Ray Carney on Pop Culture

July 4, 2008 at 3:41 am Leave a comment

The film critic Ray Carney has a great website with over 100 pages of emails around replies about Cassavetes, film and art. He just started updating the site after a long enforced hiatus, but he’s back now and he makes you think.

Check this quote out:

The problem is that popular culture gets all the newspaper column inches, all the radio and television time, all the psychic energy. I have nothing against pop culture, but I do have a problem with the level of “high culture” illiteracy and ignorance and indifference I see all around me. It’s OK to listen to a lot of pop music. It’s OK to read manga. It’s OK to be able to quote The Simpsons or Desperate Housewives (well, maybe that’s not really OK!!!), but it’s a tragedy never to have listened to (I mean intensely devotedly humbly immersed yourself in) Bach’s D-minor Chaconne, Mozart’s Symphony number 40, Hadyn’s middle string quartets, or Beethoven’s late quartets, If we took one tenth of the time and energy that we spend surfing the Internet and simply spent it reading Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida or Antony and Cleopatra, or Joyce Carol Oates’s Will You Always Love Me?, we would learn so much more. We would grow new brain cells and grow them in directions we never will in any other way. Three things stand in the way of this path of growth: First, our natural laziness and slacker attitudes towards life (what the church used to call “original sin”). Second, the thing I mentioned at the start: the propaganda machine of the mass media, which screens out and blocks the view of these more complex and more demanding forms of experience so that they can sell, sell, sell (never forget it’s always about the money in our culture) you something: movie tickets to a junky Zohan movie, a product pitched by the advertising on the television shows, an ad link on an Internet site, or something else. Those two things are out of my control, but the third thing that keeps people away from Bach or Oates or Shakespeare is not: It is a wholesale failure of the educational system to educate and inspire a generation of students with a vision of the possibilities of art. When colleges and universities show movies “students want to see” or organize courses around popular TV shows or incorporate the trash of the Internet into the curriculum, they are denying students their legacy. It takes a lot of knowledge and effort and learning to be able to grapple with Shakespeare or Mozart — or Cassavetes or Bresson! The students are being denied the opportunity to obtain that learning. The universities are conspiring with the culture of sales and hucksterdom rather than offering a way out of it. That is the story of American education in the arts and humanities. And it’s a tragedy. If the students understood how they are being cheated, they would be picketing in the streets.



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