Monday, August 11, 2008

Culture and Politics and Who Is Worth Watching

I read blogs that decry the current state of popular culture asking the question, why were artists in the 1960s and 70s so much more politically aware, expressive, and yes, powerful? Has our modern culture become deadened? Are musicians just in it for the bucks? Are we that shallow?

Yes. Yes. and Yes.

And No.

One, the retrospective analysis of the 1960s like retrospective analysis of the post-Civil War era relies too much on self-reflection. The yearning for days gone by is far too colorful a filter.

Two, when looking back and comparing, we try to compare apples with apples and sometimes the present is not a season for apples. A common thread among these bloggers yearning for a collective sigh is they are Bob Dylan fans and covertly, fans of Paul Winchell. They keep looking for the next Howdy Doody with a guitar and not finding him, they claim no one is trying hard enough.

Perhaps they are looking in the wrong place. Art forms shift in their dominant power over a society at different times. Music, particularly rock and blues and their bastard children in pop, is largely mined out. The trestles are still running, the water is still being drained from the tunnels, but for the most part, the stripping of cultural landscapes to feed the pop music conveyor belts has exhausted most of the rich veins.

On the other hand, the comedy circuit has been doing very good work for at least a decade and a half. It may be the case that the mavens of zeitgeist despair lack the one quality they need to see where art is indeed reflecting society: they are unable to laugh at themselves. It just doesn't fit their self-image as much as despair and the societal loathing that allows them to lift themselves above the common masses.

Thus, they fail to see they are exactly the kinds of people the people they admired from the Sixties abhorred. The logic of time is that it only comes once. The logic of culture and politics is that we can't tell what role history will assign to us because we can't be out of a time and in it at the same time.

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