Friday, January 20, 2017

A Refreshing Take on Adulthood

Tracey Gordon is a 24-year-old virgin living at home in London, England. Her lack of the life experiences shapes her journey into “real” adulthood in the show “Chewing Gum.” The film rejects the dominant ideology of how many young people are living in a society focused on wealth and material possessions.

Sellnow’s explanation of this dominant ideology-based perspective explains how pop culture is controlled by the great force of cis-gender groups. However, Tracey is seen far-removed from this storytelling as viewers see her struggle between fitting in and learning what makes her unique. Her journey can result in conflict for viewers due to the perception of how things ought to be.

For example, viewers watch her struggle to interact with men, continue interactions involving awkward decision-making, and hope she choosing to align within the ways of “normal” adulthood. Even her affordable, estate housing is filled with a diverse group of neighbors and passersby while she makes her way to work as a saleswoman at a convenience store. The show challenges the rhetoric of success conveyed to young adults who are encouraged to purchase overpriced housing and work longer hours to afford that living space.

My love for this show is found in the comedy and relatable scenes between Tracey and her friends, but moments of second-hand embarrassment consume my perspective when she acts on unknown experience. Her strict upbringing and uncomfortable moments bring viewers to tune in weekly, but the show’s subject of struggling to align with the dominant culture may be very telling in how our desires in materials and success may not have any depth in relation to the tricky and realistic human experience.

Discussion Questions

1. Have you preferred storytelling that portrays characters against neo-marxism and its ideology?
2. How can this trend of realistic plot lines carry to films? Is this possible?
3. What shows are you currently watching that ignore the expected state of normality?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Pop Culture vs Authentic Culture

            For this blog post I wanted to talk about something that is stated in the Frankfurt School text by Storey. There it states: “But as Adorno (1991b) points out, mass culture is a difficult system to challenge: Today anyone who is incapable of talking in the prescribed fashion, that is of effortlessly reproducing the formulas, conventions and judgments of mass culture as if they were his own is threatened in his very existence, suspected of being an idiot or an intellectual.” (pg. 64)
            I found the last part of this entry particularly interesting. The part that states: “suspected of being an idiot or an intellectual.” So, my post is two part. One I want to make sure that I understood this correctly and two if I did to get insight on what is being communicated here. I would agree with Adorno on this point. We as humans have a tendency to consider someone an idiot if they do not seem to fit in with what we consider normal. On the other hand, we might also say that they are not an idiot rather they are an intellect, elevating them either higher or lower than themselves. So, if I understand this correctly Adorno is comparing pop culture to the norm. He is saying that we as humans view pop culture as the norm and that anything different is either higher or lower than that.

            What is interesting about this is that if I understand the text correctly, Adorno says that pop culture is not a threat to culture and social authority, which he mentions in the text on page 62. So, pop culture is not a threat to authentic culture but here we see that the norm according to Adorno and the public is pop culture. So here springs my question. If I am understanding the text correctly do you agree with Adorno that pop culture is not a threat to authentic culture? Or do you more side with Arnold and LEavisism that popular culture is a threat to culture and social authority? This was a hard question to answer myself. I would agree that popular culture does not pose a threat to culture or social authority. It is rather a part of the system and elevates authentic culture to something that isn’t popular culture. I think something else interesting to mention is that what once was pop culture is changing and that is something else to keep in mind as well.

Top 25 to Life: A Prison of our own Hits

Driving to work this morning flipping through the radio stations, I finally settled on the one that let me do what we all secretly do in our own cars: finger dance and hand drum the steering wheel to whatever the catchy song of the month is. Whether it's some Chainsmokers or T-Swizzle (Taylor Swift's pop culture name), listening to it a few times gives me the knowledge to sing the chorus and go back to finger dancing for the rest of the song. Sure, I've had the thought before, but maybe I needed to be at an All Time Low in order to actually answer the question of "Is this even a good song, and do I actually like it?"
Image result for bo burnham on netflix
Fast-forward to tonight procrastinating homework (Netflix's pop culture name), I pitifully ended up in the Watch Again section to laugh at some comedian's jokes that apparently Netflix had said I've done more than half a dozen times. It was then that my cujumbled thoughts on music were adequately, if not ingeniously, presented. Bo Burnham gets a lot of his popularity for his parody music; In other words, he makes fun of stuff like music through singing about it. Now, this is the first full disclosure to anyone reading this that Bo Burnham consistently, if not ingeniously, uses choice swear words. Anywho, through about two and a half of his songs, I was getting Closer to answering my own question from the morning, but instead, more just popped up: Do we like songs because of the words...the beat...the repetition? There is definitely something to be said (or sung) about the corporate perfection of 'hits' these days.

In Burnham's parody of pop country music, "Pandering", he sings that country singers realize that they just have to pander to the country audience in order to sell their music: 🎶 "you know the words, the phrases; phrases like dirt road, cold beer, blue jeans, a red pickup" 🎶. In his parody of regular pop music, "Repeat Stuff", the chorus literally is 🎶 "Though meaning might be missin' We need to know the words after just one listen so, Repeat stuff [X 8] 🎶 His songs and lyrics can go on and on, but the fact remains that this is the reality of our pop culture music. In an age where we have iTunes and Spotify and can play thousands of songs at the click of a mouse, our Top 25's that shape our popular culture is filled with this mind-numbing, over-vague, repetitive (yet catchy) songs pumped out by these Heathens of corporate cronies.

The inquiry made by Bo is quite a good one, yet a hard one to swallow because I find myself still drawn to that catchy music. And even more, I tell myself I like it because it is catchy. The Frankfurt School way of thinking hints toward the Bad Things that can (or already) stem from this. The masses are succumbed to the repetition of daily life. The content doesn't matter as long as the presentation is amusing. And the words are the worst of them. Is it an ignorance of the pandering, a self-centered perception to think that all of these songs are relatable to us specifically, or just an acceptance of an other-prescribed definition of what we should be?

Yes, if you are familiar to Bo Burnham, his skepticism and sarcastic contemptuous approach echo the tone of this article and perhaps myself as well. It's not evil to like catchy music--I finger dance to it all the time, but are we reaching our fullest potential as a human being, as a culture looking from Side to Side, agreeing that this is enough--that we agree to the creative limitations of a select few others? Or will our generation be defined by the prison of those Top 25 Hits?

Bo Burnham Song Links (Again, strong language is used)

Repeat Stuff

Discussion Questions:

For you personally, is it the experience that makes songs memorable or songs that make experiences memorable?

What is your favorite song, and thinking outside of your own personal background, what lyrics would be pandering to the masses (overly vague descriptions like Burnham's lyrics "I love your hands cause your fingerprints are like no other. I love your eyes and their blueish brownish greenish color")?

How susceptible are you to join in on the popularity of currents 'hits'?

The Frankfurts are Inside Out

On Monday, I listened to a child psychologist state that movies and television can actually improve human communication. She explained that it is easier to watch other people go through the traumatic scenes that may resemble our own situations, and to learn from the images about both appropriate and destructive ways of coping.  As explained in the Frankfurt School chapter, Brecht suggests, "Even if Courage learns nothing else at least the audience, in my view, learn something by observing her" (pg. 63).Watching from the outside provides more opportunity to analyze and synthesize, which may lead to a greater willingness to engage.

Verbal expressions of emotion are difficult at any age, so may forms of media try to teach children to recognize emotion and handle it appropriately.  In fact, "if you're happy and you know it, clap your hands!"  Whether it is Leave it to Beaver, the Brady Bunch, Little House on the Prairie, The Cosby Show,  Family Ties, Seventh Heaven, or The Middle, all of the shows demonstrate how families have struggles but after talking about the issue, the family grows in unity and love.
In Enlightenment as Mass Deception, Adorno and Horkneimer write, "witness to man's attempt to make himself a proficient apparatus, similar (even in emotions) to the model served up by the culture industry" (pg. 24).
The tone of their writing indicates that mirroring the expression of emotions shown on our screens shows blind and ignorant behavior.  I propose that by selecting quality popular culture messages, our lives can be improved.

Pixar's Inside Out is an extraordinary example of how art can be seen in mechanical reproductions.
The child psychologist mentioned previously endorses the movie because it demonstrates that multiple emotions are healthy and can be celebrated.  The film is sophisticated in its presentation of the human mind, but simplistic in demonstrating the need for a balance of emotions.  I was surprised when a family friend explained that she hated the character, Sadness, because she was always ruining everything.  Really?  Since Sadness is my favorite character, I had to walk away in Disgust before the conversation spiraled into Anger.  Shockingly not everyone could see the bigger picture -- that Sadness is necessary to feel Joy, so Joy cannot be sought at every moment.
Although the Frankfurt School use the following words condescendingly, I think the denotation holds true: "It [culture] offers 'fulfillment' instead of the promotion of 'desire'" (pg. 64).  Learning to find fulfillment in a variety of situations is admirable because we will never be happy if we are constantly desiring more.

I thought about these Frankfurt fellows who fled Hitler's Germany and came to America.  What was going on in their minds as they built a new life?  I have some ideas:
Disgust.  Adorno epitomized judgment by taking a "perspective on popular culture that is essentially a discourse from above on the culture of other people {a discourse of 'us vs. 'them'}" (pg. 70).

Joy.  Benjamin "celebrated the positive potential of 'mechanical reproduction'" (pg. 69).

Anger.  Horkheimer drew comparisons between Hitler's concentration camps in Germany and "the portals of culture industry" (pg. 16)

Sadness. In the introductory paragraph to The Culture Industry it states, "the unleashed entrepreneurial system {whose monuments are a mass of gloomy houses and business premises in grimy, spiritless cities}" (pg. 1).

Fear.  The Frankfurt thinkers were born in a time of oppression so they had a tendency to be fearful of the status quo.  "Whenever revolutionary tendencies show a timid head, they are mitigated and cut short by a false fulfillment of wish-dreams..." (pg. 63).


When you consider the role and power of popular culture on society, what emotion do you feel?

"Letter To My Unborn Child"

Since I can remember, I have always loved art. The love was always about more than the product, but it was more about the process and the meaning behind it. I guess you could say I have always been more about the "why" than the "what." Art included anything creative, including poetry, stick figure drawing, or even just writing in a journal. Art is all creative space, and has a significance for whoever is performing it. After all art begins as personal, the masses make it political.

A love of art led me to a love of artists. Not so much artists that use paint, but more so music artists.

One of my favorite artists, Joe Budden, once said in a song called, ALL OF ME, that "I'm an artist, I paint pictures, I don't rhyme words." Music after all is art right? Even before writing, people had voices. Through music stories are told and emotions are shared. This is why Tupac Shakur is my
favorite ARTIST of all time, and it's not even close. His music has continued to survive the test of time because of the content and passion he placed in his lyrics. He was a poet at heart.

Though he sold many records(and still is), this doesn't determine the potency of his song lyrics. Tupac was on a mission with his lyrics and he had a plan to execute before his premature death at 25 years old, which he made known. So if he didn't do it for money, even with the reproduction of his music and poetry, could we say his authenticity has lasted through time since his message has?

Tupac has many unreleased songs and letters that can only be released by the heads of his estate. His letters are prized. Thoughts, feelings, fears, joys and anything else going on inside the mind of the man are buried away right now. And as much as I'd love to see these letters and hear these songs, it leads me to wonder what would be the means and results of getting them. In the reading by Walter Benjamin "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", one part stuck out to me above the rest. It said:

"From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the 'authentic' print makes no sense. But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artist production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice--politics."

I think theres something to be said about authenticity, and I believe the original should always matter. The moment Tupac's letters are ever released, they will be photographed and used by media for hits and attention. It will no longer be about the art, it will be about the "come-up" for the next story, it will be about politics. I think this is a shame in society.

Discussion Questions:

1. Who are some of your favorite artists?

2. Do you feel that the work artists have done could ever be "watered-down" by society and its need to replicate and reproduce?

3. If you were able to receive rare or sensitive art, would you keep it? Sell it?

Mass Markets vs. Traditional Craftsmanship

In Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction it states, "Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be." 

Though artist like Thomas Kinkade have made a living off mass marketing and replication of prints since the beginning of mechanical reproduction, there have been a number of backlashes to this money making tactic. 

Thomas Kinkade Cottage Print

During the Arts and Crafts movement between 1880 and 1910, traditional craftsmanship using simple forms, and often used medieval, romantic, or folk styles of decoration. During that time artists began to create a social reform and were essentially "anti-industrial". The idea and loyalty to traditional pieces of work became a highly noted idea until modernism grew in the 1930.  

William Morris Trellis
Benjamin also stated in the chapter: "the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence."

In this portion I definitely agree. As a person who falls head over heals for Artist Alley in Comic Con, and has also had a close relationship with many illustrators at SUU; I have found a passion for collecting the original pieces of arts that an artist develops. When they begin to mass market or replicate their art it generally loses the feel and love. Looking at the artist and SUU alumn Chris Bodily, his art has chaotic and emotional line work that loses it's motion when it is duplicated. 

Chris Bodily

My questions on this topic are: 

Do you feel that mass marketing devalues the original artwork? Or reversed: Do you think the accessibility of an item more beneficial to an artist?


Authentic Commodities

Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimers’ “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” takes the Karl Marx theory that the economic base of a society creates its superstructure and they expound upon that to say that culture is simply a commodity. Not only is culture a commodity but it’s creation is dictated by economic forces.

I agree that almost all of pop culture is a commodity that is used to create a profit for all involved in the endeavor and our economics has impacted the type of “art” that is being produced today. I don’t think that artists ONLY produce their works to make money but I think it influences what they choose to create and in what medium. Beyonce is a good example of a pop culture phenomenon that has impacted the entire world. Some of her work is truly groundbreaking, she is a symbol of female strength and a ardent civil right's advocate. But she is still a commodity. She would not be known the world over if no one profited from her work.

Then there are pieces of culture that can operate both outside economic forces and are considered authentic masterpieces that influence artists today while also being used as a commodity because they are so valuable to us and having a piece of their work for ourselves is used as a status symbol. In other forms, the masterpiece of old have been adapted for use in our modern pop culture to earn a buck. For example, photo editing apps have filters that mimic Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night,

Nothing like a little Starry Night to make Toadz bar look appealing.

you can buy a pair of socks with Hokusai’s The Wave on them 

and you can find hundreds of meme's that channel Edvard Munch’s  The Scream.

Pop Culture's spin on The Scream

Do these replications hold the same value as the original? Walter Benjamin makes a valid point when he stated, “The situations into which the product of mechanical reproduction can be brought may not touch the actual work of art, yet the quality of its presence is always depreciated. One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition.”

I would agree that reproduced works of art do not hold the same value of the original, especially in the form of socks. Original works of art have high value because of the time, place, and social environment in which they were created. One can even argue that the pieces of art themselves weren’t considered valuable at the time because of the artist but rather, time has shown us the genius of these artist’s creation and are appreciated themselves after the fact. Michelangelo did not create art in order to become rich. In fact, most artists in his era were extremely poor and in Michelangelo’s case, his father hated that he was an artist. Michelangelo also did things that were illegal and against all acceptable societal norms in order to create the masterpiece The David. Michelangelo knew some of the monks that cared for the bodies of the dead before they were buried. He would go to these consecrated places at night and dissect bodies very carefully and study the intricacies of the human body in order to create sculptures that were as accurate to the human body as possible. Not only was this dedication to his craft, it adds another level of authenticity that can be admired but not necessarily replicated. 

The Sistine Chapel will always be the original and have more value than any replication of the chapel itself or the famous ceiling that Michelangelo took 40 years to paint. Even if the ceiling of the Sistine chapel were made into wallpaper and mass produced to sell to everyone, it would not diminish the value or sanctity that the original holds in the hearts and minds of man.

Virtual Tour of the Sistine Chapel

So my question is this, do you really believe that true artists and authentic art has not or cannot be produced simply because someone is trying to make money off of it? I believe that true artists will create what they feel inspired to created with no thought given to the financial gain or notoriety that may arise from their creation. We have evidence of artists creating truly transformative art when their craft was not respected, much less rewarded or used as a status symbol. Artist today may have a lot to gain but does that take away from their authenticity?

I would also like to know your opinion about the following:

What is so important about the "domain of tradition?" 

Why are we obsessed with the cultural value of something? Is it because we feel it reflect who we are as a people?