Sunday, July 11, 2004


The Cultural Index

Terry Teachout, of the great biography of H.L. Mencken, and other great arts commentary, has put up a series of binary questions on his site (incidentally highly recommended by yours truly), and being a sucker for this kind of thing, I decided to take the quiz and post my answers for your edification:

TT: If you had to choose

1. Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly?

Gene Kelly. Always been a sucker for "Singing In The Rain" and his great turn in "Inherit The Wind"

2. The Great Gatsby or The Sun Also Rises?


3. Count Basie or Duke Ellington?

Count Basie. Ellington was always too pretentious for me.

4. Cats or dogs?


5. Matisse or Picasso?

Matisse by a hair.

6. Yeats or Eliot?

Schoolboy stuff. Feh.

7. Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin?

Buster Keaton. Chaplin isn't funny most of the time.

8. Flannery O’Connor or John Updike?


9. To Have and Have Not or Casablanca?
Casablanca. OK it's cliched and hokey (why in heaven's name would the Krauts honor Letters of Transit signed by DeGaulle?), but I still love it.

10. Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning?

Pollock by a hair.

11. The Who or the Stones?

Tough one. Too much contemporaneous good stuff from both of them. Call it a draw.

12. Philip Larkin or Sylvia Plath?

No preference at all here.

13. Trollope or Dickens?

Haven't read enough Trollope to make a difference, so I'll give it to Dickens if only by default.

14. Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald?

Lady Day. Ella's got the better chops, but it's too cool, in the sense of clinical, lacking warmth, to my ears.

15. Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy?

Nyet govorie po Russki. Too long and pretentious on both counts.

16. The Moviegoer or The End of the Affair?

No idea here.

17. George Balanchine or Martha Graham?

You mean a heterosexual male has to answer a question about dance?

18. Hot dogs or hamburgers?


19. Letterman or Leno?

Tough one. Leno's humor is more consistently funny to me though, so I'll give this round to Jay.

20. Wilco or Cat Power?

Wilco. Although they really can sound dreary.

21. Verdi or Wagner?

I'm not an opera fan, but I like sturm und drang, so give this one to the Teuton....

22. Grace Kelly or Marilyn Monroe?

Gracie all the way.

23. Bill Monroe or Johnny Cash?

Tough one. Both are very important to the history of country music. Slight edge to The Man In Black for his commercial accessibility, but truth be told, it's a draw.

24. Kingsley or Martin Amis?


25. Robert Mitchum or Marlon Brando?

Mitchum. Thunder Road. Need anything else be said?

26. Mark Morris or Twyla Tharp?

See answer to #17.

27. Vermeer or Rembrandt?

Let's see, fat farmhouse women versus fops in brown cafes. Edge: Rembrandt

28. Tchaikovsky or Chopin?

Tchaikovsky. That darn overture even makes into Clapton's repertoire ("I'm So Glad" on Cream "Live At The BBC")

29. Red wine or white?

Vin rouge sil vous plait. A great claret is an experience to be savored, as is a great Barolo.

30. Noël Coward or Oscar Wilde?

Noel Coward, but truth be told, what the hell did these guys write that resonates with a contemporary audience anyway?

31. Grosse Pointe Blank or High Fidelity?

Grosse Pointe Blank. Good stuff in the Heathers vein.

32. Shostakovich or Prokofiev?

Prokofiev, on the accessibility factor alone.

33. Mikhail Baryshnikov or Rudolf Nureyev?

See answer to #17.

34. Constable or Turner?

No freaking clue.

35. The Searchers or Rio Bravo?

Hey, both with The Duke. Tough choice, but I gotta go with Rio Bravo.

36. Comedy or tragedy?

"Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die."
-- Mel Brooks

37. Fall or spring?


38. Manet or Monet?

The one who paints the cute girls.

39. The Sopranos or The Simpsons?

The Sopranos. By twenty Turnpike mileposts.

40. Rodgers and Hart or Gershwin and Gershwin?

Gershwin and Gershwin. Musicals leave me cold for the most part.

41. Joseph Conrad or Henry James?

Mnnnehhh. I suppose I'm terribly nekulturny here, but I'll say neither.

42. Sunset or sunrise?

Sunset. Just please don't mention Fiddler On The Roof.

43. Johnny Mercer or Cole Porter?

Very slight edge to Johnny Mercer.

44. Mac or PC?

You got a Unix box in there as another choice?

45. New York or Los Angeles?

New York. No decent deli or bagels in LA. Better museums in New York, too.

46. Partisan Review or Horizon?

Exprain, prease.

47. Stax or Motown?

Stax. Otis Redding, Booker T and the MGs, Sam & Dave and Carla Thomas all kick those charm-schooled synchronized dancers' sissy butts.

48. Van Gogh or Gauguin?

Van Gogh.

49. Steely Dan or Elvis Costello?

Steely Dan. More challenging intellectually and musically. The first three albums are always in heavy rotation by me.

50. Reading a blog or reading a magazine?

The blog. Magazines take up too much space and I don't like being reminded my subscription is running out when I'm two issues into a five year subscription.

51. John Gielgud or Laurence Olivier?

Tough one. Laurence Olivier by a nose.

52. Only the Lonely or Songs for Swingin’ Lovers?

Tough one. Depends on my mood. Call it a draw.

53. Chinatown or Bonnie and Clyde?


54. Ghost World or Election?


55. Minimalism or conceptual art?


56. Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny?

Bugs. Daffy always loses his cool and well, loses. See "Rabbit Seasoning", "Rabbit Fire", and "Duck Rabbit Duck" for proof of the pudding.

57. Modernism or postmodernism?

See answer to #55.

58. Batman or Spider-Man?

A pair of guilt-ridden psychos running around town in leotards trying to do the cops' work. Batman for both the darkness factor and the goofball side from the Adam West show. Spiderman loses points only because Peter Parker is such a whiner.

59. Emmylou Harris or Lucinda Williams?

Emmylou. What a voice. Great choice of Albert Lee for a picker.

60. Johnson or Boswell?

David Doyle or Tom Bosley?

61. Jane Austen or Virginia Woolf?

See answer to #60.

62. The Honeymooners or The Dick Van Dyke Show?

Very tough one. Slight edge to Dick Van Dyke, because of the greater number of episodes, the better technical sophistication and for episodes like "Coast To Coast Big Mouth" and "If It Looks Like A Walnut". Points off for the insipid musical numbers in their living room and "The Twizzle".

63. An Eames chair or a Noguchi table?

Which one is more comfortable?

64. Out of the Past or Double Indemnity?

Double Indemnity, but only if they restore the original ending with Fred MacMurray going to the gas chamber (seeing a 60s family TV icon being executed in a movie is vaguely hilarious, ref. that crummy TV movie where Andy Griffith goes to the electric chair)

65. The Marriage of Figaro or Don Giovanni?

La Nozze del Figaro, if only for its contributions to cartoon-dom.

66. Blue or green?


67. A Midsummer Night’s Dream or As You Like It?

Both are about as funny as an appendectomy to me, but slight edge to A Midsummer Night's Dream.

68. Ballet or opera?

Now I know how these guys feel when offered the choice between lethal injection and electrocution.

69. Film or live theater?

Film. Theater is too damn pretentious.

70. Acoustic or electric?

Electric. Much as I love a great acoustic (think Olsen or Langjeans in the hands of someone like Phil Keaggy, although Taylors and Martins aren't slouches), there's nothing that compares to a Les Paul, SG, ES-335 or Stratocaster plugged into a Marshall stack. Or a Rickenbacker plugged into a Vox. Or pretty much anything plugged into a blackface Fender or a '59 Bassman. As long as the amp isn't a Peavey or Randall....

71. North by Northwest or Vertigo?

North by Northwest by a country mile. Always gets a screening here a couple of times a year. Haven't had the desire to see Vertigo in ages.

72. Sargent or Whistler?

Whistler, just for the iconography.

73. V.S. Naipaul or Milan Kundera?

See answer to #60.

74. The Music Man or Oklahoma?

Talk about the choice between Scylla and Charybdis. If I gave the matter any thought, it'd be Oklahoma, simply because of Shirley Jones and the fact that The Music Man's plot annoys the heck out of me.

75. Sushi, yes or no?

A resounding no.

76. The New Yorker under Ross or Shawn?

I refuse to read a magazine that is designed only for people who live between 57th and 96th Streets.

77. Tennessee Williams or Edward Albee?


78. The Portrait of a Lady or The Wings of the Dove?

Channeling Manuel from Fawlty Towers - "Que?"

79. Paul Taylor or Merce Cunningham?

See answer to #78.

80. Frank Lloyd Wright or Mies van der Rohe?

Frank Lloyd Wright just for Falling Water.

81. Diana Krall or Norah Jones?

How about someone with a soul?

82. Watercolor or pastel?

Watercolor. Don't know why, but watercolor.

83. Bus or subway?

Subway. Always liked trains. Hate riding the Lexington IRT during rush hour, but anything's better than a bus creeping crosstown in rush hour traffic, especially when you need to make a train at Grand Central.

84. Stravinsky or Schoenberg?

Pretentious noise on both counts. Slight edge to Stravinsky, only because I like the end of "Firebird Suite".

85. Crunchy or smooth peanut butter?

Call it a draw.

86. Willa Cather or Theodore Dreiser?

Since I'm actually amazed by the fact that I know who Willa Cather is, I've got to vote for her, although her book "Alexander's Bridge" got it entirely wrong.

87. Schubert or Mozart?

Mozart. Sublime.

88. The Fifties or the Twenties?

The Fifties.

89. Huckleberry Finn or Moby-Dick?

Moby Dick by a nose. Although I love Twain, I don't care for Huck Finn for a reason that has nothing to do with its considerable merits (i.e. I was forced to read it in school with a teacher quote unquote guiding us in the book who was completely clueless and totally killed any appreciation I might have had for it at the time).

90. Thomas Mann or James Joyce?

James Joyce. Unintelligible, but at least he's not a kvetch like Mann.

91. Lester Young or Coleman Hawkins?

Prez. All the way.

92. Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman?

I despise poetry thanks to my old teacher "Rosa Luxemburg", about whom I will get around one of these days to telling a few more of my school stories. Slight edge to Whitman for "The Mystic Trumpeter", but the fetish over him in Jersey is beyond my comprehension.

93. Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill?

Ay caramba. Two of the greatest figures in history, real mensches both of them. No can choose here.

94. Liz Phair or Aimee Mann?

Next question. Feh.

95. Italian or French cooking?

French. I suppose it's the ubiquity of Italian food that lessens it for me, and sometimes southern Italian gets plain boring.

96. Bach on piano or harpsichord?


97. Anchovies, yes or no?

No. Especially not in my Caesar salad.

98. Short novels or long ones?

Long ones. I like to savor them.

99. Swing or bebop?

Bebop. Swing sounds ossified at this point.

100. "The Last Judgment" or "The Last Supper"?

When it comes to art, I have the taste of a pig, so take my opinion cum grano salis. "The Last Supper", just because I like Da Vinci in general

I suppose that according to Mr. Teachout's index I'm somewhere in the neighborhood of Attila The Hun. Going by the number of draws and I don't cares, I come out with about a 51% cultural index (points being awarded for selecting the first option, and ignoring the draws and don't knows).


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