Envy in the Kingdom of Art

E.L. JamesWe, as artists, can rant and rave all we like when it comes to the success of others. There’s a whole side of psychology that is devoted to that singular Deadly Sin: ENVY.
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Oh, now, sure, we can go all about it in a passive aggressive style, or in a direct “take-no-prisoners” attack; we all seem to hate E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Gray, loathe Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series; turn up our noses at the writings of Dan Brown. They are blockbusters. Justin Bieber! Adele! Tom Cruise! Kristen Stewart! Do these artists deserve our ire?
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Yes.
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But, let’s not split hairs. What specifically gets our goat when it comes to these blockbuster artists? To compare 50 Shades of Gray to Ulysses is folly, in some eyes, because even if both are works of literature, one obviously lacks the acceptance of what academia, perhaps, considers profound and cornerstone to our culture. I have read James Joyce, and I am lost why people feel his works are important. They reek of self-importance and the dregs of an Irish whisky keg; I can tell you that 50 Shades of Gray is far more accessible than Ulysses. The plot is straightforward, although uncomplicated in its sex-dipped way that stokes the base urgencies of our nature. Ulysses is … well, it’s big. Voluminous.
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I dislike not E.L. James’ effort. I hate not Stephanie Meyer’s vampire romance. I think Robert Langdon is possibly the dullest character I’ve read (in the way of characterization), but definitely Dan Brown delivers some fun, thrilling rides. Langdon becomes a catalyst, a way for the everyday reader to move through the story without being subject to Literature Appreciation 201. Michael Crichton’s characters are equally boring, 2-dinensional beings that are burdened only with the plot and chucking it as underpaid and nondescript pizza-delivery boys.
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I love Michael Crichton’s stories because they are plot-driven; with the exception, I suppose, of Eaters of the Dead. Yet the disillusionment I feel, the disquiet, comes from our society’s indulgence with the dime-store novel. The one that made Sir Arthur Conan Doyle a literary star; the one that illuminated Jules Verne; the one that made Edgar Allen Poe’s raven quote, “nevermore.” Most of our greatest and most accessible literature wee hackneyed and shallow plots that made Sir H Rider Haggard’s Allan Quartermain the predecessor of Indiana Jones; that L. Frank Baum actually influenced JRR Tolkien.
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So, we hate Meyers, Brown, James, and the like because we are their contemporaries, and perhaps we do not feel they write better than we do. Tom Cruise is weird for jumping all over Oprah Winfrey’s couch and be rumored to be gay and is the poster child for that cult. Yet, Cruise truly is a wonderful actor. Kristen Stewart and Hayden Christiansen are actors who seem to weather the ire of those who like to compare them to the prowess of Kate Winslet and Marlon Brando. Legions of fans support JK Rowling and her Harry Potter series, yet I believe her writing is nothing spectacular, and that I can point out a dozen things a chapter that she’s borrowed from other fantasy authors and mythology at large.
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However these artists are controversial because they’ve sold and are famous. Much more than we meager ones, despite our own talents. Who knows? Maybe Bella will be the most important character in literature 150 years from now and define our cultural generation just as Sherlock Holmes did.

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About mciddangelo

"I write because I believe in literature; I believe that the art of words is louder than sound, more colorful than paintings. My novels are written not because of the pursuit of money or even success, but in the FAITH that they exalt our experiences; that not only do they give us enjoyment to read them, but they are meant to open worlds that a reader may not ever imagine." M Cid D'Angelo is published in Aiofe's Kiss, Calliope, Eureka Literary Magazine, Third Wednesday, Midway Journal, and many others. He is the author of Dead Reckoning (J Ellington Ashton Press, 2015), available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions.
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4 Responses to Envy in the Kingdom of Art

  1. You’re possibly right, some writers are envious of the success of the folks you mentioned (not James Joyce). What I envy is that they were able to touch that ‘something’ in many, many people which leads them to buy a book. Wish I could do that. But there is where my envy starts and finishes. The rest is simply my opinion.

    I read for story and I forgive a lot. You might want to say Harry Potter is derivative. Sure. But the story grabbed me and I read all the books as avidly as a teenager. Dan Brown’s plot(s) got too silly to hold me. I cannot imagine Meyer’s 100+ year old vampire going to to high school and the famous 50 shades just isn’t my thing. I don’t ‘hate’ any of them. Not even James Joyce, although I have had some things to say about the arbiters of ‘good literature’ who raise unreadable books to glory status.

    The thing is, though, that if you write, if you are successful, you will attract critics who do not like what you have produced. It comes with the territory. I’m sure Brown, Meyer, Rowling et al have had to learn that lesson well.

  2. All I can say is that I’m currently reading ANNA KARENINA (written in the late 1800’s) and not only is the writing supreme but the action begins immediately with the husband having an affair… What I love about critically-acclaimed writing, as you say, “accepted by academia” is that not only can it be completely provocative but word choice is exquisite, sentences beautifully constructed and pacing, content and plotting so edgy and worthy that I’m drooling by page 2. But that’s the sort of writing that pleases me. I’m more inclined to read literary and mainstream fiction than genre fiction. Genre fiction sells. Literary fiction garners awards. LOL! To each his own, right? Great post, M. Cid. Thanks for making me think.

  3. Chrissy says:

    Writing is a talent that one is usually born with, or with practice can improve, but creating ideas and stories that keep you interested through trilogies is rare. These writers are talented and they know how to keep you interested. 50 Shades was a great story, I love it; and I love Ulysses, but you can’t compare and who wants to? A light read is required sometimes…these books are what the public really wants. It’s sad to say but great literature and Pulitzer Prize Winners are NOT what the masses are reading. I’ll delve into them and enjoy the writing, appreciate the talent, but most people can’t get past the first 20 pages of a novel like, say, The Corrections…I think these books will stand the test of time, because sex, love, romance, adventure sells more than power point chapters (from Egen).
    Great post.

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