When Ira Glass stepped out of a performance of King Lear this week and declared, "No stakes, not relatable ... Shakespeare sucks," I don't know what he was thinking. I mean this both figuratively, since I love Shakespeare, and literally, because I don't know what his thoughts were. But he couldn't have possibly foreseen the raging, blowing, cheek-cracking winds of indignation that his comment would set off.
In the New Yorker, the brilliant writer Rebecca Mead used Glass's tweet as a news hook to tear down the whole business of "relatability," which she considers a bastardization of what art should be. In her words:
Relatability—a logism so neo that it’s not even recognized by the 2008 iteration of Microsoft Word with which these words are being written—has become widely and unthinkingly accepted as a criterion of value, even by people who might be expected to have more sophisticated critical tools at their disposal ....
The contemporary meaning of “relatable”—to describe a character or a situation in which an ordinary person might see himself reflected—first was popularized by the television industry.
This comment stung me, sharper than a serpent's tooth, not because it was, itself, so relatable, but rather because its argument—relatability is new, relatability is base—is so totally crazy, that if Shakespeare were alive today, I shudder to think what crude things he might tweet in response.