When the pandemic began in March, 2020, I set one goal for myself: read the complete works of Shakespeare.
Spoiler alert: I failed.
In my failure, however, I made a discovery: Shakespeare wrote a lot of crap plays. Seriously. Some real stinkers.
I had set the goal because… well, because I thought it was one of those things you were supposed to do before you die. Not a bucket list item, exactly, but an accepted norm: people should read the complete works of Shakespeare before you die.
I slogged my way through several fairly awful ones before stopping. We elevate Shakespeare to a god-like level because of his legendary plays, not his complete body of work. There’s a reason Hamlet stands the test of time and Two Gentlemen from Verona doesn’t.
It’s the same with Dr. Seuss.
When the left and right were crowing about 6 of his books being put into the dumpster of history, I was rolling my eyes. Any parent anywhere that’s had to read Suess can attest to the fact he wrote a lot of mind-numbing nonsense. Even my kids were tired of him by the time they turned four. Yes, his classics are classics for a reason, but one great work doesn’t mean it’s all great.
I think this idea translates to almost anything you apply it to. Bands, for instance.
Pick any band that lasted over 20 or 30 years. AC/DC, Rush, U2, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, KISS…
Every one of those bands is iconic. But that doesn’t mean their product has been consistently great over the decades; there’s a reason KISS plays maybe three songs from all of the 1980s, this despite their having put out 10 albums during that decade.
I don’t think the phenomena is limited to artists.
Pick an era, and you’ll find a section of folk who will say that era had the best music, art, television…
But all we’re remembering is the good. And sometimes not even that; sometimes all we remember is the popular. Example: Gen X has an odd affection for 1980s music. A few months back, I listened to a radio station playing a “classic” Casey Kasem Top 10 Countdown from the 1980s. I think I recognized two songs. The other eight were unlistenable tracks from people and bands long gone from the global conscious. The 1980s didn’t have the best music, it had some great stuff, a lot of crap, and more mediocrity than you could shake a stick at.
Also, there’s an accepted belief that the 1970s was the best decade for television because of All in the Family, and M*A*S*H… but was anything back then truly better than South Park, or Breaking Bad? Three’s Company and The Brady Bunch Power Hour were products of the 1970s; are they great by default?
It’s time to stop being nostalgic. About everything, and everyone.
We can appreciate anyone for their legacy, but it doesn’t mean we have to absorb everything they’ve done.
Shakespeare wrote 37 plays.
Ten of them are fantastic.
Saying he had some awful stuff mixed in there doesn’t diminish his stature, and not having read all his works doesn’t make anyone “less than.”
After “giving up” on my goal, I skipped ahead to MacBeth, which is always great, and called it a day.
Every year I’ll revisit a great play, but I’m not gonna worry about completing them all anymore.
I don’t just insult the greatest playwright of all time, I also punch away at the keypad myself. I wrote a book… check it out on Amazon.