(Hey all, I’m behind on my responses, and I’ll try to catch up.)
…but I notice you using words like “today” and “entertainment industry”, which suggests we’re trying to conceptualize this as a contemporary problem, but what about the violence in Greek tragedy, in Shakespeare, in the books of the Bible, in the fairy tales collected by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm?
I suspect that the stories and myths in a culture have always been powerful ways to helping us understand important questions, including dealing with these strong impulses. But I think there are some significant differences between some of the older texts you mentioned and ones produces by the entertainment industry today. Let me suggest a few off the top of my head. .
1. The business people overseeing the creation of the stories (and various popular arts) have become more focused and very proficient on generating profits at the exclusion of other considerations. My sense is that in the past, business people running things may either may have given a more freedom to artists or they may have cared about other matters besides profit. Maybe this isn’t correct, but that’s the impression I get based on things I’ve read. Said in another way, I think depictions and sex were used more thoughtfully and artfully. In other words, the crass desire for profit didn’t dictate the way stories and myths used sex and violence.
2. There is an industrial scale of production with these stories and myths—I’m thinking all the TV shows, movies, music, music videos, etc. Moreover, the reach and access of these stories is far greater than at any other time—so the degree of influence is much greater. You can watch more films, etc. and you can watch them at almost any time.
(and, yeah, I sort of agree with Ruby, the “influence” vs. “catharsis” (or id/ego or Appollonian vs. Dionysian . . . whatever terms one cares to put it in) issue in art/entertainment/culture is trickier to work out that most moralists (and no negative connotation implied there) would like to believe.
Do these films offer a healthy and civilized outlet for violence and sex—which is the argument you and Ruby seem to be suggesting? I think there may be something to that. I’m willing to consider examine this. If we consider the typical Hollywood action, horror, rom-com or even pornography—do you find the argument compelling—especially a justification for making these films on a large scale? So if the entertainment industry starting arguing that their films were actually good for society because they provided a healthy outlet for these aggression and sex; that it actually reduced violent crime and rape, would that wash with you? To me, that doesn’t sounds like horse puckey.
At the same time, I think there is something to the idea that watching violence and sex can offer some release or catharsis. However, I suspect the way violence and sex are used in the story is also crucial. When the profit motive is the primary consideration—while ignoring artistic or humane values—I don’t think the results would be more negative than positive. Do you agree or disagree with that?
there’s a long history, jazz. aristotle was the first to use the word catharsis in this sense. look at oedipus rex. he sleeps with his own mother, then blinds himself. like most greek tragedies, it’s a total bloodbath. medea kills her own children. shakespeare is much the same; in the tragedies, everyone dies. titus andronicus includes not only rape, mutilation and murder but cannibalism. it’s extremely graphic. the original grimm’s fairy tales are shockingly different from the pale imitations we were read as children. and these, along with the old testament, where god himself orders the murders, are the foundation myths of our culture.
so i’m not seeing a huge difference there. these are our stories. maybe someone else can elaborate further. i’m starting to feel out of my depth but i think i have a point lol
But are you saying that the use of violence and sex in contemporary movies, TV shows, etc. is comparable to the intentions and ways they were used in the OT, Greek tragedies and Shakespeare?
Also, I just want to be clear about something, so I’m going to ask this: do you guys think I oppose any and all depictions of violence and sex in movies, TV shows, etc.? That is NOT my position, but I’m getting the sense that some of you think I’m making that argument.
“The business people overseeing the creation of the stories (and various popular arts) have become more focused and very proficient on generating profits at the exclusion of other considerations.”
Well, I agree that the current business model associated with films in particular is less than ideal for the creation of true art (or whatever one wants to call it), but I think the “things are worse today than they were in (insert some perceived Golden Age here)” position is often overstating things. Most of the inferior art of any age is going to disappear into the fog of history, so art of the past seems greater because we tend to only really hold on to the best of the best.
“Moreover, the reach and access of these stories is far greater than at any other time—so the degree of influence is much greater. You can watch more films, etc. and you can watch them at almost any time.”
But, assuming this is true, the true impact of any given work would therefore be proportionately diffused, right?
“When the profit motive is the primary consideration—while ignoring artistic or humane values—I don’t think the results would be more negative than positive. Do you agree or disagree with that?”
Again, I agree with you on broad principle, Jazz, that over- commercialization is bad, but I think it’s possible to overvalue motive (and we should probably really say “perceived motive” here). Firstly, we won’t necessarily know motive and often won’t be in a good position even to determine motive. Secondly, how many things are truly done by a human being (much less a group of human beings) with a single motive? Thirdly, isn’t function sometimes much more important than motive? If I buy a hungry man a sandwich, does it matter what my motives are? (and doesn’t how one answers that question sort of depend on from whose perspective I approach the question from?).
My reaction to Greg’s posts in this thread :
Heh. Thanks. I just hope that I didn’t come off as too dismissive as the naive comment may have made me go a bit overboard and I wouldn’t want it to sound like I think these questions are cut and dried or that I don’t respect Jirin’s opinions on this overall. It is true that there are flaws with most methods of government funding, but when contrasted with teh alternative I know where I stand on the issue as, to me, the government should represent the sort of society in which we wish to live and act towards bettering the circumstances of people, particularly those who catch the shit end of things, often for only the fault of being born in the wrong place at the wrong time. I know my values aren’t shared by all, but to me the difference lies as much in what the downsides of adopting a given approach would be as much as in the best possible outcome, and in that sense, providing some decent funding the arts has far less of a downside than the alternative from what I can see.
“do you guys think I oppose any and all depictions of violence and sex in movies, TV shows, etc.? "
No, but you brought up the concept of “social good” without defining it very clearly, so I think we’re having to through all kinds of hypothetical positions back at you for you to say “that’s not what I mean” to.
And while you may not oppose all depictions of such things, once you start down the path of defining those issues and somehow regulating them, someone out there surely will and make demands which you yourself may not, which is part of the problem.
re: greg’s post on the previous page: i think that’s the only time i can remember that u ever seemed angry
both of u guys show remarkable self-control and it’s always a pleasure to read your comments
i wish i was so even tempered lol
I did read that previous post of yours, I just disagree with some of its claims. And I too am glad we can civilly disagree about this. :)
I agree the art is an important public good, I just don’t believe in another person’s view of what constitutes my heritage. I don’t believe my income should be used to support other peoples’ view of what constitutes important art, just as I would never expect other people to pay so I can enjoy the art I consider important. Suppose I find a great young artist whose art I enjoy and who has trouble getting funding. Maybe I want to support that artist, but can’t afford to because the government took my money and gave it to a grad student so he could nail toilet seats to the wall.
It’s a great thought that the government should support the arts, but where is that funding coming from? It’s not coming from the 15% capital gains tax that most super-rich people pay, it’s coming most from the 35% income tax on people who are just trying to feed their families and pay their bills. I simply don’t feel justified in forcing a person who’s struggling to pay their mortgage to pay for the art I would rather look at.
And I don’t believe that mandated culture fosters any real appreciation of that culture. For example, in high school I read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. It is indisputably a great work of literature. But, in high school I couldn’t stand it. Because I wasn’t reading it as a great work of literature. I was reading it just to scan for facts I might need to reproduce on the exam, and discussing it just to figure out what the teacher might consider a good argument. So in high school, I thought it was awful. If I was allowed to discover it on my own and read it at my own leisure, I would have seen it as the great work of literature it is. Great art is not something you love because your cultural tradition tells you to love it, it’s something you discover by your own means. Otherwise, you don’t really love the art, you’re just toting it to impress the people around you.
The thing about ‘voting with dollars’ is that there isn’t just one winner. Anybody who gets any votes wins. So, disposable eye candy like Avatar will unfortunately get the most support, and great artists who produce art that’s less immediately popular will get enough to cover their costs as well, and then a hundred years from now, who will remember Avatar?
The great timeless art of today wasn’t all immediately popular, but it pleased someone. Somebody thought it was a great work of art, and funded it. Do I believe anybody who considers themselves an artist should get funding if nobody at all considers their art worth funding? Not in a world where anybody with a camera phone and a Youtube account thinks they’re a genius, no. When I was applying to jobs this summer I had to work my butt off to get hired. Artists should have to work hard and prove themselves before getting paid, just like I had to. If I can work a crappy part time job while working on an IT degree, they can work one while developing their craft and fighting for their breakthrough.
There will always be people who don’t believe art is important, but this constitutes the vast majority in just about any culture, and it has never stopped great art from being made. The fact is, way more people wish they could make money as an artist than the market for art will ever support. I wish they could all get the time and funding they need. I wish I could get subsidies so I could work on cool AI programs that can apprehend literature. But I just don’t feel justified in forcing people to pay for it.
“So in high school, I thought it was awful. If I was allowed to discover it on my own and read it at my own leisure”
Jirin, people don’t discover art by themselves ok? They are generally raised to appreciate it. It’s cultivated at the level of education, even in subtle ways. If you hadn’t been taught it at school, or any great literature for that matter, chances are that you wouldn’t even know it existed.
I discovered Henry James, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Shakespeare etc at school. Did i necessarily appreciate them in class? Not always. But the experience opened up on a whole new world for me that i rediscovered and explored later as an adult.
“Great art is not something you love because your cultural tradition tells you to love it, it’s something you discover by your own means”
yes, but culture provides direction and guidance, and the effect of that can not be underestimated.
I agree with your point regarding tokenistic appreciation however.
I think films ability lies in commenting, offering perspective, exploring new experiences than being a direct political/social force in of itself.The case of films as a force for social good, I think is a cultural, general one. They should definitely be supported as with all art but it’s a slippery slope thinking that they need to be justified with a clear specific reasons. That opens mediums up to criticism that they aren’t fullfilling a criteria. The most widely distributed films one could say don’t do anything for social good, they are consumables of the day and don’t offer perspective on anything. This quote of Ken Loach comes to mind.
“A movie isn’t a political movement, a party or even an article. It’s just a film. At best it can add its voice to public outrage.”
Film is created by massive accumulations of capital, complexes of expertise working in concert, and given to the public via focus groups and makreting… but watched by individuals sitting in the dark. Remember that is what really counts.
@JirinI agree the art is an important public good, I just don’t believe in another person’s view of what constitutes my heritage.
But you believe in private funding so you’re still relying on someone’s views of what constitutes your culture and heritage, except that someone is either a rich donor or a CEO which means the process is not transparent and the only goal is profit.
Suppose I find a great young artist whose art I enjoy and who has trouble getting funding. Maybe I want to support that artist, but can’t afford to because the government took my money and gave it to a grad student so he could nail toilet seats to the wall.
With a ministry of culture that artist can request government funding, that’s the point. Without it, it’s either you got money or you know someone who got money or you’re screwed.
“Great art is not something you love because your cultural tradition tells you to love it, it’s something you discover by your own means.”
How can you possibly make that claim when it’s a complete impossibility to step outside of said cultural tradition?
“it’s coming most from the 35% income tax on people who are just trying to feed their families and pay their bills. I simply don’t feel justified in forcing a person who’s struggling to pay their mortgage to pay for the art I would rather look at.”
Well, I think if we went through a federal budget line for line, we’d find a lot of expenditures that we didn’t approve of on one ground or another.
If we’re talking about US support of the arts at the federal level, we’re talking about on 0.066% of the total federal budget (just over $2.5 billion). If we’re worried about people living at and around subsistence level, what about the $4 billion in subsidies to the (for-profit) oil & gas industry? The $5 billion dollars in (for-profit) farm subsidies? The $8.5 million in subsidies given to the (for-profit) airlines? The government spent $88.5 billion (as of 2008) on mortgage interest tax deductions to incentivize people to borrow money for a home, which ultimately most benefited (while the bubble held up) the (for-profit) banks.
And of course all of this pales in comparison to the $700 billion or so spent of “defense.”
Actually if you add up all the “defense” and “security” spending, it is over a trillion dollars.
Matt’s point can be broadened. The federal, state, and local governments spend vast amounts of money on a huge range of subsidies to a lot of different kinds of businesses, churches and other non-profits, and, of course, individuals. Support for the arts is a wee tiny part of this and is by no means a substitute for private funding. It is only a small supplement that makes possible some additional art that otherwise won’t occur. I think it is a vastly better investment than, say, the nuclear missile submarines that cost orders of magnitude more and don’t give us anything back.
. . . and, incidentally, in the state I live in, state funding of the arts amounts to only .0003 % of the state budget, so it’s not as if state governments are stepping in to fill the void.
There was an article recently in a psychology digest, I think “This is your brain on Kafka”, which shows the effect of art on how we perceive things. It was a very encouraging read.
Personally, I know I have been affected by art in a life changing way for a few times in my life. A year ago, I directed “Zoo Story” by playwright Edward Albee for the stage. Reading and staging the play changed my views on homosexuals (I was brought up in a religious household) by revealing to me the inner life of a gay person who is pressured by society to repress a vital part of his identity. For the first time, I truly realized how horribly unjust social discrimination is. Albee DIDN’T sermonize — but that is the point of art. Art does not sermonize — art changes you by showing the deepest wishes and desires of people and their realities. Good art, like good philosophy, makes you question preconceived notions, and that spills over into other realms.
The best art is not polemical but illuminating.
I think it is important to go beyond the point of how much money is being spent or should or could be added or subtracted to that total and look towards why these expenditures matter. I don’t have nor will likely have any children, and I am no longer a young man, so from a purely self-interested point of view I could say that spending on things like education or the environment is unnecessary as those expenditures will hold little benefit for me, they’re problems for people who have some greater stake in the future of the country or world than my limited time and stake. I could say that, but I don’t because I believe in government being there to represent the greatest common good for all who live under it. A world where each simply looks out for their own is inherently problematic as it is not only too attached to short term goals and simple exchange, it is also an ugly world one where people aren’t asked to see commonalities between themselves and one where we wouldn’t strive for anything beyond ourselves, where ideals of something greater than ourself and our individual wants don’t hold any value if they don’t profit someone more than they cost.
JAzz’s initial question was about whether art should be constrained or restricted to certain moral aims, underlying that question, I would say, is the idea the art is a secondhand “good”, that it benefits the culture only by sharing some moral values or readily discernible intellectual end, that it isn’t a good in and of itself regardless of some rational “meaning”. Art transcends its time and culture, it goes beyond concerns for what might be the moral issues of the day and speaks to generations of people all over the world. Art is meaningful in and of itself, it doesn’t require some secondhand justification for its existence. Our troubles and day to day battles are immensely important to us but we as individuals will largely fade from history and will be thought of as statistics, as being part of some common mass of action or lack thereof. Most history is written from the side of how we made others suffer, how we were wrong or how power was gained or lost by nations or some select powerful individuals who had some will to power. What else is there? The individual lives of anonymous plumbers, accountants or clerks simply won’t matter over time just as those anonymous figures of the past don’t matter to us outside of perhaps some relatives or remote acquaintance.
History would be a cold, sad and distant thing if that was all that we had to look at and to find significance in, but that isn’t all there is, there is also science and art, the record of mankind’s excellence of its challenge to anonymity and to bring something more to the world. We look to the history of art as some of the highest achievements of mankind. The art of the past is not only what ties us more concretely to the time, but it personalizes the connection, it shows how we are linked to those who came before and how their understanding of the world still resonates with our own. It creates an unbroken lineage of man’s struggles and aspirations, the beauty and sorrows of the individual. It keeps the world gone alive as we can “feel” that world and not only see it as a part of our own, but come to embody it as the works of the past are what we build our own understanding of the present and future on.
How does this relate to government funding of the arts? There are several primary ways why this is important. The first is simply that supporting government funding of the arts signals the importance of the arts to the culture. It establishes our values as a society and it gives context to what we believe and who we are in a way that says our interests are not simply self serving or short term, that we as a people are interested in our connection to the past and to the future as well as to expression by those who aren’t necessarily powerful or rulers. Funding the arts is a way to say there are things that are important which aren’t directly associated with profit or gain but are valuable for themselves and what they show about our interactions with the world and each other. It is a way to spread beauty, to share wonder or awe, to express fear, sadness or other passions, to criticize and to refuse to fade into the shadows of time. Funding the arts is to say, yes, these things are important to us as a people. We need not like any particular work of art to say art itself is worth protecting, preserving and creating, we just have to recognize the place it holds in our lives and our histories and to celebrate that.
Because of this we also need to ensure that art is available for all to see and that we are educating people in its history. There is little immediate profit in funding education in the arts or in giving people access to art which isn’t under the commercial control of some organization or figure, but these things are necessary, just as education in science or history would be. This is threatened not only by a failure to fund the arts, but by the way we accord rights to them. We are allowing what should be the common good to be controlled by those whose primary interest is financial and this is disastrous. There is no question but that we should protect the ability of artists to make a living with their art , but carrying that to extremes is not only wrong but inherently contradictory to the purported purpose of such protection. In capitalism it is claimed that competition will provide a sort of balance of interests, but the goal of any entity within that system is to maximize their own profits at the expense of others, so they seek anti-competitive ends as that will prevent others from threatening their gains. This failure threatens our understanding of human history and renders the past ever more obscure, or something to be played with only by those who can afford to get in the door. Art is understood through the experience of it. It needs to be accessed to be understood. You can’t share an artwork through secondhand means as it is an irreducible object. Denying or limiting access to the arts directly or by allowing that control to be held by for profit entities is equivalent to allowing a corporation to control access to certain thoughts or ideals. It is to put the human psyche up for sale.
Our public history is inextricably linked to art which was brought out before us, but we are prevented for ever accessing any of that shared history on equal terms. Allowing art to remain in private or corporate hands is to give up the very basis of our civilization to entities whose interests are purely their own. (In this I am speaking of “art” in the broadest terms including all forms of of shared thought which fall under copyright laws, not just the so-called “high arts”. By giving up this control and by not funding education and access we are favoring the ephemeral and the parochial over the broader interests of all. By not asserting a greater value for the arts, a value which those who currently control them are well aware of which is why they fight so vehemently to keep their control, we are, at the least, tacitly saying that our interests, the interests of society, is best served by being entirely in the hands of the private whim or corporate control. This is a horrible wrong which robs us of our heritage and our very own histories as we are prevented from having any claim on that which has shaped the our world.
None of this is to suggest that private investment in the arts isn’t important, indeed it is. The government neither can nor should seek to take over that role, and should work to ensure that there is a fair opportunity to profit or to share privately funded works without interference and to allow artists and those who fund them to live well off of whatever returns they can get, as long as that is done within reasonable bounds where the “rights” of the individual don’t curtail the greater needs to the society. I’m not suggesting there are clear or easily determined boundaries for these things or suggesting some definitive limits to control. What I am saying is that we are out of balance now and heading further in the wrong direction and we need to stop this trend before we lose all. Government funding for the arts is a help, not an answer, it should be meant to assist those who may not fit current profit models and to help set a tone and protect the interests of the greater society at least as fiercely as it does those who seek to profit. What I’m suggesting isn’t anything radical, no, what is radical is the direction we are going in, not only in terms of laws and funding, but in terms of how the arts are viewed overall. This last point isn’t something which funding would necessarily directly improve, although having a broader selection of arts available and better emphasizing their importance would certainly help in this regard, it is something which needs to be fought every time someone speaks of cultural vegetables, or “trash”, or white elephants. Art needs to be celebrated at least as much and as fully as the kitschy pleasures of the ephemeral or the solipsistic pleasures of the nostalgic. I have nothing against any form of art, there is no type of movie or writing or painting or music which is inherently less worthy of attention than another, but the way which we view these things strikes me as being almost completely out of whack as that which pleasures without reflection or effort is given pride of place over that which might go beyond simply reinforcing what we already know.
I could go on, but I suspect I’ve already reached a point of diminishing returns with that block of text, so I’ll leave it there.
i actually choked up a lil bit reading that. please be our minister of culture, greg x
Yes, I second Ruby’s nomination. You’re one of our five most passionate and eloquent voices on this site, Greg. Merci beaucoup!
save our heritage from the tea party hordes!!
“JAzz’s initial question was about whether art should be constrained or restricted to certain moral aims”
Right, and of course the tension between moralism and aestheticism (“instruction” and “delight” to paraphrase Horace) is a very old thing—it’s actually a really ancient question.
Here’s V.G. Kiernan writing about Horace and post-Hellenistic Rome:
“At bottom, all the problems that the times were stirring up were of a social nature, which the Hellenistic thinkers were ill qualified to grapple with. Some of them censured oppression of the poor by the rich, but they gave no practical lead, though they may have hoped to see well-meaning rulers doing so. Philosophy was drifting into absorption in self, a quest for private contentedness, to be achieved by self-control and restraint, without much regard for the fate of a disintegrating community.”
In a lot of ways, you could say much the same thing about Western Civ of today. In Horace (in the Satires, esp.) you can really feel him being pulled between the desire to create aesthetically significant poetry on the one hand in terms of the tradition he was working in (and thereby being in many senses a sort of voice of the establishment), and the desire to critique the ills of the culture he was living in on the other. How much social “good” his work did is eminently debatable;the tremendous impact and influence of his work in aesthetic terms is really not.
Ha ha — I agree that Greg rocks.
But now there are 4 others to be named as “most eloquent” — who might those be, Z.?
I should apologise to Matt Parks. It was not intended as an insult, he makes sensible and erudite points about the place of art in Roman civilisation and is a frequent contributor here. It’s just that I’m so angry at aggressive US style corporate owned, privatised prisons, health service, and public services infiltrating UK politics. I do despair at the lack of choice people are given in government. As far as public funding for films go, I wouldn’t expect anybody to offer serious help until distribution channels are sorted.
David Cameron recently came out with a statement that we should try to rival Hollywood.
Study on teenagers, binge drinking, and the movies.
You know what really increases binge drinking in teens? College. Thank goodness we have Rick Santorum to expose the evils of higher education!
Seriously, though, I don’t think anyone would dispute that certainly works almost certainly have negative impacts on certain people, but I have a hard time with people using that sort of worst case scenario as an argument against freedom of expression. With the binge drinking thing, for example, wouldn’t the alcohol be a more proximate cause of binge drinking than the movies? So, if we’re mandating social good, wouldn’t it make more sense to restrict access to alcohol than it would to restrict access to movies?
I’m not for censorship or blaming the movies for stuff like that — ultimately the responsibility lies with the person and drinking is a complex thing. Teenagers may be impulsive but they’re not idiots.
I just brought this up because it was pertinent to the topic, and shows that people are still discussing stuff like this in the news, not because I think it really says much.