The Value of Expressing Unpopular Opinions

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The Huffington Post recently drew eye rolls with a tweet claiming that the beloved children’s TV classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was “seriously problematic.” The accompanying video pointed out all kinds of bigotry and abuse in the show—which, as responders were quick to point out, the show was not actually endorsing. Quite the reverse, in fact. The whole point of Rudolph, as most viewers know, is that in the end, difference is celebrated and bigots see the error of their ways.

But you can’t cause an uproar by just saying what people already know. And lately, causing an uproar seems to be a major goal, if not the major goal, of many who formulate and proclaim opinions for a living. From NPR’s Ira Glass dissing Shakespeare to the various debunkers of It’s a Wonderful Life, trolling cultural icons is a quick, easy, and regrettably popular way to attract eyes and clicks.

The Toronto Star actually dedicated an entire column, titled “The Heretic,” to trolling. The idea was to let the paper’s writers take turns sharing “a wildly unpopular opinion.” I found this out one day when I noticed that my timeline was full of angsty chatter about, of all things, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

I soon traced the angst to this Toronto Star article: “‘Ode to Joy’ has an odious history. Let’s give Beethoven’s most overplayed symphony a rest.” After glancing over the ideological and political history of the beloved piece, music writer John Terauds threw his bucket of cold water: “But from today’s perspective we know that unilateral calls to world brotherhood in joy have a flip side, which is tyranny. We appreciate now more than ever that joy is accessible to everyone only if some people are taking antidepressants.” Today, a 19th-century call for unity fails to take into account our greater diversity, and thus, he concluded, the symphony needed to be shelved until further notice.

It’s hard to imagine anyone coming up with a more trollish take on anything. (It’s strange, for instance, that a music writer has absolutely nothing to say about the musical value of the piece—that he wouldn’t, for instance, suggest just concentrating on that for a while, instead of dropping the symphony from the repertoire altogether.) But the Star kept trying. Ensuing “Heretic” columns dealt with such topics as Titanic (overrated, said that columnist) and some show about a doctor who goes by the moniker of “Dr. Pimple Popper” (possibly the best medical show on television, according to the columnist who covered it).

I didn’t disagree with all the columns; I’ve been saying since 1997 that Titanic is overrated. But “The Heretic” got me thinking about “unpopular opinions,” and the point of having a column just to share them. Does the value of an unpopular opinion lie solely in its lack of popularity?

To argue that it does is to head down a dangerous road. It’s to suggest that the thing that the opinion is about has no value in itself—that its value lies solely in the way people react to it. That’s an error that seems expressly designed for our social media age, which allows us to spend much of our day reacting—reacting so quickly and so frequently that the thing we’re reacting to can get lost in the shuffle.

Christians have a safeguard against this kind of thinking. When we quote Paul’s famous words to the Philippians—“whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things,” we’re arguing against that error. We’re saying that these things have truth, nobility, rightness, and so forth that is intrinsic to them, God-given qualities that make them worth our observation and admiration.

But we’re increasingly going against a cultural climate where it’s not whether you said something good or true or beautiful (or the reverse), or whether you drew someone’s attention to something good or true or beautiful (or the reverse), that’s important. It’s how many people you managed to offend or upset or “own” when you said it.

Douglas McLennan of ArtsJournal—which had tweeted out the Beethoven column and so faced its own share of the backlash—wrote, “The drug is in the hating. Beethoven is a cultural icon at the pinnacle of Western Civilization. He transcends music, a seemingly unassailable symbol of achievement in all of human history. It doesn’t matter if you like to listen to Beethoven or not. To dispute Beethoven is to threaten the fundamental values the Twitter hordes believe are universal. Another example of elites trying to tear down core beliefs.”

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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Gina Dalfonzo