Cheap Thrills – 6 – Sentimentality and Increasing Boredom

Kaplan disputes the idea that popular art provides relief from boredom. In one very real sense, it perpetuates it.

The key difference between serious or useful art and popular art is that popular art provides an emotional experience without perspective. The consumer feels, but he feels without understanding. He has little perspective on his feelings, he merely wallows in them. Serious art deepens feeling, giving it content and meaning, providing a mirror of the mind to us. Our own emotions become meaningful, as we see their details, and in their interconnections that give them meaning.

Serious art has this depth, while popular art is correspondingly shallow. It leaves our feelings just as it finds them, formless and immature. It evokes them so quickly as to have no root in themselves. “ They are so lightly triggered that there is no chance to build up a significant emotional discharge.”

This superficiality and spuriousness is sentimentality. This is what Kaplan says is most distinctive of popular art. Sentimentality has a deficiency of feeling, words without weight, promises without fulfilment. Paradoxically, sentimentality is also excessive, abandoning emotional restraint. Nothing wrong with being deeply affected, but sentimentalism has this excess without a perception of meaning. Kaplan says, “ Sensibility becomes sentimental when there is some disproportion between the response and its object, when the response is indiscriminate and uncontrolled…Sentimentality is loving something more than God does.” It is sentimental not because it calls for intense feeling, but because it calls for more than the artist or the audience can understand or apply significantly to the object. There is simply not enough to be understood, and this vacuity of meaning is intentional. The tear-jerker elicits tears, but why we weep is outside the occasion and beyond our perception.

Sentimentality moves in a close circle around the self. The art only has significance in light of the viewer. He sees himself in its materials, with the art providing easily recognizable prototypes to project himself upon. The focus remains my feelings, feelings about me. While real art calls us to empathise and give ourselves to the aesthetic experience, it rewards us by transforming us. Popular art takes us as we are and leaves us the same, with the illusion of having been deeply affected. In truth, we have felt deeply, but only in orbit around ourselves, drawing out of what we already know and love. It is as if we are enjoying a filmed performance of ourselves, using the bare schemas and prototypes of pop art to provide the skeleton or scaffolding on which to place the body of Self.

Pop art’s self-centeredness hollows and flattens us, emptying us of perspective on our own feelings. In essence, in becoming emptier people, we are becoming more bored, through the medium which was supposed to alleviate our boredom. We are drinking seawater.

And what happens to a generation fed on worship music that is sentimental? What happens to their ability to feel, or to understand their own feelings? What happens to the understanding of the event of worship, if we teach people to wallow in their own feelings during corporate worship?

***

Which of these helps us to understand and master our feelings? Which might transform our emotions in contemplating Psalm 130? Which reminds us of ourselves, using Psalm 130 as the occasion? Which provides us with a mirror of our own minds, and which causes us to lose ourselves in our feelings?

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2 Responses to “Cheap Thrills – 6 – Sentimentality and Increasing Boredom”

  1. paul Says:

    Interesting. The last selection is embarassing. The first seems as if it is trying to communicate the deep feeling of psalm 130 but it seems to resolve itself down to a wistful, melancholic slightly hopeful little dance. I wish I could follow the words of the middle selection. It initially seems strange but I think I can see how the music could express the kind of feeling the psalmist is expressing. Not sure it would be well received in a church service at my church. Unfortunately the first two probably would. Any examples that are sound but more accessible?

  2. David Says:

    Yes, Part is not light listening. A while ago, Ryan Martin did a series on Psalm 130, and listed out quite a few historical and contemporary interpretations. You can find a link to it here:

    http://religiousaffections.org/articles/articles-on-music/psalm-130-since-bach-part-6/

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