Protecting Veils Of Ignorance In Art

To start with an example; there’s a conversation about Stephen Colbert from his comedy central era that I still think about: I was telling someone that I loved seeing Stephen interviewed, seeing him out of character talking about the character, talking about the acting craft that went into that show.

The person I was talking to said firmly that they would never want to see that.

Seeing behind the curtain is assumed to detract from the experience. The fact that I knew how he was going to rationalize proves how normative the answer is.

And I can respect this level of the veil. I won’t watch Bob’s Burger because of a fear it will detract from my enjoyment of Archer. (for those who don’t cartoon as a hard, H. Jon Benjamin is the lead male voice in both, playing very different characters)

The next level is people who’d prefer not to know how a magic trick is done. This is where I can’t relate. I saw the stage production of The Lion King and it was amazing and every time something amazing happened I was imagining it from back stage. I’d have had twice the amazing time back there than merely in the audience.

And when it comes to magicians we know it isn’t magic, no one believes the people on stage can operate outside the laws of physics and want to do nothing else with that power than amuse. Literally not even children think it’s magic, they just don’t have the pre-frontal cortex yet so they experience awe without thinking about before and after.

But we are not children, we have all the cortexes. We know that the performance of a trick is happening, we know that our expectations are being taunted. There is a Known Unknown. So my genuine query is how can one enjoy not knowing the details of a fact?

It’s one thing to accept not knowing the difficulty of a fact. I can’t explain how airliners fly but I accept that someone has done the math and if I knew math at their level I would understand it too, that doesn’t mean I’m in awe fourteen hundreds times a day when planes take off.

There’s this terrible myth that anything great must be more than the sum of it’s parts. Really I think that’s just a misunderstanding of what the parts of greatness are. It’s easy to say explaining a joke doesn’t make it funny because when people ‘explain’ a joke they just rephrase the punchline. I think of jokes more like an engine, you have to know what the moving parts do. And just like an engine if it’s working fine there’s no need to look under the hood and learn these things but that doesn’t meant they’re not there and it certainly doesn’t mean you appreciate your car more by not understanding it.

I think you truly honour something great, like the comedic work of Stephan Colbert; or a well cooked meal; or a song by searching for what makes it great. I think you make yourself a wiser person when you see how simple things add up to greatness.


Singer/songwriter, jerk.

Posted in Pragmatism
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