Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Age of Mediocrity

Over two hundred years ago Mozart wrote "The Magic Flute" to entertain his audience. Today we go see Batman, Spiderman, Planet of the Monkeys, Jurassic Park and other banalities to entertain ourselves. We hail these comic book directors as our new artists, while we kick, ignore, and punish those who are truly brilliant in our society.

Yes, every age had its mediocrities. But they never had to compete with mass marketing electronic culture. Thanks to great technological breakthroughs in science, we now have the ability to create instantaneously, with the push of button, a moronic culture.

Can we thank the passionless Wall Street greedy barons for this great accomplishment? Or is it just the natural course of the rise and fall of a culture? Is it progress or retrogression?

We have managed to create a spiritually diminished society. We use to listen to music. Now, today kids can only watch music on MTV!! Can they listen without the video?

We used to read books, think and reflect. Today, we sit mesmerized in front of a television set watching insipid and insulting shows. Is this what the inventor of this device had in mind? Or, did the networks manage to improve on his thoughts?

It is the age of wrestling, Jerry Springer, and freaks? Are we so deadened inside that this is the only thing that can awaken us?

We use to create beautiful buildings for the eye, soul, and the body. Today we live in the age of functional cold sheet rock. We have only managed to make buildings cheaper and faster, but not better.

We used to sit and really listen to our stereo records on high fidelity equipment. Today ninety percent of all people listen to music on five dollar plastic computer speakers while do something else.

We used to watch journalists on the six o'clock news. Now we watch good looking entertainers.

There used to be a time when a classical record company could sell a great American Orchestra. Unfortunately, due to the great job we have done in our school systems educating this generation about classical music, we cannot even give an orchestral recording away for free.

What is happening to the aesthetics of listening in this decade of popular music? Popular music in the thirties and forties was created by formally trained and technically accomplished musicians. The likes of Benny Goodman and Glen Miller were icons of popular musical culture, yet they had been schooled in the received traditions and produced well-crafted works. The writers Ellington, Gershwin, and Cole Porter had talents appreciated by the masses yet their popular appeal rested on a similar foundation of historically accepted standards of style and principles of form.

Why is it you never see great jazz musicians today playing the hits of rock or rap bands? Most simply cannot tolerate such juvenile writing. The harmonic language has no movement except a few basic chords. Is this the dumbing down of music in our society?

I recently went to the Jazz Educators Conference in New York and had the pleasure of hearing talented young students play. I was impressed by the level of their accomplishment. It pains me that most will end up playing in cocktail lounges and weddings because in our contemporary society, we have little use for them.

Our culture doesn't value musical and artistic skill much anymore. We honor and reward mediocrity. Our society only asks for reliable mediocrity. We worship pop heroes who cannot find middle C on the piano.

Why do we ignore truly talented, young, and up and coming artists and make musical illiterate people rich and famous? Was this always a trend or is this the new norm in our new fast-food, pop culture aesthetics?
The amount of money we spend on sound and music today is inversely proportionate to its quality. Our values are changing. We no longer believe in the pursuit of excellence.

A culture is remembered for the art it produces. The Greeks the Romans the Egyptians produced works that continue to awe and inspire us after two thousand years. Asian societies had similar aesthetic goals for excellence. They gave us the Taj Mahal and Angor Watt, to name a few.

What will today's America be remembered for?

Perhaps a society where the only value and sense of accomplishment is the pursuit of money with no great desire to pursue ideological excellence.

Will the new framework of our society be a frame work for ignorance? We have no values and we are spiritually diminished. We are becoming empty as a society, and our art will reflect this.

The multinational companies running the world will soon have the power to declare an artist of the month, like a centerfold, destined to be disposed of to make room for next month's super-artist.

George Orwell's prophesy has come true. But he missed the mark by a little. It is not the government that has become big brother, but cooperate America. And they did not have to use terrorist’s tactics. We gladly gave up our mind and souls of our own free will.

Welcome to the new millennium - substance not required!

David Chesky