30 September 1997

High Art vs Popular Culture

I was having this conversation with this guy about a month ago when he mentioned that he was upset at the fact that the Federal Government was cutting it's arts funding.

What followed was a heated discussion, or rather, a near fist-fight.

Friends, arts funding should be cut all round. Abolish the Arts Council, the Australia Council and let the Sydney and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras fight it out in the pubs like most other bands do around the country. Let the art galleries fight for the punters' dollar the way that various comic emporiums and cartoon art galleries around the world do.

There is no possible argument why any of these anachronisms should be allowed to continue in their current form. The strangest thing about these things is that it is argued, that these institutions are necessary for 'cultural reasons'.

Cultural reasons??

What the hell is going on here? There is nothing cultural about high art.

The word 'culture' most commonly applies these days to a particular lifestyle, and the art-forms of that particular lifestyle. So does high art accurately reflect our culture?


Cases in point - Classical Music

Point one: Classical music has been described as the rock and roll of it's day.

This is a crock. Classical music was never the rock and roll of it's day.

Classical music may have evolved from the music of the masses in the middle ages. Minstrels that entertained the people moonlighted as the entertainment to the nobility. But this soon changed as those who could pay for their taste in music soon paid some of the musos big bucks to entertain them exclusively, while those musos unlucky enough to miss this bandwagon stayed in the taverns playing their ballads and jigs for the people of the general public.

The real rock and rollers were the folkies in the pubs, entertaining one and all with their simple songs about life, love, beer and sex while the classical musos stayed in the palaces and courts getting stoned out of their minds and sticking their heads up their arses. So what if they farted out a tune occasionally? They were fully paid professionals compared to the guys down at the pub who were probably working two day jobs and only doing the gigs at the pub because their mates knew that they could hold a tune after a few ales.

Lets face it. When Britain, France, Spain and Portugal were in a race to colonise the rest of the world, the crews, convicts and cargoes were not singing operas and oratorios. They were singing Bound for Botany Bay, Blow the Man Down and Frigging in the Rigging. Not exactly classical, and most likely in breach of today's obscenity laws in some circumstances.

Point Two - Classical Music has always been the cutting edge of music.

This is not in any way correct.

Although we only remember classical tunes from the past, and not the music of the people, the advent of Thomas Edison's phonograph has meant that we now have documentary evidence of popular music back to the start of this century.

Try to tell me that anything that has been written by a classical muso this century could possibly compare with works such as these in terms of cutting edge criteria:

Miles Davis' "Bitch's Brew",

Jimi Hendrix' "Electric Ladyland",

Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon",

Sonic Youth's "Daydream Nation",

Ministry's "Psalm 69", and

The Prodigy's "Music for the Jilted Generation"

to name but a few:

Other Artforms

The same thing can be said for the other artforms that the highbrow regard as 'superior'.

Visual art has long been superseded by comics and cartoons as entertainment for the masses. Who will people go to see more readily? The works of the painter or those of the animator?

Literary fiction versus popular fiction?

Can theatre, ballet and opera be compared with TV and cinema?

The answer is no. Comparing any of these is like comparing Rugby with Australian Rules Football. It can't be done. Art is a purely subjective experience, and can't be rated objectively.

Yeah!! A Conspiracy theory!

If I was to say to you that popular artforms were put down by the highbrow (highborn?) because they were seen as subversive by those who were unable to appreciate it, would you believe me?

I'm not sure if I believe it myself, but the evidence is overwhelming.

Gangster rap, death metal, violent movies and manga have been held by the powers that be to be dangerous as they encourage viewpoints that oppose those who don't understand those artforms.

Teenagers and students shake their heads in disbelief when certain articles of popular art are censored for their extreme views.

One of the most famous issues in the last few years was the fuss that was kicked up by wowser groups everywhere when the NWA song "F**k the Police" was receiving high rotation on Triple J, ironically an Australian Government funded radio station that broadcasts nationally as part of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). The ABC also includes Radio National (news, current affairs and variety), News Radio, local talkback stations such as 3LO in Melbourne and 2BL in Sydney, and ABC-FM (a classical music station) as well as Radio Australia and ABC-TV.

When Triple J added this song to their playlist, it led to an imbroglio so big that, amongst events such as some announcers barricading themselves in the studios, announcers resigned or were sacked amongst a wholesale cleaning out by a management that has long been held to be the most conservative in the country.

Has music by Wagner ever been banned due to racist overtones?

No. And it will never be, because the highbrow like it so much, and they control society.