Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Commercialization and Art

By Hanno

I read an argument not so long ago that runs something like this: Movie studios are now owned by large corporations, and these corporations bought the studios when they realized the profits that could be made through blockbusters. These movies make millions and millions of dollars. So the corporate culture is geared now less to making good movies, and more to making the next blockbuster. But blockbusters require two things: major stars and special effects, both of which are expensive. Hence, studios are making fewer more expensive movies, hoping to strike it rich.

Further, these movies must appeal to as many people as possible, and hence must aim at the lowest common denominator, things everyone wants to see. Therefore, they are splashy, lots of explosions, filled with pretty people, and not thought provoking or controversial. They do not challenge the system, they embody it. Independent films have no chance in today's market.

Now I wonder just how true these claims are. First, one may note that there has always existed a tension between the desires of the artist and the desires of the consumer (or the people who pay for the art). An artist who produces for the consumer seems to not be true to the artistic nature of the medium, i.e., they are not being true artists. They are, in a real sense, selling out, chasing the buck.

As plausible as this argument sounds, the reality is more grey. The fact is that artists have always had to pay attention to the desires of the person or people paying for the art work. The Beatles were a commercial group, and their manager choose the look, the music and more with an eye to what sells. The Who, the Sex Pistols, and many more, made music with a conscious eye towards what would sell. They ceded power to their managers to help make this choice, and the manager did more than just get gigs. He would choose which songs to put on the album, for example. Pete Townsend pitched his concept album Tommy to his manager, aware that the manager was not interested in concepts of self, rock opera, mysticism, but in what sells, and Pete let himself be guided by that. 'Pinball wizard' is what made the whole thing work, a pop song about a guy who plays pinball. The bands that make it big do not work with a manager, but for him. And yet, no one can deny the artistic nature of the product. Apparently, art and commercialization are more closely connected than we thought.

The same is true in days of old, where it was not the masses that choose the music, but the patrons of the art, whose taste in art was as suspect as any of the masses. Bach, Beethoven, Rembrandt and many more, worked by commission, or by the whim of the patron, whose tastes they could not ignore.

And the same is true for movies: many classics were produced with commercial interests in mind. 'Star Wars' is a both a blockbuster and a classic movie.

And yet, no one (save Josh) can deny that popular culture can produce popular trash, from Louisiana's own Brittany Spears to the Bay City Rollers to Pat Gibson . So when then does pop destroy art? Does it at all?

Second, I read that there are fewer independent movies, fewer low budget movies, fewer artist movies, fewer thought provoking movies than before, But I wonder just how true that is. Are movies worse, different than before? SteveG argues in his own blog that the blockbusters lack tragic heros, and hence they have been on the decline. Yet if we think about it, there are tragic hero's in today's moves. DiCaprio in Blood Diamonds comes to mind. Is he right? Has the commercialization of the movie industry (and notice that that term 'movie industry' is old, it was an industry already in the '30s!) destroyed tragedy? And with it, the thought provoking movies of old?

50 comments:

ce said...

So when then does pop destroy art? Does it at all?

Pop can't destroy art. Some art is pop, which I might note, is simply shorthand for popular, and some is not. If the two happen to coincide, then the fact that the art is popular in no way destroys it. Some great directors, true artists by any measure of the term, have been quite popular. Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and Steven Spielberg all enjoyed commercial success. Are they suddenly not artists because their movies made money? Bullshit.

In closing, the words of Maynard James Keenan:

I, met a boy, wearing Vans, 501s, and a
Dope beastie-tee, nipple rings,
New tattoos that claim that he
Was OGT,
back in '92,
from the first EP.

And in between
Sips of Coke
He told me that
He thought
We were sellin' out,
Layin' down,
Suckin' up
To the man.

Well now I've got some
Advice for you, little buddy.
Before you point your finger
You should know that
I'm the man,

And if I'm the man,

Then you're the man, and
He's the man as well so you can
Point that fuckin' finger up your ass.

All you know about me is what I've sold you,
Dumb fuck.
I sold out long before you ever even heard my name.

I sold my soul to make a record,
Dip shit,
And then you bought one.

I've got some
Advice for you, little buddy.
Before you point your finger
You should know that
I'm the man,

If I'm the fuckin' man
Then you're the fuckin' man as well
So you can
Point that fuckin' finger up your ass.

All you know about me is what I've sold you,
Dumb fuck.
I sold out long before you ever heard my name.

I sold my soul to make a record,
Dip shit,
And you bought one.

All you read and
Wear or see and
Hear on TV
Is a product
Begging for your
Fatass dirty
Dollar

Shut up and

Buy, buy, buy, my new record
Buy, buy, buy, send more money
Fuck you, buddy.
Fuck you, buddy.
Fuck you, buddy.
Fuck you, buddy.

Anonymous said...

You don't think there is anything to the notion that Brittany Spears music is not really art? That Transformers is just explosions, no plot, and hence not really art? Nothing?

FJ said...

Art raises its head where creeds relax. --Friedrich Nietzsche

Steve Gimbel said...

I don't think the lack of tragic heroes is necessarily a bad thing, just an odd thing.

As for pop and quality, I think about what a buddy of mine Gwydion once said when writing a screenplay. He was telling me all of the constraints that are required (every 6 pages there must be at least one x, every 12 pages, but no more than every 4 pages there must be a y) and I groused that such requirements are surely a creativity killer destroying artistic freedom. His response is that it is no more an obstacle than rhyme and meter are in writing a sonnet. The trick is to embrace the constraints and still create great art. Yes, the marketplace places certain hurdles, but the great artists are those who are able to work within those boundaries and still come up with amazing stuff, something new, something that touches us, something clever and witty.

Yes, the structure rewards non-artists and so we see many no talent money makers reach the highest heights, but that does not mean art cannot occur, just that it is not art that is sought or rewarded, so it is less likely that art will occur in these places.

Josh said...

I agree with CE that pop can't destroy art. Musicians like Brittney Spears are producers of art - the quality of this art is up for debate.

A 12-year old girl might think that Brittney is the greatest musician who has ever lived. For that girl, in that moment of her life, Brittney is the greatest musician alive.

Why? I don't know you. You would have to ask the 12-year old girl.

More than likely, she enjoys the music because it is entertaining, or she likes how it sounds.

At this point you could explain to the little girl that Brittney doesn't writer her own songs, her voice is manipulated with a machine, and that she lacks any real talent.

Would this matter to her? No, because regardless of how the music is constructed she still derives an aesthetic experience that keeps her entertained.

Replace that 12-year old girl with a 55-year old KISS fan or a Bay City Rollers fanatic (they must only exist in Holland). Something in that manufactured sound appeals to them. All the nuts and bolts of manipulation that went into that creation are secondary to the entertainment value.

Inevitably, proponents of indie culture will argue for the criteria of authenticity (the DIY ethic of punk). Artists should sing their own songs, write their own music, and distribute their artistic creation without the mediation of commercial interest. I agree. I trend towards these types of artists and derive an experience from their work that I don't get elsewhere.

Does this mean my experience is superior to fans of Brittney Spears? Does this make my favorite bands "artists" and others pure manufactured slop? I don't think so. Not everyone enjoys the noise of Fugazi or Refused.

Until I hear an argument against the authenticity of an individuals own aesthetic experience, I have to rely on the old saying that "one person's trash is another person's treasure."

Hanno said...

Surely the need to have explosions alters just what you can do. It is true that art always works within boundaries, and great art does amazing stuff within those boundaries, and it is true that you can view market pressures as just one of those constraints. But you cannot have '12 angry men' if you need to have explosions. And you can only have a handful of movies if the studios keep trying to hit the homerun. The need to be commercially successful surely poses problems for the artist, and if great art challenges, then it would seem as if great art becomes more rare the more it must appeal to a wider audience.

Josh said...

P.S.

Gimbel -

Congrats on appearing in the final issue of the Journal of Bloglandia.

ce said...

Michael Bay was somehow omitted from my list of examples. Yeah, let's not read anything into that.

Regardless, I think we're encountering a problem here in that we are not defining art nor are we defining entertainment. There is certainly art that is not entertainment and there is certainly entertainment that is not art. The problem at hand is that movies are used as entertainment and so is music. We're exclusively dealing with an area where they overlap, and so it makes the fuzziness even more of a problem.

We're also conveniently ignoring the exceptions to the rule. My own reference to Tool for example. It's a commercially successful prog band that came into its own in the nineties, when everything was alt rock and boy bands. Surely, they succeeded against the odds, but they didn't follow the formula and were still successful.

So, it seems just obviously false that one MUST follow the rules. We do like people who step outside of the usual boundaries and still manage to appeal to us, capture our attention, and entrance us so that we become fans. The success of Tarantino shows that artists can still make it in Hollywood.

But here's the question: it seems unquestionable that The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth are art, but what about Hellboy? Certainly, simply because it's popular is not sufficient to dismiss it. And I'm sure given the budget and pressures of the studio, certain compromises had to be made. Does that somehow stop it from being art?

The heroic couplet is a royal pain the ass. If you don't believe me, just try it. But Pope and Chaucer still made it work. Certainly, we respect the rebels who follow their own rules. But let's face it, most of that schlock is shit, just like most of what Hollywood puts out. Go listen to local bands, and snag some indie albums. Most of it's not worth the effort and/or time you put into finding it in the first place. Hollywood may have more rules, but I'm not convinced they are less successful in putting out the "good stuff" simply because of the commercial demands. Honestly, it looks about equal both ways.

But, more to the point of Anon's question:

Transformers is art. It may not be a film so much as it's an exercise in cinematography and FX, but lack of plot does not dismiss it from the category of art. I'm sure you could put together an art film composed of nothing but explosions, not even utilizing actors in the process, and plenty of art majors and guys in black turtlenecks would think it was brilliant. They'd snap their fingers and put on performance pieces in homage. It'd be a gas, I'm sure.

Just because Britney doesn't write her own stuff doesn't mean it's not art. Someone wrote it, someone produced it, someone engineered it, and someone did the arrangement. Maybe it's not Britney's art, but just because it's an amalgam of many talents doesn't dismiss it from the category of art. I wouldn't venture so far as to call Britney herself a musician, since I don't know of any music she has actually created, but certainly an entertainer can be used to help present it. The person reciting the poem might not be a poet, but that doesn't mean the presentation of the piece somehow lacks value. If Britney is more involved in her work than I am giving her credit, then my apologies. So far as I'm aware, she's just a dancer and a mouthpiece, but I could be wrong. Of course, dancing is a form of artistry, so we should at least grant her credit where credit is due.

Hanno said...

You guys are just shifting the question from 'art' to 'good art.'

Granted, its being popular does not make it bad art, the question is, does trying to produce music, films or books that is mostly or solely geared toward selling affect the artistic quality of the product?

If the purpose of art is to challenge, or if good art challenges, then there is an inherent tension between the desires of the masses, who in general do not like to be challenged, and good art.

And even if something becomes successful and challenging, it will do so in spite of the challenges it presents, which are likely to be totally ignored by the masses, content with explosions and sex.

Josh said...

"Does trying to produce music, films or books that is mostly or solely geared toward selling affect the artistic quality of the product?"

No. It just exposes the economic motives of the artist. However, the artistic product and the artists can be separated. Dali's collaboration with Disney is of the same quality as any of his paintings.


"If the purpose of art is to challenge, or if good art challenges,"

I don't think the purpose or definition of art can be so narrowly defined as "challenging." Art also entertains, inspires, saddens, illuminates, etc. These qualities exist in both Transformers and any Jean-Luc Godard film.

"then there is an inherent tension between the desires of the masses, who in general do not like to be challenged, and good art."

I believe the tension stems from a lack of appreciation for the diverse manifestation of art, challenging (piss christ) or inspiring (Dead Poet's Society). Both sides are guilty of this deficiency.

Where would they gain such an appreciation for this diversity? Education, of course. However, the underfunding of the fine arts in our education system directly correlates to a homogenized mass of people, content with sex and explosions.

FJ said...

"Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life." --Oscar Wilde

ce said...

You guys are just shifting the question from 'art' to 'good art.'

That's because good is a judgment call, and thus begs the question. Without some particular aesthetic criteria from which to work, we can just as easily drop the good from the discussion altogether. Maybe I think all country music is awful because I simply can't stand the twang, and thus it's bad music. But I like sex, money, and hot chicks, so most rap music is good, because it relates to me all the good things in life. You have to present some argument as to why those assessments aren't acceptable in defining the "good" and "bad" of art.

In relation to Josh's earlier statement: advertising is an artistic avenue. And it's solely concerned with promoting a product and thus making money. There are artists who create logos, and writers, producers, and directors, etc., who create commercials. Some commercials are excellent. Some adds are quite beautiful. Why is art done well, not good art, regardless of its purpose? Seriously. I'd like to know why.

Hanno said...

No, I mean the question of the affect of commercialization of art is now shifted by your and Josh's insistence on anything is art, but not all art is good art, to the affect of commercialization of the quality of art. Spears, you say, is an artist, but not a good artist. Fine. I disagree, personally, but I will not go there. Instead, I ask does the commercial nature of art affect its quality? And if so, how?

I think the notion that the purpose of art can be to entertain is already the effect of the commercialization of art.

ce said...

I think the notion that the purpose of art can be to entertain is already the effect of the commercialization of art.

Show me an era in history in which entertainment was not at least a purpose of art. We don't need commercialization for it to be the case. Mythology was not just to disseminate religious teachings, cultural mores, etc., but was also just a good yarn. People listened to the stories just for the sake of listening to the stories, i.e., to be entertained. Even morality plays were both supposed to entertain the masses and teach them lessons.

In short: this isn't new. Indeed, this is part of the historical heritage of art. We like telling stories. We like pretty pictures. They make us happy and entertain us. This is simply a part of human culture. The commercialization might not always be there, but the entertainment factor always is.

Spears, you say, is an artist, but not a good artist. Fine. I disagree, personally, but I will not go there.

Well, you should. ;-) We can probably make some sort of useful distinction between entertainer and artist. I don't think it's even arguable that she qualifies as an entertainer. It may be questionable that she's an artist. But that's a tangent you can tackle at a later date. *hint* *hint*

Instead, I ask does the commercial nature of art affect its quality? And if so, how?

It certainly impacts what is produced. If someone were to come up to a producer in today's market with the screenplay for Lost Highway, it would be a hard sell to say the least. If someone were to try and put Titus Andronicus on the big screen, given the gore, etc., it would probably be a much easier feat, than say, trying to do the same with Waiting for Godot, which might get you laughed out of Hollywood.

The question then might be: is one work somehow not as good as the other? They're both excellent works, and if anything I'd say Godot is better than Titus, but partly that's due the fact that Titus is the earliest tragedy. Shakespeare gets better with the later productions.

I will grant you that it makes for different art. Certain things are almost immediately eliminated from the Hollywood menu, and thus if ever produced will have smaller budgets, and be seen by fewer people. They simply won't have the financial backing nor audience of the big blockbusters. However, different does not necessarily mean worse.

I do lean towards thinking that the more artists are challenged, and the more freedom they are given, the better they do. We've seen plenty of Saw type movies, and plenty of romantic comedies. There are only so many ways to do the gore fest and the buddy cop thing, etc. It becomes formulaic, even bordering on self-satire at times.

However, if you've bothered looking at the indie and B movie stuff, you'll notice that a lot of it is garbage, and much of it imitates the Hollywood stuff as well. It may be that even the independents, which obviously aren't under the same pressures as those working for a big studio, just aren't apt to produce consistently better quality stuff. And I'm not talking about production value, since we know that's going to be lacking initially because of the available budget. I'm talking about the work itself, all things considered.

So, while it's arguable that the pressure to make Die Hard 8 and Saw 13 is detrimental to the art of cinema, I'm not seeing where not having such an imposition produces better work. And, as such, where is the obvious connection between those pressures and the lack of quality? We might be able to see it in a given case, but we would need to be able to show the connection.

In short: I'd be happy to say that it's The Man's fault that we get crap like X-Men 3, and 10,000 BC, but who do we blame for Necronomicon and Creepshow?

FJ said...

Ortega y Gasset, "Revolt of the Masses"

There is one fact which, whether for good or ill, is of utmost importance in the public life of Europe at its present moment. The fact is the accession of the masses to complete social power. As the masses, by definition, neither should nor can direct their own personal existence, and still less rule society in general, this fact means that actually Europe is suffering from the greatest general crisis that can afflict peoples, nations and civilization.

Strictly speaking, the mass, as a psychological fact, can be defined without waiting for individuals to appear in mass formation. In the presence of one individual we can decide whether he is "mass" or not. The mass is all that which sets no value on itself -- good or ill -- based on specific grounds, but which feels itself "just like everybody," and nevertheless is not concerned about it; is, in fact, quite happy to feel itself as one with everybody else.

The mass believes that it has the right to impose and to give force of law to motions born in the café. I doubt whether there have been other periods of history in which the multitude has come to govern more directly than in our own.

The characteristic of the hour is that the commonplace mind, knowing itself to be commonplace, has the assurance to proclaim the rights of the commonplace and to impose them wherever it will. As they say in the United States: "to be different is to be indecent." The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select. Anybody who is not like everybody, who does not think like everybody, runs the risk of being eliminated.

It is illusory to imagine that the mass-man of to-day will be able to control, by himself, the process of civilization. I say process, and not progress. The simple process of preserving our present civilization is supremely complex, and demands incalculably subtle powers. Ill-fitted to direct it is this average man who has learned to use much of the machinery of civilization, but who is characterized by root-ignorance of the very principles of that civilization. ...

FJ said...

... The command over the public life exercised today by the intellectually vulgar is perhaps the factor of the present situation which is most novel, least assimilable to anything in the past. At least in European history up to the present, the vulgar had never believed itself to have "ideas" on things. It had beliefs, traditions, experiences, proverbs, mental habits, but it never imagine itself in possession of theoretical opinions on what things are or ought to be. To-day, on the other hand, the average man has the most mathematical "ideas" on all that happens or ought to happen in the universe. Hence he has lost the use of his hearing. Why should he listen if he has within him all that is necessary? There is no reason now for listening, but rather for judging, pronouncing, deciding. There is no question concerning public life, in which he does not intervene, blind and deaf as he is, imposing his "opinions."

But, is this not an advantage? Is it not a sign of immense progress that the masses should have "ideas," that is to say, should be cultured? By no means. The "ideas" of the average man are not genuine ideas, nor is their possession culture. Whoever wishes to have ideas must first prepare himself to desire truth and to accept the rules of the game imposed by it. It is no use speaking of ideas when there is no acceptance of a higher authority to regulate them, a series of standards to which it is possible to appeal in a discussion. These standards are the principles on which culture rests. I am not concerned with the form they take. What I affirm is that there is no culture where there are no standards to which our fellow-man can have recourse. There is no culture where there are no principles of legality to which to appeal. There is no culture where there is no acceptance of certain final intellectual positions to which a dispute may be referred. There is no culture where economic relations are not subject to a regulating principle to protect interests involved. There is no culture where aesthetic controversy does not recognize the necessity of justifying the work of art.

When all these things are lacking there is no culture; there is in the strictest sense of the word, barbarism. And let us not deceive ourselves, this is what is beginning to appear in Europe under the progressive rebellion of the masses. The traveler knows that in the territory there are no ruling principles to which it is possible to appeal. Properly speaking, there are no barbarian standards. Barbarism is the absence of standards to which appeal can be made.

Titus said...

Godot was better than Titus....???

You really are a lover of "low culture". :P

FJ said...

I don't suppose you liked Shakespeare's "Coriolanus", either. As it makes "light" of the tribunes of the plebs, you wouldn't.

Hanno said...

ce: I agree with most of what you write. I do think a notion of entertainment is a part of every great work of art. And yet it seems that the impulse to entertain can be detrimental to the artistic quality of the final work. And I find this puzzling, especially when the rest of what you say is right. I think you absolutely right to point to the fact that indie stuff can be pure crap, so lack of commercial appeal certainly does not art make. But it does not follow that the reverse connection is not true, i.e., if there is commercial pressure, the product will get worse.

Consider the following, about Night of the Living Dead (we can argue about its *cough* artistic value later). They could not find someone to distribute the film because of the ending. The powers that be wanted a new ending, one where Ben does not die.

Romero admitted that "none of us wanted to do that. We couldn't imagine a happy ending. . . . Everyone want[ed] a Hollywood ending, but we stuck to our guns".

That notion of 'a Hollywood ending' is exactly the impact of commercialization. To appeal to a larger audience, one where people make more money, you had to change the film. But a key part of the power of the film is the horrible ending. I do not think anyone will dispute now that the film would be in some sense (!) worse if they had followed directions instead of striking to their guns. It is a better film because the director did not give in to commercial interests.

FJ said...

You succumb to the "popular will", like Euripides did with "Iphigenea Among the Taureans", and the tragic hero DOESN'T die... well then TRAGEDY DIES WITH IT!

You might as well subscribe to Comedy Central.

FJ said...

Spare me your "common horde" tastes. :P

ce said...

But it does not follow that the reverse connection is not true, i.e., if there is commercial pressure, the product will get worse.

Agreed, but the point was that we need to show the connection, and I don't see how we can show that save in particular cases. And certainly, we'd be in error to generalize from a few specific examples. Or is Mister Logic willing to make a hasty generalization?

You really are a lover of "low culture". :P

Thank you for the lead-in. Just as the "Hollywood ending" can be detrimental to films, by attempting to appeal to the masses, so too can trying to fit some classical ideal. Just because something is refined, classic, traditional, etc., does not make it good.

Also, simply because something is new and different, challenging of the conventions, etc., does not make it good. You can imitate the Beatniks or Bukowski all you want, and wind up with pure garbage. You can write an epic or a sonnet following all the rules, and it can be pure garbage. Low culture is not necessarily bad or good. High culture is not necessarily bad or good.

Common wisdom is that Shakespeare failed with Titus Andronicus. And that's probably true. That doesn't mean it's a bad play. Beckett succeeded. I tend to rate success higher than failure. They're also remarkably different plays. I mostly used Titus because today's public seems to like it some gore and violence, but perhaps Godot and Titus are not good to use comparatively, simply because they are so resoundingly different.

However, Shakespeare is more low culture than Beckett. He was and is far more appealing to the populace. He pandered to the masses and the powers that be. He was fond of sex and violence, vulgar humor, and ghosts, if only because people at the time liked all of that. It should be rather obvious that he still has appeal among the commons, considering how frequently we still remake his works, and aim it at the teens and tweens. He's vaunted despite this, and that's a mark of his genius.

Does anyone besides the French even read absurdism these days?

It is a better film because the director did not give in to commercial interests.

Isn't is at least possible for the opposite to be true? Perhaps, a producer throws the director an idea precisely because it will make the movie more commercial and more marketable, but it might well be an improvement, and make for a better film.

I do think that as an artist, trying to fit a given mold gives an initial handicap. It can be nice to tackle a challenge. I've been forced to write particular types of poems, etc., and it's not bad as an exercise, but I'm not a classicist, and trying to write like one is not going to be playing to my strengths. So, yes, I do believe we do a disservice to the artists when we try to make them fit into particular models and adhere to particular ideals, which are not their own.

On the other hand, there are plenty of people who "do their own thing", and wind up with utter garbage. And we just stare at them, wondering where the conflict is in the work, or where the characters are, etc. In order to even appreciate or understand a work, there has to be some basis from which to approach it, and that comes from conventions and traditions. Even free verse has its rules.

FJ said...

Today's "Common wisdom is that Shakespeare failed with Titus Andronicus."

In its' day, it was Shakespeare's MOST POPULAR play.

However, Shakespeare is more low culture than Beckett.

At least we agree upon something.

Low culture is not necessarily bad or good. High culture is not necessarily bad or good. Here we part company. Low culture is "bad", high culture is merely "evil". And "evil" is something "worth" emulating.

FJ said...

Low culture is barbaric. High culture refines. Barbarism is the broad and easy path. Refinement takes sork and study.

So BAN SUPERTITLES at the Opera. It is something not fit for the masses, for one must speak the language if one want's to enjoy the performance (be "entertained" by it).

FJ said...

Beckett isn't low culture. He's "anti"-culture. He "cards the wool" of low culture.

FJ said...

Plato, "Statesman"

STRANGER: Weaving is a sort of uniting?

YOUNG SOCRATES: Yes.

STRANGER: But the first process is a separation of the clotted and matted fibres?

YOUNG SOCRATES: What do you mean?

STRANGER: I mean the work of the carder's art; for we cannot say that carding is weaving, or that the carder is a weaver.

YOUNG SOCRATES: Certainly not.

FJ said...

Now Joyce, HE was low culture.

FJ said...

A true Modern Olympian, where what is common and crass becomes the epitome of virtue.... and pop culture has nowhere to go but aim "ever lower" and lower, defining deviancy down.

FJ said...

As Tantalus was fond of saying, "Oh my aching back. I think it's time to start reaching upwards again!"

ce said...

In its' day, it was Shakespeare's MOST POPULAR play.

And?

By Joyce do you mean James Joyce or some other Joyce?

Here we part company. Low culture is "bad", high culture is merely "evil". And "evil" is something "worth" emulating.

Here? We part company almost everywhere. Evil isn't worthy of emulating. It's merely worth acknowledging. And for the record, sometimes bad means good.

FJ said...

James Joyce, Beckett's inspiration.

And for the record, sometimes bad means good. ...and evil means "better".

FJ said...

Much better.

FJ said...

And?

What was common in Shakespeare Day in terms of audience appreciation and "values" was "high culture" compared to what is common today.

Today's audiences do not empathize with Coriolanus or Titus Andronicus because the "higher values" have largely been demeaned.

Are you familiar with Joseph de Maistre's Paean to the Executioner from his St. Petersberg Dialogues? Are not the Executioner's values essential for the establishment of a civilization? Do not all the "good" people consider him but a
"necessary evil"?

FJ said...

What's your opinion of the executioner of Joseph d'Maistre's "St. Petersberg Dialogues"?

Oh, that's right, he's merely an "acknowledged evil". An evil without which all those "good" people would be at their neighbors throats.

Spinach isn't "evil", ce, just because you don't like the taste of it.

Nietzsche, GoM #2

These Germans have used terrible means to make themselves a memory in order to attain mastery over their vulgar basic instincts and their brutal crudity: think of the old German punishments, for example, stoning (—the legend even lets the mill stone fall on the head of the guilty person), breaking on the wheel (the most characteristic invention and specialty of the German genius in the realm of punishment!), impaling on a stake, ripping people apart or stamping them to death with horses (“quartering”), boiling the criminal in oil or wine (still done in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries), the well-loved practice of flaying (“cutting flesh off in strips”), carving flesh out of the chest, and probably covering the offender with honey and leaving him to the flies in the burning sun. With the help of such images and procedures people finally retained five or six “I will not’s” in the memory, and, so far as these precepts were concerned, they gave their word in order to live with the advantages of society—and it’s true! With the assistance of this sort of memory people finally came to “reason”!—Ah, reason, seriousness, mastery over emotions, this whole gloomy business called reflection, all these privileges and showpieces of human beings: how expensive they were! How much blood and horror is at the bottom of all “good things”! . . .

FJ said...

Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice... did you ever really understand Shylock motivations... to exact his "pound of flesh"... to enjoy the privileges of the "higher" nobles and governors... to physically torture those who wrong you? Or did his motives seem "foreign" to you?

...or Portia's response, her quality of mercy speech?

FJ said...

What's your opinion of "socialist realism" and it's critical theory inspired twin, "Social realism"?

ce said...

What was common in Shakespeare Day in terms of audience appreciation and "values" was "high culture" compared to what is common today.

Do you actually watch movies? Violence and sex still sell. Do you think the common folk who went to watch Shakespeare honestly gave a damn about the psychology of the characters or the socio-political issues, which arose? Or, rather, were they there to hear some naughty quips, see a bit of violence, some gore, etc.? What was popular among the common folk then is still popular with the common folk today. What captivates has not changed overmuch, if at all.

Or do you think it's coincidence that Shakespeare's bloodiest and goriest play was also the most popular?

Spinach isn't "evil", ce, just because you don't like the taste of it.

When have I made any such statement? Show me the post, please. Just because I don't like something does not make it "evil". Just because I don't like something does not make it "bad". Just because I like something does not make it "good". Have you not been paying attention at all?

Personal preference, is precisely that. Saying I like a movie, and saying a movie is good are two different statements. Saying I dislike a movie and saying it is bad are two different statements. They are not even remotely equivalent.

Also, I was not the one to bring "evil" into the discussion, nor did I say I don't like high culture. I never passed judgment on it at all. At least read the posts before responding to them, and please don't credit me with statements I never made.

And, actually, I like spinach, just for the record.

Of course evil is worth acknowledging. It would simply be unwise to do otherwise. But I never dubbed high culture evil. I never concurred with your assessments of high or low culture, at all. In fact, I never presented my own assessment of either.

What's your opinion of "socialist realism" and it's critical theory inspired twin, "Social realism"?

If you want to start a new discussion, get your own blog, and start up the discussion. My opinions were never the point of Hanno's post, nor the focus of this thread. Hijacking a blog for your own purposes is bad form. A person as cultured as yourself should know that.

FJ said...

Or do you think it's coincidence that Shakespeare's bloodiest and goriest play was also the most popular?

Then why isn't it STILL his most popular play? You yourself stated that "Common wisdom is that Shakespeare failed with Titus Andronicus." In other words, by "today's standard" it was a failure. But by yesterday's standard it known to be a success. Please explain how this could possibly be, if it's true as you claim that..."What captivates has not changed overmuch, if at all."

Do you think the common folk who went to watch Shakespeare honestly gave a damn about the psychology of the characters or the socio-political issues, which arose? Do you think that naught but the "common folk" went and saw much Shakespeare at all performed by "the king's men"? Shakespeare, I am sure, didn't give a tinker's damn what the common folk "thought". Yet I don't believe for a moment that it was mere "coincidence" that fifty years after Shakespeare, England experienced its' "Glorious Revolution" and enacted it's very first "Bill of Rights".

But I never dubbed high culture evil. I never concurred with your assessments of high or low culture, at all. In fact, I never presented my own assessment of either. That's because I don't think that you have a clue as to the difference between high and low culture. Can you say, "the aristocrats"?

Evidence:
Buy, buy, buy, my new record
Buy, buy, buy, send more money
Fuck you, buddy.
Fuck you, buddy.
Fuck you, buddy.
Fuck you, buddy.


If you want to start a new discussion, get your own blog, and start up the discussion.

I'm really just answering YOUR question... "Why is art done well, not good art, regardless of its purpose? Seriously. I'd like to know why." Can you say Mapplethorpe? Sweet Jesus? Can you say art is the "refuge of society's discontents"? It's because it's not "generally good" art, it's DESTRUCTIVE art meant to tear down, attack or destroy that societies values. Why do you think Islam prohibits depictions of Mohammed (piss be upon him) or the human form?

I ask your opinion to these two art forms, socialist realism and social realism, for the first has the purpose of "perpetuating" a certain set of values and the second a purpose of destroying a certain set of values just as "tragedy" has the purpose of preserving a certain set of values and comedy, destroying another.

The "purpose" for which the art work has been executed makes all the difference in the world as to whether it is "generally considered" "good" or "bad" art.

The art of the "counter-culture" had a purpose. "Critical theory" has a purpose. PoMo "Deconstruction" has a purpose.

De-cadent art. Throw off the cadence. Create disharmony. Social harmony "good", disharmony/conflict "bad" (unless it's to bring the "aristocrats" or "capitalists" down). At least that the "general/popular" (low to lower culture) view.

Hijacking a blog for your own purposes is bad form. A person as cultured as yourself should know that. So sue me. I'm not the one in love with the counter-culture.

FJ said...

Prometheus (Aeschylus, "Prometheus Bound") did not escape his "eternal punishment" of being bound to a cliff in adamantine chains and the daily tearing out of his liver by Force after a mere 10,000 years. He did it by art/guile. Just as societies discontents must do today and have always done.

FJ said...

Hijacking a blog for your own purposes is bad form. A person as cultured as yourself should know that.

If at any point in time you wish me to depart this blog and never comment again, all you've got to do is ask. I'm not a "paid" professor of anything.

Hanno said...

You guys seem to know what exactly the dispute is about, but you lost me a while ago. What are you arguing about?

FJ said...

CE apparently believes that Elizabethan audiences and today's audiences share the same vulgar tastes in theatre. I disagree. I believe that there was once an audience for "high culture" that finds no counterpart today, making plays like Coriolanus and Titus Andronicus unappealing to moderns.

FJ said...

Conversely, I don't believe there would be much of an audience in Shakespeare day for a staging of "Waiting for Godot" or any other modern PoMo to low culture tome.

Hanno said...

Ah, yes, I can see that thread.

I doubt ce thinks there is a pomo audience in Elizabethan England.

But surely both are right about Shakespeare. The educated and the uneducated, prostitutes and upper bourgeois, went, and some educated people listened closely enough to write it all down.

Hanno said...

Or am I not allowed to comment, since I am a paid professor of something?

FJ said...

Please, join in professor. I only seek to admonish your students to remember the maxim "caveat emptor".

Plato, "Protagoras"

Surely, I said, knowledge is the food of the soul; and we must take care, my friend, that the Sophist does not deceive us when he praises what he sells, like the dealers wholesale or retail who sell the food of the body; for they praise indiscriminately all their goods, without knowing what are really beneficial or hurtful: neither do their customers know, with the exception of any trainer or physician who may happen to buy of them. In like manner those who carry about the wares of knowledge, and make the round of the cities, and sell or retail them to any customer who is in want of them, praise them all alike; though I should not wonder, O my friend, if many of them were really ignorant of their effect upon the soul; and their customers equally ignorant, unless he who buys of them happens to be a physician of the soul. If, therefore, you have understanding of what is good and evil, you may safely buy knowledge of Protagoras or of any one; but if not, then, O my friend, pause, and do not hazard your dearest interests at a game of chance. For there is far greater peril in buying knowledge than in buying meat and drink: the one you purchase of the wholesale or retail dealer, and carry them away in other vessels, and before you receive them into the body as food, you may deposit them at home and call in any experienced friend who knows what is good to be eaten or drunken, and what not, and how much, and when; and then the danger of purchasing them is not so great. But you cannot buy the wares of knowledge and carry them away in another vessel; when you have paid for them you must receive them into the soul and go your way, either greatly harmed or greatly benefited; and therefore we should deliberate and take counsel with our elders; for we are still young—too young to determine such a matter. And now let us go, as we were intending, and hear Protagoras; and when we have heard what he has to say, we may take counsel of others; for not only is Protagoras at the house of Callias, but there is Hippias of Elis, and, if I am not mistaken, Prodicus of Ceos, and several other wise men.

You are, after all, a Carthaginian in Rome, of a sort, are you not? Who did Socrates charge for his lessons?

FJ said...

I agree with ce and yourself that the uneducated might enjoy sex, violence, etc. My argument is that the educated today are of a "different sort" who value the common over the noble. This is what 20th century "modernism" (as a movement) was all about. A de-valuing of an elite "culture" which made its' society's members aspire to education and the acquisition of "wisdom", instead of simply "hot cars and sexy women."

Who today want's to be labelled "elitist"? Yet once upon a time, every commoner in the kingdom longed to attend "court" and made no bones about it.

FJ said...

Our modern presidents and kings don rolled-up shirt sleeves for photo ops, drink beer and pretend to be "common folk."

Who are the masses today supposed to emulate?

We live in a "low" culture that aspires to "greater depths".

Tantalus is getting an aching back from the constant stooping.

FJ said...

So, if art is to "have purpose", what is it? To define deviancy down? To let us all indulge our "inner gangsta?" Or to exhort us to something higher?

FJ said...
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