Off-Ramp | Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

Rabe v. Culture Protectors

Don't let this happen to you!

This week’s New York Times Sunday Magazine led to another in my long series of letters to the editor that will never be published … in the New York Times.

A bunch of people wrote in to the paper to respond to James Patterson Inc., an article about James Patterson, whose publisher has permanently assigned him an entire staff because he cranks out a lot of books that make a lot of money.

Some excerpts from the reaction:

-- Is this “literature”? No. (Joan Larsen, Park Forest, Ill.)
-- James Patterson may be many things … but he is not a writer. (Wheeler Winston Dixon, Film Studies Professor, University of Nebraska)
-- Calling James Patterson an author is like calling Fox News news. Technically true, but certainly disingenuous. (Scott Schilling, Fairfield, Conn.)

My response to the paper:

I know you don't usually print letters about letters, but one aspect of the response to James Patterson demands response. It's disheartening to see people proclaim that Patterson "is not a writer," that it's "disingenuous" to call him an author, and that his work isn't "literature."

These comments sound suspiciously like "rap isn't music." They said the same things about Impressionism and jazz and a billion other things ... including the movies, Professor Dixon.

Patterson is an author, and he is a writer. Now, maybe he's not a good writer, or an author whose work will be around in 2110. History will judge, or critics are welcome to weigh in today. But in the meantime, such absolutist statements do nothing to further the understanding of culture and the people who avail themselves of it, which is the real job of Academia and arts journalism - not building a protective and exclusionary wall around the Culture Canon that happens to be your field of expertise.

Perversely, this kind of attitude runs the risk of driving fans of pop lit from ever considering books deemed "literature," whatever that means.

Furthermore, I'd like to hear from somebody who has proof that excluding anyone in a creative field from being considered a "true artist" has ever been helpful. Has it ever fostered greater understanding among people, or led to a greater understanding of a genre or movement, or won somebody a Pulitzer or Nobel?

All it does is make you the grumpy old man on the front porch, yelling at kids who cut across your lawn.

(Check out John's weekly show Off-Ramp.)