Posts Tagged ‘culture’
Investment in the arts doesn’t cost us money – it MAKES us money!
I just got back from a rally at City Hall. It was organized by city council member Jimmy Van Bramer to protest the proposed budget cuts to both publicly funded arts organizations (NEA, NEH and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting) and the library system. Lots of other council members, museum directors, actors, union representatives and many more were on hand. It was a beautiful spring day. I spoke very briefly, making the economic and social argument—that arts funding benefits the economy and creates jobs way in excess of the amount invested. It has the effect of lowering crime, raising property values and lowering child abuse! Really!
The Trump administration and their Republican allies hope to eliminate funding for a number of federal arts organizations. This is a political move—it really doesn’t amount to much money—it’s a tiny part of the federal budget. The amount of federal funding is $741 million, which sounds like a lot, but is less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the United States’ annual federal spending, an amount supporters say is too small to make a difference in the budget if it was cut. On a budget pie chart it doesn’t even show up, it’s too small.
Q: What does that “investment” get us as a nation?—A: It gets multiplied more than 100 times= $135.2 BILLION…
* Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
As we treasure society’s hope chest, we might recall that it was on this date in 1939 that celebrated contralto Marian Anderson sang an Easter Sunday concert for more than 75,000 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. A radio audience of millions listened in.
Anderson had been denied the right to perform at Constitution Hall by the DAR because of her color. Instead, and at the urging of Eleanor Roosevelt, Harold Ickes permitted her to perform at the Lincoln Memorial.
Leland Carlson is sitting in his Washington, D.C. apartment watching the rain outside his window and speculating what a dull man in Southern California would find amusing. “They might like to go to Venice Beach and watch the tide come in,” he says. “That sounds fun to do.”
Carlson, a 77-year-old retired tax attorney, is the founder of the Dull Men’s Club. The club is a loosely organized online community where men can share thoughts and experiences about ordinary things. There’s a website packed with articles on “dullites,” a shop featuring club swag and a calendar with various meet-ups in England and the U.S. along with celebrations of things like National Pencil Day.
Carlson says it’s remained a men’s group because he considers women “too exciting” (although those that appreciate dull men aren’t turned down). The club is a place to feel free from the pressures of being trendy, and it’s a place where no one cares about fancy cars, buying a bigger house or going on exotic trips…
Carlson wanted somewhere for “old farts” like him to discuss duck ponds and hubcap collections. He had no idea his Dull Men’s Club would launch a movement. From MEL Magazine (via Narratively) “The International Society For Men Who Love Being Boring.”
As we consider a nap, we might recall that it was on this date in 1930 that General Foods put the first nationally-branded individually-packaged frozen foods– “Birds Eye Frosted Foods”– on sale in 18 retail stores in Springfield, Mass. to test the market. General Foods (recently renamed from the Postum Corporation) had acquired the frozen food business from Clarence Birdseye; inspired by seeing Canadians thawing and eating naturally frozen fish, Birdseye had invented the category in the early 1920s. The initial Birds Eye line featured 26 items, including 18 cuts of frozen meat, spinach and peas, a variety of fruits and berries, blue point oysters, and fish fillets.
Cultural critique is in a tricky spot. Living as we do under an extremist government, it is hard to know what to do with criticism, or how to consume art that does not carry a big rubber stamp declaring it “political.” It’s hard to defend doing anything except being in the streets…
Cultural criticism is not self-indulgent: It is a service to the community… Painting, music, television, the visual culture of the internet, poetry: These art forms and their consumers and critics represent an aesthetic space whose boundaries are not defined by the president. Unless we believe in and nurture this space, the critic is stuck forever explaining how this or that book is crucial reading “in Trump’s America.” But this type of reviewing hobbles thought, because it reduces all art to the structure of satire. It is as if Trump is a spider in the middle of a web, and every review that tethers the meaning of a pop song to his régime strengthens it…
Art as society’s hope chest: “In Defense of Cultural Criticism in Trump’s America.”
* Bob Dylan, “The Times, They Are A’-Changin'”
As we think for ourselves, we might recall that it was on this date in 1839 that Charlotte Brontë, eldest of the three literary Brontë sisters, and author of Jane Eyre (among other novels), wrote to The Reverend Henry Nussey, the brother of Ellen Nussey, her long-time friend and correspondent, refusing Henry’s proposal of marriage. Charlotte found Henry desperately dull. Still, she let him down diplomatically. “I have no personal repugnance to the idea of a union with you,” she wrote in her unenthusiastic reply, going on to cite altruistic reasons for her demurral: “mine is not the sort of disposition calculated to form the happiness of a man like you.”
Larger image available at source, here
Saying “please” and “thank you” is not a universal custom — there are societies such as the Inuit, where it is not the case. In fact it first took hold in Western society during the commercial revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as evidence of the democratization of society — our desire to view everyone as equals. Before that, saying please and thank you was a way to show deference to a lord or master. “Thank you” derives from “think,” it originally meant, “I will remember what you did for me” — and “please” is short for “if you please,” “if it pleases you to do this”:
“Consider the custom, in American society, of constantly saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ To do so is often treated as basic morality: we are constantly chiding children for forgetting to do it, just as the moral guardians of our society — teachers and ministers, for instance — do to everybody else. We often assume that the habit is universal, but as the Inuit hunter made clear, it is not. Like so many of our everyday courtesies, it is a kind of democratization of what was once a habit of feudal deference: the insistence on treating absolutely everyone the way that one used only to have to treat a lord or similar hierarchical superior…
More of Delancey Place’s instructive excerpt of David Graber’s wonderful Debt – Updated and Expanded: The First 5,000 Years here.
* Shakespeare, The Tempest
As we mind our Ps and Qs, we might recall that it was on this date in 1897 that London taxi driver George Smith smashed his hack into a building on New Bond Street. On being charged with the offense, Smith admitted that he’d had “two or three glasses of beer” and apologized, arguing that “it is the first time I have been charged with being drunk in charge of a cab.” In fact, it was the first time anyone had been charged with drunk driving. Smith was fined 25 shillings.
Larger image available at the source, here
“Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future”*…
From MIT’s Media Lab and it Pantheon Project, an interactive mapping tool that let’s one visualize the history of cultural production.
You were not born with the ability to fly, cure disease or communicate at long distances, but you were born in a society that endows you with these capacities. These capacities are the result of information that has been generated by humans and that humans have been able to embed in tangible and digital objects.
This information is all around you. It is the way in which the atoms in an airplane are arranged or the way in which your cell-phone whispers dance instructions to electromagnetic waves.
Pantheon is a project celebrating the cultural information that endows our species with these fantastic capacities. To celebrate our global cultural heritage we are compiling, analyzing and visualizing datasets that can help us understand the process of global cultural development. Dive in, visualize, and enjoy.
Pantheon allows one to select a time period, then see the results sorted by place of origin (as in the chart above) or by profession, and provides a ranked listing of people.
It’s all fascinating, but the “professional” sort is especially telling, as Kottke observes:
Up until the Renaissance, the most well-known people in the world were mostly politicians and religious figures, with some writers and philosophers thrown in for good measure. Starting with the Renaissance through the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, politicians, writers, painters, and composers become more prominent. For the past 50 years, athletes and entertainers dominate the list, with footballers making up almost a third of the most known. (If you only go back to 1990, actors dominate.)
Politicians rate slightly behind tennis players (but ahead of pornographic actors) and religious figures are not represented in the graph at all.
* Albert Camus,
As we put down the remote control and pick up a book, we might send tasty birthday greetings to the culinary genius behind green eggs and ham, Theodor Seuss Geisel, AKA “Dr. Seuss”; he was born on this date in 1904. After a fascinating series of early-career explorations, Geisel settled on a style that created what turned out to be the perfect “gateway drug” to book addiction for generations of young readers.
The more that you read,
The more things you will know.
The more that you learn,
The more places you’ll go.
– I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! (1978)
What does it mean to be “cultured”? Are you? The questionnaire above is from Ashley Montagu’s 1958 book, The Cultured Man…
Montagu—a well-respected anthropologist and former student of Franz Boas, who was influential in his profession’s midcentury rejection of the idea of innate racial hierarchy—wrote many popular books, of which The Cultured Man is one.
The book contains quizzes for 50 categories of knowledge in the arts and sciences, with 30 questions each; 25 of the questions test knowledge and five test what Montagu called “attitudes.” The test-taker could refer to the answers at the back of the book and tap the list of references Montagu offered as correctives to those who found themselves deficient in a particular area.
Distinguishing his project from that of the quiz shows that were popular staples of radio and TV in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Montagu wrote that a person considered “cultured” would not just be able to readily summon facts, but also to access humane feelings, which would necessarily come about after contact with culture. “The principal mark of the cultured man is not so much knowledge as his attitude of mind in relating his knowledge to the world of experience,” Montagu wrote. A “cultured man” would be curious, unprejudiced, rational, and ethical.
“The function of these questions is not a static one,” Montagu wrote, encouraging readers to see the experience of being tested as an educational opportunity. “Their function is both dynamic and constructive: to tell you more or less exactly where you stand as a cultured person, and precisely in which directions you need to move from that position. No one grows who stands still.”
More, from the redoubtable Rebecca Onion, at “How Cultured Are You, by 1950s Standards?” It’s interesting to note, as Ms. Onion does, that while Montagu was a powerful mid-century voice for antiracism and multiculturalism, his idea of “culture” is essentially Western, and almost totally lacking in representation of non-male, non-white voices…
* Plato, The Republic
As we hit the books, we might spare a thought for a cultural observer extraordinaire: Jonathan Swift, the satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet, and cleric who’s probably best remembered for Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal; he died on this date in 1745.