Freitag, Oktober 21, 2005

Cultural Dogmatics

This is one of Lilek's better screeds: the meaninglessness of any government attempt to support dying culture.

We do see some of it the US, however: I think that most, if not all NEA grants fall into this category. It reminds me of a long and rather tedious discussion I had with a German student back when I was studying in Freiburg.

We met by accident one morning when I was enjoying my morning cigarettes and tea (yep, used to smoke. Haven't since 1982, and I'm still losing the weight I gained from stopping smoking) at the local Mensa or student cafeteria. Back then I had a schedule mornings: up at 6 AM, shower, bike down to the cafetaria by 7 and be the only one in the place until around 9 or so. You could get a nice breakfast (pretzel rolls, cheese, tea for DM1.50), and add to that the daily FAZ and the first couple of filterless Roth-Händle (think filterless Camels with a severe attitude), and I was ready then for my econometrics class at 9 or for the library.

One morning one of the guys I knew in Freiburg was showing a batch of new students the ropes. He showed up with them for breakfast, around 15 or so, and he included me in talking about studying and the like. He was a fairly good sloucher and ended up ripping off East Germans after unification, but that's another story. He introduced me as one of the token Americans on the campus, and we talked about some mutual interests, such as Rauhe Mann (a devastatingly good jazz club in Freiburg, long gone, but where you could see some of Germany's best jazz musicians play directly in the crowd. Fantastic.).

One of the girls in the group, a sweet young thing, commented that jazz wasn't really music. My friend looked at me, I looked at him, and we both laughed. I continued to argue with her about this while the rest of the group broke up.

I must have talked with her for at least 2 hours. She came from the "Bach is GOD and Beethoven his disciple" school of "E"-music (E for "Ernst", or serious) and had grown up listening only to them. I grew up in a "the Rolling Stones are GOD and Led Zepplin his disciples" school of "U"-music (U for "Unterhaltung", or entertainment) and while I have my classic phases, they tend to be Ligeti and Bartok, not one of the boring B's (Brahms, Beethoven & Bach). And let's not get into my fetish for King Crimson and Fripp. :-)

To make a long story short, she could not for her life comprehend that jazz has its structures and disciplines, hearing only cacaphony and discord in the music. She was starting to study music and was looking forward to becoming a disciple of harmony and progressions. My friend later asked if we had hit it off, and I said "Not really: she was too dogmatic." His response was to ask whether it was worth talking to her long enough to get her pants off...

What I really want to point out with this anecdote is that if your culture makes a distinction between music that is serious and therefore worthy of intellectual endeavor and music that is merely there to entertain, then your culture is doomed. Music, movies, theater, etc are all aspects of culture: if people want to be entertained, then artists will find their public.

But getting the government involved means that the artists no longer need to find their public, or more exactly, their public becomes art critics who happen to work for the government and can give you money. Which means you get things like Piss Christ and "performance art" funded.

Which brings us back to the screed that Lileks writes so well. You can't stop popular culture from taking the paths that it does, any more than you can stop teenage girls from infatuation and teenage boys from thinking with organs of their body having to do with reproduction. Trying to change this means you're gonna be as successful as any father of a teenager will be: if you haven't given your kids charachter to know right and wrong, it's too late to do so when they're teenagers. Any government that has failed to understand that while you can try to influence culture, you can't make people behave as if they were "cultured", is doomed to waste their money trying to get people interested in Eminem listening to Bach instead.

Posting's been weak lately due to work: lately it resembles Dilbert more and more...

And Cultural Dogmatics sounds like a band that I saw at the Peppermint Lounge in the 1980s...

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