As I said, this has bothered me for some time, although I've never quite put my finger on the source of my discontent, never really articulated what it was that bothered me about the whole thing. There was just that vague itch at the back of my neck that told me that someone was being a jerk in this scenario. But I think the fact that I have this nice Sunny labarotory has made me pause and parse where previously I would have just scowled and moved on. So now that I've collected all the data, run all the appropriate tests, lit all the right bunsen burners and mixed all the proper chemicals, separated my control groups from my experimental groups and dug just the right number of shallow graves for the subjects who didn't make it, I do believe I'm ready to share my findings with the public.
First of all, these folks don't seem to really understand how a comparison works. Just because you're comparing two things does not mean that you think that they're equal in merit and substance and all other regards. It just means that you're highlighting one or more qualities that they share in common. For instance, a classic example would be someone pointing out that Quentin Tarantino, like Shakespeare, knows how to write stories that will appeal to low-brow audiences and sophisticated audiences at the same time. At this point we turn to the woodwork and wait for the inevitable asshole. And yet, nowhere in that statement did anyone suggest that Tarantino's movies were on a par, historically or artistically, with Shakespeare's plays. And nowhere in The Great Rulebook of Comparing Things does it decree that similarities can only be drawn between Shakespeare and things "worthy" of comparison to Shakespeare, anymore than it forbids us to compare the color of apples and red Jolly Ranchers because of the differences in nutritional value between them. "How dare you suggest anything common between nature's perfect apple and something as proletarian as... what did you call them? Oh yes... a Jolly Rancher! *bla-bla-blub-blarghh*"
And then of course, behind all this, you have the obligatory presumption that all things firmly set in the historical stone are inviolate, sacred, not to be profaned by mentioning them in the presence of contemporary offerings still struggling to secure their reputations. Shakespeare thrives among the gods! The Beatles are firmly established on their pedestal, and twenty years ago Nirvana wasn't fit to polish the inscription, and today they stand side by side, and now The Raging Cock-Goblins or Whatever the Fuck Band isn't worthy to appear before them. Bull fucking poppy shit and cock, I say. It's a small, cowardly, little mentality that thinks like this, one that hides behind the stale seal of cultural approval.
It's the same mentality that drives people to couch their praise in a safe little clauses like, "the greatest thing since such and such", as in, "The Wall was the the greatest concept album since Tommy." Fuck that. Tommy was a fine musical achievement and all, but The Wall blows it away - at least in my ever so humble opinion. We could debate the finer virtues between the two, but my point is that The Wall doesn't have to lap at Tommy's feet just because the one preceded the other. Merit isn't handed out in chronological order. And I don't think it's blasphemous to say that there are works of art made even today that rival some of the greatest masterpieces of antiquity and that there will continue to be even hundreds of years from now.
So, please, the next time you find yourself in this situation, the next time you're tempted to balk at someone's supposedly sacrilegious comparison just stop and think about this for a second: Even War and Peace and Twilight were both... ummm... errr... they're both... Well, they're both written on paper! And they both... use... words... sort of. Okay, maybe that's a bad example.