Monday, October 19, 2009

Abandoning Pop Culture?

I have some confessions to make, not because any of you readers are particularly interested in my views; but rather because I think some of you are in the same boat: Have you stopped reading, listening, watching, and paying attention to most of what now passes for establishment public or popular culture?...Confessions of a Cultural Drop-Out, Victor Davis Hanson, Pajamas Media, 10/19/2009

Former NEA Chairman Dana Gioia often made the point in his talks around the country that high culture, whether that produced by Euripides, Poussin, or Wynton Marsalis, was enjoyed, at most, by a few percent of the population. The vast proportion of people, in any age, never paid much attention to great plays, magnificent paintings, or challenging music. We were fortunate, Gioia would remark, that in each era a few carried on and developed, and a few more enjoyed, artistic traditions.

It is tempting to resign in the face of the utter onslaught of popular culture. Hugely amplified by technology, whether electronic amps, television, satellites, radio, cable, it seems to be omnipresent. But, as Victor Davis Hanson suggests, there is an old, reliable means to avoid the barely literate production of pop songwriters, moviemakers, and the endless hash-slinging of the Internet. Ignore them, or pay closer to attention to the fact that high culture is being distributed in much the same way. Modern segment marketing, in fact, encourages this.

Few ever go to Lincoln Center, but there are thousands of classical and jazz music streams on the Internet. Not that many people go to repertory theaters and movie houses. You don't have to. Almost any film ever made is available, as Hanson notes, on DVD. Almost anything of quality written in English is available in either inexpensively printed books, on the online Gutenberg Project, or on university and other electronic text outlets. You can sit on top of a mountain and order a book for your reading device, including thousands, if not tens of thousands, unavailable in any brick and mortar bookstore. Indeed, one of the great advantages for those who appreciate high culture is its easy availability using the same media as that dominated (financially) by pop culture.

The real lesson here is that old standby: if you don't like the program, change the channel.


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