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Everything Bad is Good for Youand other thoughts about pop culture


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#16 Alexandra

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Posted 17 June 2005 - 08:58 AM

I thought it was Jo[hann] Strauss, a/k/a the Waltz King!

I can't site the source, because I learned of it in a conversation some years ago with someone who was writing about the American arts in the 1960s rather than my own reading, but there were studies in the late 1950s that predicted a rosy future for the arts, because of the GI Bill and the liberal arts education they were receiving. Union victories had given the "working class," as it was then called, more leisure time, and this time would be spent on ... the arts. The frame of reference for these deductions were the same as Brooks cites describes -- that the middle class was always striving to better itself, to learn about high arts and culture -- going back to the New England Lyceum movement -- and that the culture changed. Now, that model would be considered paternalistic, by both the left and the right, I think, but for different reasons.

Editing, because I forgot, as I often do, to tie my point to the discussion :). City Center was one of the prime venues of "art for the middle-class" -- middlebrow art, if you will and it was in that post-war spirit of arts optimism that City Center was born. And now we're in a period of rabid anti-intellectualism, anti-elitism, and I think it's interesting to look at some reasons for why and how that happened. Is it TV? Or advertising? Which led to "target markets," which led to the obliteration of anything that doesn't feed a prime "target market" happening at the same time that cultural relativism (which, I've always thought, has about the same relationship to Einstein's theory of relativity as social Darwinism does to Darwin's theory of evolution)?

#17 carbro

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Posted 17 June 2005 - 12:57 PM

If we're laying the entire blame on Americans' presumed laziness, I think that's unfair. There are many factors at work here.

1. A large portion of the target readership for the magazines cited were stay-at-home moms, who make up a much smaller demographic group now.

2. Both the average work week and commuting time for middle class Americans are longer now than 40 years ago. For people working 50 hours and commuting 15, there's not much discretionary time left.

3. After a day of staring at a computer screen, the eyes may not be up to reading.

4. There were strong pressures towards conformity through the mid-60s. Ethnic pride was discouraged, as were subcultures of all kinds. This tended to make the pool of shared knowledge smaller and less diverse. As our multi-culti environment has continued to spread into more and more niches, the choices are greater and the Things We ALL Should Know give way, piece by piece, to Things We [Latinos/Asians/Assimilated Jews/Gays] are added in.

5. People are devoting more of their "enrichment" time to learning new skills demanded for career advancement.

6. Even as consumers of leisure activities, we have become more specialized, as evidenced, for example, by this very board.

Of course we should set our intellectual aspirations higher, but the world we live in militates against it.

#18 bart

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Posted 17 June 2005 - 01:01 PM

All excellent and accurate points, carbro. I especially appreciated #6, to which I'd add the opportunities to delve deeply into specialized interests, something made possible by internet and other forms of technology.

Regarding dance, there's an implication that the previous generations lived in a relative golden age. Do we know for a fact that there are fewer people participating, supporting, attending, and writing-thinking about ballet today than in the past. I find that hard to believe.

#19 carbro

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Posted 18 June 2005 - 03:02 PM

Thank you, bart.

Another thought:
I grew up in the '50s and '60s. Art and music classes in the public schools were givens. As these programs were cut back, then cut out in so many places, is children's desire to learn to sing or play an instrument, to draw being left to wither? What about the offerings in colleges? Are there as many arts appreciation courses as there were 30 years ago? As many literature classes? Or is there increased emphasis, even in the liberal arts, toward more potentially practical courses?

Maybe some of the parents out there have some perspective on this.

#20 Mel Johnson

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Posted 18 June 2005 - 04:56 PM

During the Great Depression, the bust wreaked havoc on music and gym in New York State, but they left the art classes. This left a generation of performers and athletes without a school-supplied outlet. Their resolve not to let their children be deprived led to the arts boom of the 50s and 60s and the concomitant rise of professional sports. Unfortunately, the arts slumped, but the sports have morphed into something like a religion, at least here.

#21 bart

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Posted 18 June 2005 - 05:16 PM

Thanks, Mel, for that information. It helps explain why so many of the new suburbs built in the 50s (in my family's case, Long Island) invested so heavily in public school performing arts programs and facilities.

I'd be interested to hear some answers to your questions, carbro. What alternatives do you people have in a time of declining investment in non-essential (eg. arts) education? Do-it-yourself garage bands? Synchronized swim teams?

My perspective is a little cynical, since I now live in Florida, a state which so underfunds public education that it actually gives public schools the option of giving driver's ed credit without without having to provide cars and real driving time.

(On a positive note, Palm Beach County has a superb arts high school and middle school. But next year, funds are being cut, as are highly successful programs.)

#22 carbro

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Posted 18 June 2005 - 07:12 PM

Much of my solution involves doing things that have a distinctly political cast. I can say that much and no more without violating a Board rule.


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