Friday, August 4, 2017

Pop Music Has the Prestige Now

I saw this just too late to include in the miscellanea today, but why wait until next week when we can be outraged today? The Kennedy Center Honors abandons the arts for pop culture:
For years now, the Kennedy Center Honors have been devolving from an event that recognizes stellar achievement across a diverse and rich tradition of American arts into an entertainment-driven event that rewards star power and pop-culture cachet. Representatives of the wide range of traditional arts, including classical music, opera and ballet, have been slowly edged out until, it seemed, they were lucky to have a single medal among the five given out each year. This year even that toehold looks precarious. Of the five artists to receive the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors, only dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade falls into the tradition of the arts on which the Kennedy Center was founded and built its reputation. The other honorees — television producer Norman Lear, singer-songwriter Gloria Estefan, music mogul Lionel Richie and hip-hop star LL Cool J — are all great talents, but belong to a commercial entertainment culture that has no need of the Kennedy Center, or the honors that bear its name, to establish and maintain a connection with their enormous audiences.
Yep. We are moving in a direction that, while it seems inevitable, is one that also seems to be wrong.
 Sam Shepard died this week without ever achieving the favor won in recent years by the Eagles, David Letterman and Oprah Winfrey. Not one artist who has taken up the legacy of Aaron Copland or Tennessee Williams or Virgil Thomson (all honored in the early years of the Kennedy Center) is included. Majors figures in American musical life, such as composers Philip Glass and John Adams, still await Honors, as do opera stars Kathleen Battle, Samuel Ramey and Frederica von Stade. For a cultural center built around an opera house and symphony hall, it’s depressing that this year not one classical musician has made the list and that again, this year, none of the musicians who have made America a force in pioneering the early instruments movement were included.
I can't help thinking that this is the foregone result of relativism. After all, if there are no objective aesthetic criteria and everyone's aesthetic taste is equally good, then the most popular artists are the best artists. I think it likely that a lot of the people involved in these choices actually know how shallow they are, so this is all an exercise in political cynicism.
The Honors have always included a range of what is often called high and popular culture, but they have never been so slavishly focused on mass entertainment, and they have never entirely forsaken the arts that were foundational to the creation of the institution. Audiences who seek a rich diet of culture — not just corporate entertainment product — should be alarmed and must become vocal about maintaining the center’s commitment to true diversity in the arts.
More power to the writer of the piece, Philip Kennicott, and I hope he doesn't get fired for expressing an incorrect view.

I'm not sure if this tactic would be at all effective, but if any classical musicians in the future are tapped for an award I suggest they decline. And perhaps all the ones already honored might simply return them. After all, if symbolism is important, then symbolism is important.

11 comments:

Marc Puckett said...

"Check out the blog of the august American Musicological Society: musicologynow. Lately it's all pop culture, all the time. Anything else would be elitist or worse, apparently." ('Lutoslawski' in the comments to the Kennicott essay, at 7:47 PDT 08/03. :-)

Bryan Townsend said...

The Music Salon has operatives everywhere!

Will Wilkin said...

Marc and Bryan, I have been trying to reach some of the authors at musicologynow.com, complaining about their focus on pop culture and their dismissal of serious music out of political motives devoid of aesthetics. Here is my most serious attempt at countering their politicization of musicology to the detriment of aesthetics:

http://musicologynow.ams-net.org/2017/02/music-history-pedagogy-and-political.html

Here are a few more examples of their articles under which I tried to initiate serious conversation but have been mostly ignored:

http://musicologynow.ams-net.org/2017/03/can-we-sound-good-or-what-is.html

http://musicologynow.ams-net.org/2017/06/dissertation-digest-theatre-of-politics.html

http://musicologynow.ams-net.org/2017/05/love-double-bind-taste-test-on-music-in.html

Bryan Townsend said...

Will, over at Musicology Now you are a lone voice in the wilderness. They will ignore you on general principle. But I notice that at least one professor did reply to a comment. If you have time, you might continue leaving the occasional comment. If you do I suggest that you use the most focused tactics you can. These people do not have good arguments; instead they have ideological bias and lies--on which they are rarely challenged. But you have to challenge in very specific ways. For example, in the second link you include Kelly Hiser says: "If we wish to do good as musicologists, we must also recognize our discipline’s historic and ongoing complicity in white supremacist structures that enabled a Trump Presidency." This is a typical post-modern view and it is based on a false understanding that everything boils down to power relationships. Once you accept the assumptions you have lost the argument. So challenge the assumption: "why do you think musicology is complicit with white supremacism?" "Does doing good as musicologists necessarily mean adopting radical leftist political views?" There are a lot of questions you could ask that would force her to admit her ideology. Don't make any broad claims yourself, but instead challenge her broad claims. Your first job is to sow doubt.

Marc Puckett said...

Good luck, Will! and thanks for the links. I don't think I've ever been to that place except for very briefly when Bryan posted about it, to gawk at the accident's victims. I myself don't have the energy, time, or inclination to seriously engage with those people.

Now am going out to purchase a lottery ticket so that when I win five or six thousand dollars I can buy a lute. :-)

Bryan Townsend said...

I hope you win!

Marc Puckett said...

Unfortunately, I never do actually buy one of those tickets, ha: but if I did I'd be well on my way to playing a mean version of Desprez's Nimphes nappes in no time (isn't that how the lottery works?).

Bryan Townsend said...

I bought a lottery ticket once, but since I didn't win, I gave up on it as a bad deal.

Will Wilkin said...

There is no cheaper access to hope than buying a lottery ticket every week. Meanwhile, Marc, here is an affordable luthier devoted to the spirit of antique instruments:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/Glennsshipmodelsetc?ref=search_shop_redirect

His Medieval Citole offering:

https://www.etsy.com/listing/259367688/medieval-citole?ref=shop_home_active_10

and his Renaissance Cittern offering:

https://www.etsy.com/listing/526696852/renaissance-cittern?ref=shop_home_active_5

his Medieval Gittern offering:

https://www.etsy.com/listing/259263197/medieval-gittern?ref=shop_home_active_21

Will Wilkin said...

And Bryan, thanks for the advice on how to most effectively challenge their thinking. I was once very ideological myself, and especially to young person who has not yet been forced by life and real people to see how the subjective world and social complexity end of making contradictory positions both true and both inadequate as mental models, I understand the attraction of an intellectual system that is internally consistent and all-encompassing. Only time and honest study of "examples that don't fit" can help bring such minds to the point where we finally know we don't actually know much....

Bryan Townsend said...

You're welcome. I think young people fall prey to ideologies quite easily. For one thing they are fed them by the schools. And for another, ideologies provide nice clear and simple answers to all questions. Wrong ones, of course! The Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson has a lot of videos on YouTube in which he discusses ideologies. I recommend them!