All Commentary
Thursday, January 19, 2017

How to Get Culture, Lazily

We need more class up in this generation.

A few weeks ago, one of my coworkers invited the office at large to an orchestral concert he would be playing in. The lineup was Hindemith, Diamond, and Tchaikovsky. I’d never heard either Hindemith or Diamond, but I’ll go to pretty much anything featuring Tchaikovsky so I was in.

Apparently not everyone spent their childhoods listening to Vivaldi. Who knew?I was raised somewhat abnormally in that my Saturday mornings generally began with me waking to the sounds of Vivaldi drifting up the stairs from our stereo system. (Granted, I thought that was normal, but I’m realizing that was definitely not normal.) So when I asked a friend if he wanted to go to “a concert” with me, I apparently “tricked” him into going to see the symphony and not G-Eazy. Oops.

He had a good time regardless and on the way home said he’d “forgotten how it felt to get some culture in his veins.” Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to do that now, most of which are free, and all of which are efficient and laze-inducing:

Free Concerts

Obviously, free, local concerts are the social, “event” way to (re)introduce yourself to culture. They aren’t far away, you can go with your friends, you can dress up and be a lil fancy, they’re free for crying out loud, and you can go out for pizza and beer afterward. And if you don’t like it, you can leave at intermission and get a head start on the pizza.

Free concerts can be surprisingly good. The one I went to was at a local university, so admittedly I didn’t have very high expectations, but the conductor for the last two pieces was Richard Prior, and the Tchaikovsky pianist has already performed with the New York Philharmonic and at the Kennedy Center. He’s 20, if you wondered.


Everything’s on Spotify (side eye at Taylor Swift), and it’s free. If you’re still in school and you haven’t started listening to classical music while studying, start now. If you’re not in school but you can listen to music at work, listen to classical music. Spotify even has audiobooks. A lot of them are abridged, but still. Better than nothing. However, if you don’t like your books abridged, there’s always …


I love Audible. It’s part of Amazon, so it’s hard not to. I listened to Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations while trying to tan this summer. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is so much easier when the local dialects are spoken instead of written out. And I am convinced that P.G. Wodehouse wrote his stories to be heard, rather than read.

Audible is not free, unfortunately, but if you split the cost with another person or two then you not only save money but can also rest easy knowing you’re not the only person who can be accused of snobbery.


These got me through my Shakespeare class, and it wasn’t cheating because, as my professors always said, “Shakespeare was written to be seen, not read.” Seeing the plays acted out not only helps keep all the characters straight and doesn’t put you through the effort of trying to visualize what’s happening, but it also lets you skip past all those “Exit, pursued by a bear” stage directions.

Shakespeare was written to be seen, not read. So watch his plays on Netflix, in bed. If you need a push to delve into Shakespeare, start with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged, preferably paired with an English Pale Ale. It’s legit because we watched it in class. With cake. Otherwise, The Taming of the Shrew is funny, Henry V is epic (especially with Kenneth Branagh and baby Christian Bale), and Othello is arguably on par with Hamlet as far as “hitting you in the feels” goes.

If you’re really not feeling Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde is simultaneously hilarious and poignant. The Importance of Being Earnest is easily one of his best, and people have heard of it so they’ll know what you’re referring to when you begin your (justifiable) humble brag. It’s available for rent on Amazon, but watch the 1952 version, not the 2002 version. The new one has Mr. Darcy in it but it’s awful. YouTube also has the complete audiobook version of the play.

George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion is the precursor for My Fair Lady, but Pygmalion is better. Leslie Howard is one of the most underrated actors ever. Speaking of Leslie Howard, The Scarlet Pimpernel is the best version of Emma Orczy’s book by the same name. The movie and book have different endings – both equally as good, I think – but that just means you’ll have to find the book on Audible!

The Great Courses, TED Talks, and Podcasts

You know what TED talks and podcasts are, you know they’re great. Keep using them. The Great Courses is the amped-up version of TED talks. I learned more about neuroscience in six months using Great Courses than my undergrad biology/psych friends learned in two years. They’re not on Spotify, but they’re on YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon.

Listen to a book or talk in the morning instead of Zayn and Taylor Swift’s new song on your commute to work, and you can walk in with something impressive to say every day. You can only quote “I don’t wanna live forever, ’cause I know I’ll be living in vain” so often before your boss starts to think you’re ungrateful for your job, and suddenly all you can afford is a library card and you have to become cultured the old-fashioned way – doing one thing at a time.

Heaven forbid.