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Posts Tagged ‘culture

“Life doesn’t imitate art, it imitates bad television”*…

 

And sometime, good television: full episodes of the frighteningly-prophetic Max Headroom at Dailymotion.com— watch ’em while you can!

* Woody Allen

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As we cope with blipverts, we might recall that it was on this date in 1959 that the legendary Edward R. Murrow aired his 500th and final Person to Person interview (with actress Lee Remick).  The series continued for another two years with Charles Collingwood as host.

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Written by LW

June 26, 2017 at 1:01 am

“O, had I but followed the arts!”*…

 

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…

Read on, as David Byrne makes a compelling case at “What Good Are the Arts?

* Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

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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.

 

 

Written by LW

April 15, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything”*…

 

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.”

* Voltaire

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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.

Clarence Birdseye and his handiwork

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Written by LW

March 6, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Don’t criticize what you can’t understand”*…

 

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'”

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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.”

cbrichmond source

 

Written by LW

March 5, 2017 at 1:01 am

“When you put on a uniform, there are certain inhibitions that you accept”*…

 

What do Catholic school girls and Joseph Stalin have in common? They’ve worn a uniform to conserve their mental energy for a higher purpose than just fashion. Lately, this utopian ideal of dress has become trendy among busy and thrifty women in the rise of the work uniform. After all, sartorial sameness conveys gravitas in the office.

In theory, we should all be wearing uniforms. Fashion is one of the world’s nastiest polluters, second only to oil. The rich wear intricate clothing to peacock their wealth, depleting the lower classes of their innate power and self-esteem. High fashion favors taut, unrealistic figures, leaving the rest of us with emotional complexes about our bodies. Uniforms could alleviate many of these problems.

And yet, any attempt to standardize dress across an entire culture has failed…

What does it mean to all dress alike? “A Brief Cultural History of Uniforms.”

* Dwight D. Eisenhower

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As we straighten our ties, we might spare a thought for Francis Scott Key; he died on this date in 1843. A lawyer, author, and amateur poet, he wrote the lyrics to the United States’ national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  Indeed, he wrote lyrics beyond those most of us have heard:  a pro-slavery, anti-abolitionist campaigner, Key wrote a (now mostly omitted) third stanza that promises that “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.”

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Written by LW

January 11, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Their manners are more gentle, kind, than of our generation you shall find”*…

 

 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

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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

 

Written by LW

September 10, 2016 at 1:01 am

“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.

Visit Pantheon to see for yourself, and find more on the data and methodology used here.

* Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

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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)

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Written by LW

March 2, 2016 at 1:01 am

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