Falling With Style: Ceci n’est pas une blog-post au sujet de Les Mis

Helen Laroche starts the new year off with some big questions.

A month or so ago, I learned that my childhood sitcom Boy Meets World was in talks to receive a spin-off entitled Girl Meets World, about the daughter of the original main character (Cory). Whenever I think of this show, I think of a particular conversation between Cory and Mr. Feeney. I remember the meaty part this way:

Cory: How do you know you’re good?

Mr. Feeney: How do I know I’m good, how do you know you’re good, or how does one know one’s good?

In hindsight, it doesn’t seem like something I should have remembered for so long. I don’t even really remember how Cory responded. But I think my middle school self had never entertained the possibility of choosing one’s own metrics for success, and so she thought this was worth hanging on to.

Fast-forward a decade: this short Boy Meets World exchange came to my mind again the other day after I posted my thoughts about the Les Mis movie.

I was unhappy about a lot of things, but most consistently and specifically, the attention to detail in the singing. I’m not just talking about the tone and style (which, yes, I disliked) but the backphrasing and general disregard by the performers for the way the music was written. Some people, mostly music majors, agreed with me, but the majority of the responses indicated that the music was “good enough” for people less picky than I. Some people went a step further and called me snobbish for bemoaning the things I did.

I bring this up not to incite more conversation about Les Mis, but to ask a question that I’m having trouble posing without sounding snobbish. Do we have an obligation to teach audiences what truly ‘fine’ art is, as opposed to something that’s just “good enough”? Are there circumstances where “good enough” is just that? My sense is that the marketing and artistic departments of a theatre would have different things to say about that, to say nothing of film companies.

What are your thoughts — not on the movie, dear Lord, but on the idea of elevating the audience to the level of the art vs. making something that the average Joe can enjoy?

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