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Alexandra

Race! Gender! Classicism/fine art

16 posts in this topic

Summer is the perfect time for opening can o' worms, so this is the first of two.

We've often grumbled about the way ballet (and opera, serious drama and music) are portrayed in popular culture, especially TV commercials -- taking a Tylenol to get a man through the ballet, etc. In the past few months, I've noticed several very anti-art commercials, some of them with a twist: not only is the man too macho to be able to stand fine art, but too stupid to appreciate it. I find this extremely offensive.

Examples:

1. Man at ballet sleeping; woman sitting next to him, in rapt attention, as what looks like "Le Sacre de Printemps" with the people dressed as Pueblo Indians is danced in front of Stonehenge.

2. (This one is actually quite funny) The punch line is "somehow, the imitation is never quite the same as the original" as a corps of slobs trucks through what's billed as Hudson Riverdance. The focus is on a couple in the audience. The man, spitting popcorn as he speaks and obviously merely between beers, loves it, claps and yells, "I smell a Tony!!!!" His date/wife/guardian sitting next to him has a look of utter disgust.

In a related matter, anecdote. I took a cab downtown today and the driver had on one of the local classical music stations. During the ride, I thanked him for it. He looked rather smugly satisfied and said, "I knew you'd like it." (Panic: do I know this man?) Why? "You're white." Do you mean you changed stations when you stopped to pick me up? "Sure." Would you have played this station if I were a white man? "NO!" (subtext, "Fool. Think I'd blow a dollar tip?") I should add I was dressed in blue jeans and a shirt, carrying a backpack, so I don't think I looked like I was about to go commune with Bach anywhere. The driver vigorously denied that he was stereotyping people. The very idea!!! He was right. I was a white female. I liked classical music.

He rested his case.

Anyone want to start a "Men Can Too Like the Arts And Are NOT Dumb?" Special Interest Group?

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Alexandra wrote: ===Anyone want to start a "Men Can Too Like the Arts And Are NOT Dumb?" Special Interest Group?===

Not me. The second part of the question could NEVER be proven.

Regarding stereotypes--at a former employer where I was a manager, there was a newly hired person was certain that I was gay.

She based this on the fact that I not only talked about opera and ballet a lot but did so quite passionately--or as she put it "flamboyantly".

And the only men who do that, of course....

[ 06-29-2001: Message edited by: Ed Waffle ]

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one that kind of lurks in my brain is a new york times commercial, now you figure they're going for a higher-style clientele, those with the discernment (read their words but from my mouth) to subscribe to their paper. they have a commercial running ad nauseum in which a young white couple is shown and the man says (paraphrased) 'our favorite is the sunday times and when it comes, she goes straight for arts and leisure, i head for the magazine." now i have to admit i at first thought i would hear him say he went for sports but was also figuring they were doing what they thought was bending over backward to be p.c. by giving him the magazine. don't know if this applies but it springs to mind.

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I think my husband would have something to say about this. He's a modern dancer, straight, white, male, doesn't like footbal or baseball, loves dance but not ballet, loves classical music but not opera, loves art, and hates to be stereotyped. He does everything in his power to force people to rethink there steroetypes short of physical harm.

I wonder if those commercials you cited are more anti-men than anti-art.

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Originally posted by LMCtech:

I wonder if those commercials you cited are more anti-men than anti-art.

I wondered that too, but then thought that the men who write/shoot/schedule them don't think of them as "dumb" but are still in the "real men spit, scratch their armpits in public and hate ballet" mode. There's another commercial, slightly related, that shows a bunch of men running after a sattelite disk truck like kids after the ice cream truck (the parallel is made literally). When they catch up to him, one guy says, "Do you have figure skating?" The others look at him in horror and he says, "Er, football?" There's another satellite dish commercial that shows the salesman talking to a couple, and falling into the stereotype -- sports for Him, women's stuff for Her. But hey, she's an interesting woman. "What about football?" she says. He looks interested. "Got that." What about racing? she asks. "Horse racing?" he assumes. "Stockcar," she says. Wow! What a gal!

Ed, the "if he likes opera he's gotta be gay" stereotype is out there too. And the guy can't wear a button saying, "Yeah, I like opera but I'm straight" because he'd have to wear a sub-button that says "Please do not take the above comment as a knock on gays."

General point being, that we're still a society that functions with the use of stereotypes, but the stereotypes are different -- and just as harmful, I'd say.

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I'm with LMCtech: my husband is straight, white, WASP (English) male who loves classical music (especially the Baroque period), plays the organ (used to play in churches), sings in a large choir (New York Choral Society) and prefers "story" ballets to abstract ones, and has no interest in sports unless it's the Olympics. He would have asked the cab driver to change stations to the classical one. :D

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on the subject of stereotypes.I am a black woman,so if I tell someone I am a dancer,they automatically assume I am a modern dancer,but the truth is that I dance classical ballet.I love classical music and abhor Rap,Funk and most of the other strerotypically"balck"music.In a related cab story.I was in New York several years ago and I was in a cab.The driver was listening to classical music and we got on the subject.We started talking about towns in massachusetts and I mentioned where i was from.He looked at me and flat out asked if my mother was white.I said no and asked why and his reply was,"oh,well,you are really articulate,you take ballet lessons and listen to classical music ,oh,and you aren't from Roxbury or Dorchester..."So,unfortunately,some people can just be really ignorant.Stereotypes are an easy way for people who are uncomfortable with themselves to generalize and try to make their own situations seem more bareable.most of my male friends who dance are straight and they get alot of raised eyebrows,but they can hold their own with the most mach of men.

Originally posted by felursus:

I'm with LMCtech: my husband is straight, white, WASP (English) male who loves classical music (especially the Baroque period), plays the organ (used to play in churches), sings in a large choir (New York Choral Society) and prefers "story" ballets to abstract ones, and has no interest in sports unless it's the Olympics.  He would have asked the cab driver to change stations to the classical one.    :D

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Thank you for posting that, bijoux. Your post holds the only possible solution to this -- being oneself, and to hell with stereotypes, which is obviously easier said than done. I did an interview a few years ago with a black dancer here who runs a summer program for inner city kids, and he said he consistently ran into two attitudes: whites who (still) thought blacks shouldn't be dancing ballet because they couldn't, and blacks who thought blacks shouldn't be dancing ballet because they shouldn't--because it wasn't a "black" art; they should be tapping. I frankly don't know how one could deal with that -- yes, doing what you want to do no matter what people saisd, but it must take an extraordinary amount of courage. We had a thread on racism (in general) in ballet last year and I think almost everyone here was aware of the problems, at least in theory, but at a loss to know what to do about them. Media images of people of color performing and enjoying the fine arts would obviously help.

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My resume used to have an "Other Interests" section which recited simply: "Opera and ballet". Then it occurred to me (for the reasons Ed mentioned) that I probably ought to balance that out with: "Basketball and running (3:51 NYC marathon)." Finally, I just chucked the whole thing.

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Alexandra Posted:

>>Thank you for posting that, bijoux. Your post holds the only possible solution to this -- being oneself, and to hell with stereotypes, which is obviously easier said than done. I did an interview a few years ago with a black dancer here who runs a summer program for inner city kids, and he said he consistently ran into two attitudes: whites who (still) thought blacks shouldn't be dancing ballet because they couldn't, and blacks who thought blacks shouldn't be dancing ballet because they shouldn't--because it wasn't a "black" art; they should be tapping. I frankly don't know how one could deal with that -- yes, doing what you want to do no matter what people saisd, but it must take an extraordinary amount of courage. We had a thread on racism (in general) in ballet last year and I think almost everyone here was aware of the problems, at least in theory, but at a loss to know what to do about them. Media images of people of color performing and enjoying the fine arts would obviously help. <<

It is very difficult for me when I think about the people who aren't able to "be themselves" because of their race or gender. It tells us something. It tells us that segregation and racism still exhist today, but not in the way people think. This segregation occurs in the minds of the ignorant individuals who embrace every snide comment on being "black" or "white." This is a more abstract but more tragic type of separation, than that of the 40's or 50's. I wonder WHY is it considered so wrong to be black AND like classical music and ballet? Classical music is music just like any other type of music on earth. It is as lovely and as beautiful, as simple and as complex, and as emotional as any other type of music. So, why is it almost "forbidden" to be a lover of classical music when you are a man?

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I think people nowadays make assumptions in order to play it "safe" sometimes. The likelyhood of your cab driver Alexandra of your cab driver playing classical music for a young kid dressed with his shorts around his knees and a t-shirt meant for 4 people is unlikely, but the possibility of the kid actually being a student of classical music (and liking it) is possible, but not likely. It's not the greatest movie in the world but "Music of the Heart" with Meryl Streep playing a violin teacher who brings classical music to kids who though Mozart was a tagger's name, was pretty good. But it took her a while to get them to open up to the idea of classical music, to try and expose someone for 5 minutes to something new isn't always worth the effort (to some).

A lot of times on this board people get down on sports and don't "understand" why so much coverage and attention is given to them or pop culture and why movie stars get paid millions and we have dance companies closing. I love sports, I love movies and I love ballet but they're not really comparable, and art is very individual.

Last year Mayor Guiliani commisioned a group to censor what he felt was "not art" after an exhibition was shown at a museum. My first reaction (as usual with him) was that he was nuts. Art is supposed to make you think and not every person has the same reaction to it.

I've gotten off the subject of stereotyping and assumptions.

In American society, at a ballet, you are more than likely to have more women than men, more older than younger and even a more affluent crowd. I mean, they serve champagne, the wait staff is fully dressed, the atmosphere is stuffy. There are times when I love to just go in jeans and people look at me as though I'm disrespectful.

I think we have a men like sports and women do the "artsy" attitude here in the States. And if it's portrayed otherwise then the advertiser's are trying to be "pc"

A.C. I don't think it's "forbidden" to like classical music, it's just not the not what the majority does. And unfortunately that's what we base a lot of stereotypes on, majority.

It would be nearly impossible to reverse people's stereotypes but I think sometime's by trying to "counter" the norm, we often keep the stereotype in place by recognizing that there is one. You have to almost be nonchalant about it so as to make it normal, because it is normal. But often we take the defensive, "yeah, I'm a guy that likes ballet but I'm not gay" If people choose to make assumptions then that's their choice and they'll lose your buying power, your trust and your respect, but if we all loved the same things we wouldn't be very diverse and I think it's that diversity that creates genius, someone who challenges the way we think, who forces us to recognize our own fears and mistrusts of things.

Sometimes ignorance can be bliss. I stumbled on to ballet by chance and I love it, but I too once thought it wasn't for me and there are still times when it's not but I don't try to force feed people on it. Art is like religion to me, when the time is right you'll find it.

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Its not just ballet and the arts, other fields also get the one-sided treatment. Consider the game of chess. According to popular culture, run of the mill chess players are socially inept nerds. Those who study and become strong players are rewarded with insanity.

Commercials are very time limited... how much can one say in 30 seconds? I suspect that media people both rely on and create stereotypes as a kind of shorthand in order to pack in more material.

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One stereotype that gets to me is that if you are "artsy" you don't know how to use logic. People assume that if you are involved with the arts that you are very interesting and eccentric, and rely mostly on intuition and emotions, but know nothing else. Similarly, it's also implied that science majors are completely left-brained and don't know how to appreciate "real" art. Perhaps this can help explain why our society suggests men cannot enjoy ballet. Because I've read that women can use both sides of the brain at once and men cannot (?). More likely though, it's society's fear of accepting something deeper than the 1-dimensional masculinity we are familiar with. With all the rights and power women are gaining, people hang on to that out-dated image of what a "real man" is.

Do you think that this is more of a problem in North America, than say, Europe? Though we take pride in our freedom, it seems that in many ways our culture is a lot more uptight than in other countries.

Finally, as a dance student, I'm tired of the common "bunhead" stereotype. The idea that ballerinas are closed-minded and shallow, that ballet is just about starving yourself and looking pretty. I've had experiences with modern dancers that once did classical ballet but now look down on it. As if it is a superficial art, and a ballet dancer is less of a true artist. These ideas are hardly fair...

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I remember when I was interviewed for a job

in a performing arts institution. I could not

believe all the "gay" people. But, someone told me to shutup and just do the job. I was

19 and homophobic, to say the least! But, I found out that we are all human beings. We have much more in common, than not.

I also found out over the years how tough

ballet dancers have to be. A recent study, published in the N.Y. Times, concluded that

ballet dancers obtain just as many severe injuries as football players. 'Nuff said!!!!

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well put.another unfortunate stereotype as you have briefly mentioned is that ballet dancers don't know how to use their brains and from what I have heard,many ballet dancers who have left the stage have gone on to pursue their doctorates in physics or psychology,or have landed jobs with design firms or in technology.I know a dancer who lost her job with a ballet company and got a fantastic job in the technology fiedl in part because of her discipline and attention to detail.Many "lay"-people fail to realize how much dancers, and I think artists in general, have to use their brains.Of course there is the obvious issue of remembering combinations and choreography,but the mere survival effort in the dance world requires quick thinking.The quickest and the brightest survive,don't you think?I mean,think of all of those men in ballet who have had to fight stereotyipng. whether it was conscious or not,they have proven people wrong time and again by reinventing the idea of the male ballet dancer,lately by likening themselves to gymnasts and even pro ball players in their physical feats.I don't think it has always been an accident.Look at people like Arthur Mitchell and Alvin ailey who found a void in the dance world in terms of where minorities fit and created dance companies(successful dance companies)to fill those voids.Look at "Career Transition for Dancers" and Boston Ballets'"Dancers Resource fund"Both are created by dancers recognizing the importance fo looking at the future and going beyong the expected'shut up and dance"cliche'I think I could go on for days about this,but I'll stop here

[Edited to take out the quote. I've noticed several people doing this, so this is a general note. To reply, just hit the Post Reply button (it's not one of the icons at the top of a post, but separate). If you want to quote part of a previous post -- not just the one immediately before yours, but any on a thread -- then hit the little "" sign.]

[ 07-08-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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