kafka, kurosawa, kacey musgraves- what is ‘canon’?

squed
6 min readAug 27, 2023

i recently finished playing death stranding. i got told it was very much a “you’ll love it or hate it” affair. whenever i am told this about something, i always end up loving. the things i hate the most are the things that bore me. and if a piece of media is polarising, it usually means it’s not boring!

whenever i finish a game, i like to watch a couple of videos on it, so i don’t feel like a mindless consumer of entertainment. i also don’t play post-games, so take that as you will. being a Person (debatable, but let’s run with it) online at the start of the decade, and vaguely into video games, i heard that death stranding was essentially the worst video game to ever Exist. anti-fun at its very finest, distilled into a single 40 hour main campaign.

i don’t spend much time on tiktok anymore. i think that’s a good thing? i hold it as proof that the ever-tightening grip of, in the loosest of air quotes, “algorithms”, has a waning effect on me. i saw a tiktok (ironic, but useful nonetheless) that encapsulates the sheer anger that arises whenever i see a menial hobbying video on the app. what do you mean that you don’t know how to move photos from an sd card. you heathen. look it up!!

the video (or more accurately, videos, from what i hear) that had a very profound effect on me, causing me to go so far as to, shock horror, not reinstall it on my aunt’s old iphone 7 she lent to me, was one i saw about books. throughout my life, i have been a stereotypically bookish person. i like to think i still am one!

the video was on “five easy-to-read classics to live your dark academia dreams.” or something along those lines. this phrase, i think, triggered a small chip in my brain, like when people call any band before the 1990s indie rock. a chip which put the anger of the titans and the rage of the hellenic pantheon within me.

i think most books, if in your native language, aren’t that hard to read. i understand if some people think dune is a slog, or war and peace is too long, but i wouldn’t consider these hard to read. long? yes. but a book being long doesn’t make it hard to read! in my opinion, at least. despite all of this, though, the idea of being “easy-to-read” wasn’t what really irked me.

you might be expecting a typical “i hate aesthetic cataloguing!!” rant from me. not today. probably soon, but not today. i am not a horse that only goes to one place to drink. i go to… two places.

i went to a discussion panel a couple of weeks ago at my local film festival. it was about “film culture in the era of lists.” i really enjoyed it! the idea of a “film canon”, where the best of the best films are thrust into a shared spotlight, to be loved and talked about and dissected and ogled forever, came up a lot. that was the main reason i went to that panel.

that, and i got half price tickets to a talk right before that one with some people from sight and sound. they run the annual poll on people’s favourite films, and that is quite big every year. i got to, essentially, hear both sides of the story. the moulders of the creation of the “film canon”, and the criticisers of the existence of the “film canon”.

is what i would say, if a person from letterboxd weren’t at the film culture panel.

i use letterboxd. i like writing down all the films i watch and what i liked about them. i don’t often write in-depth film reviews, because

a) if i did, i would so publish it on here and add another niche and then be like i am a critic, and that would only add to my general annoying-but-in-an-endearing way demeanour. i’m not being flanderised this early into my life! maybe in 20 years, i’ll move to that hideyhole permanently…

b) i think that for a site like letterboxd, doing that is a little bit silly.

letterboxd has the unique problem (probably a marketing dream in their eyes) of having too much of a mishmash of serious reviews that sound like a parody guardian film reviewer, shit one-liners by some of the worst white people you know, unrepentant horniness from the best lesbians you know, and every other type of review that sucks. there is one good review on letterboxd, and it is this one. (and everything ayo edebiri wrote, even though she stopped writing reviews)

unfortunately, i spend an Amount of time in my day on reddit. i wish i could sincerely peddle the “it’s good for niche interests!!” line, but i have too much self-respect to tell you that it’s because i don’t think twitter rots my brain enough to churn me through sunday nights. i see many annoying things on there. such is life. the most annoying thing, by far, are these things called topsters.

they are a collage of albums that someone likes. usually, theyre meant to signify favourites. i made one eons ago. but i live my life by two cardinal rules: to be Just The Same But Brand New, and to indiscriminately hate everything about myself from a year ago. as such, i now detest them with the fury of a thousand suns.

where the fury of the one-thousand-and-first sun comes in is through a group of albums that i always see on these. they aren’t grouped based on sonic similarities, more a nebulous “vibe” of being the pinnacle of music. i like most of these albums! where my disdain begins to erupt is that i cannot be expected to see 25 topsters with mf doom and carly rae jepsen side by side and still engage with these in a holistic way.

all of this feeds into a singular homogenous blob of things i don’t like but couldn’t really explain why, which is my favourite genre of things to write about. it’s a weird nouveau-hobbyist dialectic- where to get into a hobby and discuss shared interests with people online requires immersing yourself in a hegelian bath of surface-level adulation in the topic. why does someone have to listen to ex-military if they only want to talk about caroline polachek on an analytical level with others?

it feels like that, on some level, everyone interested in media of any form has to buy into this shared idea of a ‘canon’ of good art- a social maxim based purely on opinion, and still almost universally accepted. even the (in even looser air quotes) “unpopular opinions” serve as state-sanctioned dissidence, to quell the masses’ desire for revolution. but there’s no state. and no masses. and no desire for revolution. a snake-eats-tail mobius strip of nodding to something just because someone else did.

the very idea of having some pieces of media hailed as great above all others isn’t one i am comfortable with. a lot of the time, it is essentially revering some works made by predominantly white people, usually male, with people of colour and women usually shoehorned in as some commodity of tokenism. a symbolic badge to proclaim that you have the credentials to proselytise the single unique truth of the best music/books/art/games/whatever.

a lot of the time, we feel compelled to ascribe to these canons. most of the time, the stuff contained in these ‘canons’ are great! but what makes talking about your interests online fun is being able to argue to the death for the slightly off-kilter stuff you’re into. defend meat is murder as being your favourite smiths album to the death! say that the seventh generation of pokémon is better than the third! admit that you’re not actually that much a fan of the fall! proclaim lover as the best taylor swift album! life’s too short to not appreciate your own idiosyncrasies. who else is going to in the way that you could?

for what it’s worth, i loved death stranding. it was a game weirdly both propelled by its story and worldbuilding, and with basically zero new plot points for a solid 15 hours of the game. i think it just put a lot of people off, because they were expecting metal gear solid but with a science fiction bend and norman reedus?

i remember watching a review video on it while i was a couple of hours in, and i heard the criticism that the game “just tells you everything about one part of the world, which works for espionage games like metal gear solid, but not for this one.” it is a science fiction game! it’s weird and if you don’t enjoy being told about how farming works in the post-apocalyptic continental us, i don’t know what to tell you!

--

--