Been called a snob lately? Roger Ebert has.

I feel for him. I’ve been called a “snob” many times for giving “ho-hum” or “don’t bother” reviews to popular movies. And I’ve been described as a “snob” for daring to suggest that there is a lot of mediocre and even pathetic material sitting in the “Christian Fiction” section of the bookstore. (Heck, it happened recently here, in the comments on Mike Duran’s post.)

But I’ve always (perhaps not always successfully) tried to speak of these things with humility, admitting that I have grown a great deal in my appreciation of the finer things, and that I still have a long way to go. I am even sentimental about some of those mediocre works because they were steps along a journey for me. They meant something to me then and prepared me for better things.

Some people, though, flinch at the very suggestion that there might be something “better” than what they like. And many prefer books and movies that make them comfortable, shunning things that challenge them, and criticizing those who like more complex work as “elitists.”

So I am thrilled to see Roger Ebert take an eloquent stand in defense of his review of Transformers 2. Don’t miss it. Ebert thinks it’s a lousy movie, and he does a fine job explaining why those who disagree with him are wrong.

Excellence matters.

We must call mediocrity what it is.

We must “speak the truth in love,” yes; which means speaking with grace and respect for those who disagree. But we must be able to call shallow waters shallow, and make people aware of deeper waters, or how will anyone ever learn to swim?

I want to experience the best that art has to offer. I enjoy a fast-food snack once in a while, but I would never recommend it as “fine cuisine.” Nor would I eat a steady diet of it. If we can’t talk about what’s unhealthy about fast food because we might offend someone who eats it, we will all… in our prevailing kindness… watch ourselves become obese and collapse from heart attacks at an early age.

Let’s not speak with contempt of those who eat only cinematic Big Macs. Most of us started there too, didn’t we? But please, let’s all admit that we have much to learn, and that there are richer, more meaningful foods… even feasts… to enjoy. Great art is an acquired taste. And it’s worth acquiring.

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