On Popular Culture

Here’s a thought! Let’s quit kidding ourselves and put the bar back where it belongs. Not everyone is a genius or brilliant. The words are bandied about way too much. Pop musicians, popular writers and actors are designated geniuses with alarming frequency in our culture. I grew up listening to the rock “legends” and still listen to a lot of the music from that era, but as I matured in age and wisdom, I recognized its true value. It is an art form produced to be popular for a mass audience in and of its time, and I am in and of that time. So yeah, I like a lot of that music; but my grandchildren or great grandchildren? There was a time when Bing Crosby was a sensation and widely listened to, but aside from White Christmas, who listens to him now? The same is true of so many from his era. Even Frank Sinatra, the bobby socks heart throb, has seen his listeners dwindle. And in fifty years?? These entertainers (one could include the Beatles, the Stones etc.) and their music will eventually fade into obscurity when tastes change and generations pass. That’s the nature of popular culture. The electronic age has propped it up beyond its natural shelf life. The Beatles broke up in 1970. If not for radio, cd’s, albums and such, the last time anyone would have heard the Beatles as a band would have been 1970. I don’t know about you, but if I hear another singer covering a Beatles song, I change the station rather than hear them butcher the song. It just ain’t the same! Now compare it to the music of Beethoven, Mozart et.al. We don’t need the composer actually playing the piano or conducting to enjoy the music; we just need a good symphony orchestra. It’s about the music, not the personality.

The same is true of writing. The publishing industry has always had a hard-on for detective stories, cheap romances and adventures. And if you enjoy reading it—fine! Just don’t tell me that John Grisham, Dean Koontz, Nicholas Sparks and company are great writers. To quote Don Corleone, “It insults my intelligence.” There work is uneven and formulaic, written for the mass market and movie rights. The same is true of so many artists. Thomas Kincaid, Leroy Neiman, Pino and many others are hacks not even making an honest effort to do something serious.

Our culture is still capable of producing real artists, usually unexpectedly and from unexpected sources. Bukowski, Hunter Thompson, Lucien Freud and Houellebecq come to mind.

So go into a bookstore or a record store or an art gallery and say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to buy this anymore.” Not a big fan of Hollywood movies, but that one was pretty good. Till next time.


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