Rubbishing Pop

Crap For Consumption

Here’s a corker.

Stravinsky famously noted that “most art is bad”. He didn’t go on to point out that this is the almost inescapable consequence of its genesis, for art – real art – is not about rehashing the tried and true, but rather of smashing the rules and creating something never seen before, most examples of which must inevitably fail.

The new new is not the last new improved. No painter today would be congratulated for painting an impressionist masterpiece. This is not to try to invert our sense of success. Failure is failure, and true artists are excruciatingly aware of their mistakes and miscalculations.

These same observations cannot be made of what is sometimes referred to as popular culture, the sort of thing you find when you turn on the television or radio, or turn up at the local leagues club. While art is the province of the unexpected and the challenging, and likely to provoke incredulity and even rage, popular culture is the domain of the familiar, the mawkish, the sentimental and the trite and bears the same relationship to culture in general as a McDonald’s hamburger does to food.

You might think I’m trying to draw a distinction between high and low art, but I’m not, because there is no low art, there’s just rubbish. Rubbish with its own stars and award ceremonies, rubbish with a sense of its own importance even, but rubbish nevertheless, being foisted on the rest of us in all the myriad ways people working for the great corporations of the world can come up with to flog us their crap.

..and so it goes, on a true tirade against the populist entertainment branch of culture. It’s a great read. The blistering attacks on the middle ground are merciless. It feesl great to read, even though um, I do my work in entertainment.

Such snobbery, such dismissive contempt can only come from somebody who works in theatre as opposed to say, cinema. It’s easier to be snobby about the arts when you live at the rarefied end eating mist and living on fog. It’s easier to diss pop music if you’re a classical musician; It’s easier to diss comic books if you’re a painter; It’s easy to diss jazz ballet if you’re a classically trained ballet dancer; and so the list goes for the canonised artforms we are willing to accept as authoritative epicentres of our culture.

Then again, pop culture doesn’t help itself. Take Television. TV is always made for the demographic and everybody has to admit before they write anything that in Australia, the median demographic consists of 14year old girls living in the outer suburbs of our major cities. She is ignorant and not terribly bright, but she has hours to burn and so she watches the most TV of anybody. And so most things on TV are made to please her; and you have to admit it would be a losing proposition to try and win over her viewership with something cultural.

Equally, radio has the same issue and so we get …Kyle Sandilands. Need we say more? Yet this phenomenon stretches across all the arts.

If an artist wants to make a living out of their art, they have to win a portion of a market that is spending money and this is why the market may not ever get the best out of the artist – they’re busy trying to please somebody, most likely not you. It’s a tough proposition. So this bit was very interesting:

Must art be relevant? Topical? Educative? Uncomfortable? Perhaps not, but when it cannot be any of those things because the sponsor won’t like it, then we’re in trouble. And we are in trouble. The dumbing down process we have been experiencing now for many decades has been successful, as is clear in everything from the inability of people to retain more than a couple of soundbites to guide them through the intricacies of democracy to the complete ignorance of the scientific process recently demonstrated in the so-called climategate scandal.

People read less, understand less and retain less than they did even 20 years ago. The mindless pap of undemanding popular culture is as responsible for this as the fast food industry is for the obesity epidemic. We are becoming a culture of fat, stupid know-nothings bombing the rest of the world into submission in wars we only understand in the comic book morality of Kiefer Sutherland’s 24.

It’s a little sad that what started as a great aesthetic slap across the face devolves to an argument about morality. I would contend that the arts have naught to do with bloody morality. The claim that society’s dumbing down is at fault is also disingenuous. The market is what it is. If somebody spend money on something for entertainment, they are right to expect to be entertained. The truth is that society has become stingy about art – especially the high-falutin’ variety – simply because it doesn’t deliver the expected service.

Let’s face it, I love Glenn Gould, but not everybody who plays Bach is Gould. I love modernist painting, but not everybody who attempts it is Picasso. So, it’s a brash, brave argument but ultimate faulty. The punters do get a say in what gets made for good reason. Even the crap of American/Australian Idol has some meaning in it – even if I can’t spot what it is either. Heck, even McDonalds has utility.

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Filed under Cinema, Film, Jazz, Literature, Movies, Pop, Prog Rock, Rock, Television

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