After spending a year as a student at the University of Michigan, I have realized that I love it here. I love people-watching on the Diag, donning my maize and blue on game day and trying all sorts of coffee around the city of Ann Arbor. But like any person, place or thing, I can’t pretend that my relationship with the University is perfect. As a Wolverine from a Spartan family, I’m well aware that we have a reputation here. As my Campus Day tour guide once joked, the University might have the “most Michigan theme song ever” — one that assumes we’ve already won. Here, I’ve made jokes about doing something stupid, only to be told that I “have to be smart” because I “go to this school.” I’ve been in class with students who take up valuable time where another person could be earning participation points just to hear themselves use big words and feel like the smartest in the class. And as much as I love this school, I’ve met people and attended clubs that have blown my mind with their perspective — or lack thereof.
The way I’ve heard art discussed here has been no exception. I can’t count on one hand the amount of times I’ve felt judged or stupid talking about my favorite books or shows — specifically my preferences for watching sitcoms over confusing dramatic films. And this isn’t just a U-M attitude or even one that only exists in higher education. It’s a general issue that I only really began to notice when I began attending a higher-learning institution. While making conversation about art in my first year of college, I was repeatedly shown the most nonsensical books or films and expected to sit in awe as someone explained the meaning behind the mess I just watched and why it was so “genius.” To me, they always felt a little “A Film by Kirk.” Now I don’t say all this to bash other people’s taste — I was a “Glee” fan back in the day. I’m in no place to judge. But I just can’t shake the feeling there’s something weird going on here. Spending time in a “intellectual environment” is encouraging me to believe that the only “art” that matters is the kind that feels convoluted and impossible to understand.
My favorite show is about human nature. About the moral shortcomings and complications built within us. My favorite show analyzes the selfish tendencies and Hobbesian perspectives that we as humans allow to validate our self-centered actions, ultimately coming to the conclusion that we are stronger than our selfish urges and that we always have the option to overcome them — that being a good person is not a personality trait, but a choice we have the power to make at any given time. My favorite show is “Parks and Recreation.”
Another show I love tells a story of people. Not of movie stars or of astronauts or of politicians, but of people. People who will never have their name up in lights, or penthouses on the Upper East Side. People who spend all day completing mundane tasks — five feet away from the love of their life. People who go through the repetitive motions of their daily tasks with their father figure or their best friend. With their on-and-off lover or their future best man. A show I love proves that an environment is not made by the place itself but by the people within it. That there is beauty in the mundane. That there is hope in even the least enticing places if only you’re willing to look for it. Another show I love is “The Office.”
A show my family watches comments on the modern world. It toys with the concept of what it means to be a “family” in today’s day and age. It features all different personalities, sexualities, races and genders — not in the name of tokenizing pseudo-diversity, but in the name of creating an accurate depiction of life with its setting. My family watches a show that explores privilege (of the white and male varieties) and the indebtedness female workers are expected to feel toward their male superiors for simply giving them the recognition and credit they deserve. A show that somehow addresses incredibly serious topics while leaving its audience both enlightened and laughing. My family watches “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”
A show I will always rewatch is a commentary on equality and individuality. On the elitism and condescension present within the upper classes of our society, and the fact that an ugly personality cannot hide behind even the largest material possessions. A commentary on the fact that while humans cannot abandon or change who we are at our core, we can always refine the way we treat others and the way we choose to see the world. A show I will always rewatch is “Schitt’s Creek.”
Despite their comical nature and easily understandable language, the sitcoms I’ve encountered have left me thinking about the human condition in ways that other pieces of media I’ve been told would “blow my mind” haven’t even begun to do. Although it may not seem like it, I do truly believe that the people who’ve shown me the media I would consider ridiculous or pretentious are completely entitled to their opinions and preferences. But when I meet people in my classes or around campus who consider themselves “liberal thinkers,” who speak in approval of new government systems that favor the common person or in approval of the worker strikes happening around them, I have to stop and deal with the cognitive dissonance this causes for me. In my opinion, to present yourself as someone who stands with the average person, then choosing to diss art that is accessible to everyone (such as the ever-reliable sitcom) in favor of art that requires elite education in order to understand it isn’t just an obnoxious attitude — it’s downright hypocritical.
I’m not saying that “high art” doesn’t have value, or that people who prefer it are necessarily wrong. But it’s the condescending viewpoint I’ve often encountered toward art that’s more accessible to the common person that bothers me — if a piece of work’s messages can’t be understood by the average person, does that really make it better art? Or does it just make it more exclusive and stroke the egos of the people who claim to understand it? Either way, I’ve learned a lot of complicated lessons from the most complex, down-to-earth, easily accessible art known to humankind — the sitcom. In Michael Schur we trust.
Daily Arts Writer Olivia Tarling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.