Monday, July 13, 2009

Will the Ukulele save us

I was 
listening to the radio this afternoon, and this quote came up 
"art is a hammer to beat the world, not a mirror to reflect it" 
I looked it up, and it's credited to  either Vladimir Majakovsky (the esperantist and assassinated poet) or Nikolai Vladimirovich Nekrasov (the suicidal Russian Futurist) depending who you trust (trust no one). 

The discussion was on the emergence of the avant guard
 artists in Europe  (late 19th early 20th centuries) who sought to challenge the democratization of culture made possible through the mechanism of the mass market. This has become a timely issue once again due to the growing ubiquity of the web. We worship technology.  Each day we try a new widget, get an upgrade on our x or our y and z.  It helps us run faster, smarter if we are already smart, or make it possible to live our science fiction lives in a more science fiction way. CGI  makes for new forms of entertainment.  Internet browsers make restaurant choices for us as we drive to dinner.  And if we look back, this utilization of technology has always been an engine for radical change. For example, the Impressionists sprang from the spread of photography, changing the economic model of portraiture.  Or that Art Nouveau arose as increased industrialization making it possible to create less expensive object of art, and  a burgeoning middle class able to afford them.  The Gatling gun started the
 road away from mounted calvary and frontal wave assaults .

I always looked on these phenomena in a positive light (perhaps not the Gatling gun),  "Oh, now we can do this instead", not "this repressive homogenization of the vitality of human culture".

I am obviously a bit slow,  After all, for Majakovsky and Nekrasov the industrial revolution and mercantile imperialism  had been in full swing for over a century, How could they have failed to view the seeds of cultural homogeny as a threat.  Our historical counterparts were no more slouches, and perhaps less so, than our current crop of radical thinkers.  The Luddites may have arose from concern with the loss of their livelihoods.  Yet there were far reaching negative effect from the changes in their industries.  In 1812 the average person had real need of  more affordable rugs, trousers, and coats.   Unfortunately we long ago passed the point w
here we can produce all that everyone needs at a price everyone can afford, and have moved on to a world almost solely about possessions and economic relations.

Majakovsky and Nekrasov are active at what I consider the tipping point, In my groovy 21st century mindset, I always thought the emergence of phonographs, nickelodeons , and radio to be exciting.  The ability to transport cultural artifacts made for many lively new mixes.  Jazz found it's way around the world. Tango swept the globe, and on and on.  I had failed to see that, much like my own issues with the army of one ubiquity of culture generating and distributing technology, that the flood of modernity might be seen askance by those who wished to not be buried under an avalanche of bakelite and steel. 

So here we are in 2009.  We are nearing a possible artistic endgame of one big culture controlled by whoever owns the filter (buy your ad words here, now with extra zilch), there is less and less to be excited about, and more and more reason to pull at the bit.  One can wish to turn back the clock, but how many clicks. Prior to Democracy Now podcasts.  Before Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy.  Earlier than mass produced penicillin.  I think not   We can't go back, so we have to move forward wisely and with a great more vigor than we used  to get on the road we want to get off.  Shorter showers, and composting won't get us there.  The basic precepts we live by need to shift.   The lie is that we all need to continue to consume at faster and greater rates or the world will end.  Maybe the house of cards of centralize corporatism will end, but life will go on, just with less stuff.  We don't need a 762 Billion dollar a year US military, to defend the strategic interests of the riches 500 people on the planet. Nor do we need $150 concer

t tickets, or 8 dollar blouses. The quality of either is questionable.

But, let us get back to the origination of this post, as it got me thinking about what does re
flect our current culture, and how little there is that might smash through societies apathy.

One could say that reality TV, like Real Housewives of New Jersey or American Idol are more than metaphoric mirrors.  I am not so sure, as i have come to distrust my thinking on mass culture, due to my total distain and snobbishness (yet I can't look away from the 100 million car pile up).  

The hammer is also an oddity.  I think it's the Ukulele. A very gentle hammer indeed, but

look at how subversive it is.  It is small, and can be carried everywhere on foot.  It is intimate, meant for small gatherings (perhaps your living room), unlike most of our VERY LOUD AND OBVIOUS corporate culture that needs REALLY BIG SOUND SYSTEMS in GIANT STADIUMS.  It makes a gentle sound, unlike the aggressive aggro of most common fare.  It is amazingly simple (four strings) in an increasingly complicated world. It's made of wood (that alone is a dangerous idea), so can be made with fairly primitive tools.  

Now everyone doesn't need to take up the Uke.  That would just lead to flagship Uke stores on Union Square, and KTELL Uke hits sold on late night TV.  A Uke in every hand, a chicken in every pot, not a  world for vegetarians or Bobos.

 What we do need is that which enliven us, that which brings us together in celebration.  With or without Ukes, REALLY BIG SOUND SYSTEMS, or consideration if you are a mirror or a hammer (I am smashing, I spent a lot of time smashed). Thats why I will be spending this Saturday night at Cafe International.  Go Van Gogh (no Ukes), whether mirror or a hammer, are people sharing their love and efforts with who ever cares to know. I for one can never get enough of such a kind offer. So there I will be, to dance and frolic.  I will have my life energies recharged.  I will relate to my existing friends, who I have real, not virtual connections with. And I will have the opportunity to meet new people, and forge new relationships in an environment that is neither alienating nor hostile. 



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