If there's one thing late-20th-century American public education has taught us, it's that everyone is unique and wonderful and special in his or her own way. PUH-leeze. What college really teaches us is that there are two types of people in the world: liberals and contrarians.

In the fermented world of contemporary academia, liberals have the thankless role of conscience. The liberal is there to state simple, unexamined truths about beauty, justice, and equality whenever such truths are in jeopardy of being left unsaid. Contrarians, on the other hand, are always on the other hand. The job of the contrarian is to challenge the liberal orthodoxy at all times. If this challenge can be put forth in such a way as to offend, belittle, or otherwise mock as great a number of people as possible, so much the better. If the liberal exists to hold a candle up to society, the contrarian is there to blow that fucker out. This process is called discourse.

In the interest of preparing the incoming college student for four years (probably more if you're a contrarian) of rigorous intellectual and cultural inquiry, The Stranger has compiled this user-friendly syllabus of concise liberal and contrarian perspectives on the arts, which, despite the coming Holy War, are still very important. Those of you who haven't yet decided which type of person you want to be (and college is all about thinking for yourself) should study this guide carefully; in any given situation--coffee shop, study group, bar, home with the parents--the opinions illustrated below can make you seem like you really give a damn about what the hell is going on, even if, like most college students, you really just want to smoke dope and watch TV.

Of course, no single page of newsprint can stand in for the savory delights of a university education, but when push comes to shove, this primer is pretty much all you need to know. And more importantly, it might even get you laid if you use it right. Read on, mes enfants, and welcome to the world of secondary education.



Charles Dickens
Liberal: The first of the great literary humanists--he understood everybody.
Contrarian: He could've used an editor.

Fyodor Dostoevsky
Liberal: He invented modernism by being the first to look at the psychology of a criminal rather than emphasizing the crime or criminal act.
Contrarian: A Christian sell-out who only wrote novels because he had to pay enormous gambling debts.

Jane Austen
Liberal: She provided a savage critique of the class system in England at a time when women were meant to speak only when spoken to.
Contrarian: She was a busybody obsessed with petty domestic trifles.


James Joyce
Liberal: He liberated sex. He brought it out of the gutter and into the splendid realm of literature.
Contrarian: Finnegan's Wank is more like it.

Franz Kafka
Liberal: Kafka gave expression to the inhuman bureaucratization of 20th-century society.
Contrarian: He never described anything but bad dreams.

Virginia Woolf
Liberal: She produced a whole new mode of expression. Nobody wrote like that before she came along.
Contrarian: Why aren't there more women on this list?


Salman Rushdie
Liberal: A folk hero who transformed post-colonial literature by making it safe for post-colonial writers.
Contrarian: He is spoiled and undisciplined. I prefer V. S. Naipaul.

Toni Morrison
Liberal: One word: courage.
Contrarian: It's about time someone took that controversial anti-slavery stance....

David Foster Wallace
Liberal: The first and perhaps the only contemporary author to transcend irony by embracing it.
Contrarian: I got about 10 pages into Infinite Length, then threw it away and picked up a copy of Moby Dick. Life's too short.


10 Records You Must Own

Liberal: Pixies--Dolittle; Hüsker Dü--Zen Arcade; Sleater-Kinney--Dig Me Out; The Smiths--Louder Than Bombs; Iggy & the Stooges--Raw Power; Sex Pistols--Never Mind the Bollocks...; Pavement--Slanted and Enchanted; Velvet Underground and Nico; Fugazi--Repeater; Bob Dylan--Highway 61 Revisited

Contrarian: Pixies--Surfer Rosa/Come on Pilgrim; Hüsker Dü--Land Speed Record; Sleater-Kinney--The Hot Rock; The Smiths--Meat is Murder; Brian Eno--Here Come the Warm Jets; Patti Smith--Horses; The Fall--The 27 Points; Velvet Underground--White Light White Heat; Bad Brains; Bob Dylan-- Desire

Five records you must be over:
Nirvana--Nevermind; The Beatles--Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; XTC--Skylarking; Radiohead--OK Computer; Guns N' Roses--Appetite for Destruction.

Liberal: Common--Like Water For Chocolate; The Roots--Things Fall Apart; Queen Latifah--Black Reign; Lauryn Hill--The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill; Mos Def--Black on Both Sides; De La Soul--3 Feet High and Rising; A Tribe Called Quest--People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm; The Pharcyde--Bizarre Ride II; Digable Planets--(Reachin') A New Refutation of Time and Space; Jungle Brothers--Done by the Forces of Nature

Contrarian: Schoolly D--Saturday Night; Nas--Illmatic; Ghostface Killah--Supreme Clientele; NWA--Efil4zaggin; Mobb Deep--Hell On Earth; Eminem--The Marshall Mathers LP; 2 Live Crew--As Nasty As They Want To Be; Dead Prez--Let's Get Free; Geto Boys--Geto Boys; Will Smith--Big Willie Style


10 Important Directors

Stanley Kubrick
Liberal: The consummate filmmaker, whose attention to detail created a new cinematic language.
Contrarian: Overrated closet case who only made one good film (choose one--Barry Lyndon, Eyes Wide Shut).

Jean-Luc Godard
Liberal: A political and formal activist whose experiments fomented a cinematic revolution before they overwhelmed his interest in human beings.
Contrarian: An incoherent hack who didn't become interesting until Letter to Jane.

Martin Scorsese
Liberal: A man who has thoroughly assimilated the grammar of film, yet isn't afraid to entertain.
Contrarian: An ostentatious nerd who doesn't know shit about the Mafia.

Akira Kurosawa
Liberal: An epic poet warrior artist whose every frame was like a painting.
Contrarian: If he had been Chinese instead of Japanese, we probably never would have heard of him.

Abbas Kiarostami
Liberal: The first true cinematic transcendentalist, he makes stunning odes to nature while subverting the political oppression of his homeland of Iran.
Contrarian: I prefer Makhmalbaf.

Claire Denis
Liberal: As much a tone poet as a conventional filmmaker, she examines some of the hardest imaginable subjects with the eye of a sensualist.
Contrarian: Why aren't there more women on this list?

Orson Welles
Liberal: The last of the great showmen; everything he touched glowed with innovation and invention--his imperfections are what make him so perfect.
Contrarian: Two words: Herman Mankiewicz.

Roman Polanski
Liberal: An overrated misogynist child molester who was lucky his one good film (Chinatown) had such a great script.
Contrarian: A misunderstood genius whose tortured social life has unfortunately overshadowed his dark brilliance.

Kevin Smith
Liberal: A sophomoric hack mired in homophobic scatalogia and preadolescent sexuality who gets by on five-dollar words and hot-button issues.
Contrarian: Jason Lee RULES! Furthermore, Jason Mewes is fucking funny.

Werner Herzog
Liberal: The last of the great film megalomaniacs, he brought a von Stroheim sensibility to bear on his tales of madness and corruption. Aguirre: Wrath of God is genius!
Contrarian: Zzzzzz. Sorry, who were we talking about? I nodded off. Must have been watching Aguirre: Wrath of God.


Liberal: The theater is dead. Period.
Contrarian: I only like musicals.


Pablo Picasso
Liberal: A genius who changed vision and representation by seeing things from all angles at once.
Contrarian: That old letch? He just wanted to see tits and ass at the same time.

Jackson Pollock
Liberal: A visionary who revolutionized art with action painting.
Contrarian: A wife-beater who revolutionized the archetype of the anguished artist with his drinking, womanizing, and self-destruction.

Liberal: Gave artists the license to examine their own materials, thus questioning the entire history of art.
Contrarian: Gave artists license to be self-indulgent idiots who garner acclaim for doing nothing at all.

Andy Warhol
Liberal: He took art out of the intellectual stratosphere by focusing on the mechanics of reproduction.
Contrarian: He destroyed art forever.