects of culture, produced for the masses, that (in my own opinion at least) lack significance, meaning, or lasting appeal. Am I attacking pop culture and simply disguising my criticism as anti-mainstream? I do not see it that way for two ways: First, there are plenty of elements of mainstream culture that I enjoy and secondly, the problem runs deeper than popular trends. I think blandness includes the blind acceptance of anything fed to us by our culture.
What I do is try something that will challenge me. Whether it is cooking, movies, ideas, or playing guitar… I try to incorporate (from time to time) something different. Sometimes it does not pan out in the slightest, sometimes it completely alters my taste. Here’s an example: I tried running for a time as exercise… could not get into it, no matter what. I used to be a competitive swimmer and I still swim for exercise, but recently I took up Tai Chi as a form of meditation and martial arts, and I have fallen in love with it. Another example: a few years ago I gave a little old film known as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari a try, and since then, my film collection has expanded to include German Expressionistic classics.
So here are my own tips for kicking the blandness. Are they universal? I would like to think so, but I know they work for me, so who knows. Try giving these tips a try:
I mentioned a few months back in a Top 5 article on food that the home cook should broaden his or her horizons by cooking a food from outside his or her own cultural context. Here are some other suggestions:
– Pick up a spice at the store that you have either never heard of, or at the very least, never used. Take it home, open it, smell it, and sample it, then build a dish around it. Try doing this without a recipe.
– Prepare a dish that requires slow cooking or a copious amount of time. Tired of that same restaurant on Saturday night? Cook delicious ribs in the oven all day for an amazing meal. Looking for something refreshing to drink? Instead of reaching for bland-brand Cola at the grocery store, use fresh ginger and make homemade ginger ale (takes two days)
– Finally: If you go out to restaurants, order something different. Take a dish you normally make, try making it spicy.
Warding off blandness in this category is quite easy, given the resources available in modern America. With cookie cutter movies released constantly, the market is flooded with uninspired, indistinguishable blandness. I am not saying that modern movies are awful, but the conventions they use have become wearisome for me personally, and I would go as far as to say that if you thought about it, it has worn on you as well. Here are my suggestions for kicking the blandness in the film world:
– On movie night, avoid the multiplex and find a small theater that shows either older films, independent films, or foreign films. Give them a try! Unsure about seeing an older movie or one with subtitles? Genres are nearly universal, so see a foreign Romantic Comedy.
– If having a movie night at home, make it a true experience. Set up the room so that the screen is the focal point, make popcorn, have some candy. Turn off the lights, and for the love of all things holy, turn off your phone and actually WATCH the movie.
– Look up lists of classic movies (AFI, Critics’ Choice, etc.) and watch a few, especially in the top 10.
– If you haven’t already, find out who directed one of your favorite movies and check out another film by him or her.
– Finally, watch a bad movie. Not just any bad movie, one that is so technically incompetent, that it has gained notoriety. The jury is out still on whether the Twilight Saga fits this category. Instead, check out great B Movies of yesteryear like Ed Wood’s “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” “Attack of the Killer Shrews,” “Eegah!,” or the more modern “The Room.” Watch with a few friends, popcorn, and adult beverages. Who knows, maybe watching something so terrible will provide a night of entertainment.
This rant will be a little shorter, as musical taste varies so greatly from person to person. Of course, the easy piece of advice is to listen to a song or album from a genre that you are not familiar with or do not currently listen to, but here are a few other tips.
– This may be difficult in a modern context, but listen to an ENTIRE album. Instead of listening to that radio single from the current hit artist, listen to the entire album. You may discover that some hold together better than others.
– On a similar note, if you have an album you want to listen to, sit in a chair with no distractions and just listen. You never know what effect it will have on you.
– Finally, as with the films, check out classic albums from various genres and give them a listen.
What ever happened to the different and dynamic? Sure, pockets of these people exist today, but to me, they are not nearly as prevalent and visible. What happened to those who bucked the system and spoke out against unfairness and social wrongs? The 1950s and early 60s were flooded with Civil Rights movements. With the late 1960s and early 1970s, so much of pop-culture involved the young generation speaking out against the Vietnam War and more social revolutions. These days, one rapper produces a song about LBQT rights and MTV creates an entire category for him to win a VMA (See Macklemore’s win this past year).
Finally, I suppose I should admit that the concept of blandness is completely subjective. Sure, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and who am I to judge? The bottom line, do not simply consume what popular media and culture feeds you. Find the different, odd, or even forgotten. Challenge yourself and broadened your horizons, no matter what category. As always, thank you for reading and please sound off below.