Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 

Latest Posts

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Mar 22, 2006

You know, I was all set to expound on what the French ruling on Apple’s DRM system might mean (it could be huge, especially if other countries follow suit) but then I was struck by this inspiration billboard: “Discover New Jersey Arts: Music… listen live and give your i-Pod the weekend off.”  Whoever thought that one up should get an A in marketing savvy.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Mar 22, 2006

In Florida, teachers are about to have their pay depend on how well their students perform on standardized tests. This Washington Post article has details. If I were a Florida schoolteacher, I’d be moving to Georgia or, better yet, Arizona or Nevada right about now. They have schoolteacher shortages, and they don’t treat teachers like drill-press operators.


I’m not sure, but this might be the stupidest idea ever. Teachers will have a pretty strong incentive to help their students cheat and to encourage poor students to drop out rather than learn (just as performance-rated managers can fire slacker employees). Curriculum will be changed even more to reflect the standardized test, while any other learning will be disregarded. And kids will know they have a powerful weapon against their teachers. Schools where disadvantaged kids have to go will become even worse places to teach, and will have an even harder time recruiting qualified and committed teachers. Imagine if we didn’t pay oncologists who couldn’t keep their patients from dying. That would be great for cancer patients everywhere, right?


One of the reasons I got out of academia was fears of this kind of insanity. That one’s future on a university faculty depended in any way on student evaluations—usually filled out in haste only by those with a vendetta and often filled with personal insults (“Hey fatty, nice shoes.” “My instructor should pay more attention to her appearance.”) seemed like lunacy. Yes, it is understandable to want to see accountability in education, but in the end, regrettably, you can’t really hold a teacher responsible for a student’s learning, because learning can’t be forced. It seems likely that any extra efforts this Florida program encourages teachers to put in to motivate students will alienate just as many kids as it inspires.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Mar 21, 2006

As goods become cheaper and more disposable, we tend to be overwhelmed with our stuff while taking less pleasure in owning it. We become less attached to possessions despite having so many more of them. We begin to value getting rid of things more than getting things; or rather we become wrapped up in our oscillation between those two modes. This article from the Guardian examines the ramifications of failing prices in an environment of rising demand. Hoarding, according to a marketing consultant the article cites, is not a sign of attachment to goods but a sign of their getting dated without our feeling comfortable throwing them away. The advent of eBay makes us all believe that our trash is someone else’s godsend. The result? A confusion of personal use value with theoretical exchange value which muddies the whole notion of value altogether, leading us to experience less pleasure overall.


Also, the article notes the lack of space to store all the junk we feel compelled to buy because it is so cheap. But I most appreciated this:


Factory outlets, like the low-cost airlines that started up in Britain in the mid-1990s, taught people that the price of goods was not written in stone but subject to context and, in particular, the balance of power between seller and buyer. “There is no guilt any more at being brutal about seeking the best price,” says Coombs. Instead of guilt, there is pleasure. As well as the money people save by finding bargains, Coombs and other analysts talk about the satisfaction felt by consumers when they “get a victory” over a retailer - and when they tell their friends about it afterwards. The latter activity, in a sure sign of its popularity, has recently acquired a would-be scientific label: “compulsive price disclosure”.


We always called this “scoreboard,” after the mantra of sports talk-show host Jim Rome, but it’s nice to know that it has a more official name.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, Mar 20, 2006

Ah, the SXSW report… What journalist going there isn’t asked to file one and figure out a new angle to this sprawling fest?  What’s there to say about over a thousand performers except that there’s a lot of diversity?  Also, even the most hearty of souls (say myself, about five years ago) is only going to see a fraction of what they hoped to.  And yet we return to Austin yearly for what’s estimated to be the biggest music festival in the galaxy.  When I asked friends what were some of the highlights after a few days there, the answer was usually the same: stoned silence followed by “it’s kind of blur now…”


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, Mar 20, 2006

I went to see some performance art in Brooklyn (where else?) last night at a bar beneath the Manhattan Bridge. The performances I saw were really good—creative, ingenious, insightful, etc.—but the rubric under which they were performed left me feeling annoyed. The aegis of the show was this concept that art is the noble truth of life and commerce/business/work inhibits us from that which is truly important, this selfless, communal pursuit of art. The organizers sought to wave the magic wand of art and make the economy go away, if only for a few hours—a small thing, but still a great luxury.


The most important thing in life is not to make art; it is to eat. Art becomes important only under several conditions: you are not at a subsistence level of survival, you have been brought up in a manner to sensitize you to aesthetic concerns, you have been coddled and nurtured and encourage to pursue inndividual grandeur, you have received the educational training that allows you to read a cultural moment and understand how to position yourself within it to convey the idea of creativity (which is not some absolute given thing but is determined by context; when you seek to flaunt your creativity, it ceases to be a manner of doing something, a praxis. It becomes instrumental. You commodify it and make it into something you signal with prepackaged gestures). In short a great deal of cultural and social capital must be amassed before one has the luxury to make or consume art; it takes a keen sense of entitlement. So it’s especially grating when those so entitled commence to criticize the workaday chumps who are out there “conforming,” living their “lives of quiet desperation,” who in fact likely gave these people the social capital they needed to be creative in the first place.


Art becomes a negative cultural force when it conceals and naturalizes social inequalities by masking them in an absolute, inherent transcendent aesthetics—the pretense that art is immediately and readily available to all, and that its appeal is always essentially universal. Such a viewpoint inevitably slides into elitism, implying that those philistines who fail to appreciate art are thus blinding themselves to it, by working or getting hung up on material things. It confuses the turht that one of art’s main functions is to delineate class boundaries, to oppress by that rearticulation, to make those Mister Joneses who know something’s happening here but don’t know what it is feel just how much they don’t understand, feel the intensity of their exclusion. This is a painful fact of a hierarchical society, and artists who seek to wish it into the cornfield are only aggrevating the situation, unwittingly shunting the blame onto the excluded. Art is a tool of oppression at least as often as it is a tool of liberation. Pretending art should be a mandatory priority for everyone certainly makes it the former.


Obviously people shouldn’t stop making art; but these artists shouldn’t pretend that art made from the bosoms of bourgeois comfort and ersatz bohemianism is going to help the underprivileged either.


Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.