Monday, May 5, 2008

In My View: On the art/entertainment divide

A while back, I did a rant about Art. Now, I still stand by my statement that "Art doesn't exist." But something Hidoshi wrote in the comments has been niggling around in my brain for the past few weeks:

I should note in addendum that I think art is the most useful of all labels in anything considered culture. Art serves as the axle of the cultural wheel, and without it there are no standards by which to create — no mental or emotional tools, as it were.

This has been bugging me. Not necessarily because it's wrong, but because I don't necessarily understand why something has to be Art to create the standards that are used to create. Now don't get me wrong, I respect Hidoshi's viewpoint. I mean he's a smart guy who can manage to write like he's an average Joe and that's no mean feat.

But I'm still struggling with why Art as a distinction is important.

Okay, so here's how I see it. On the one hand, you have Art, which is held out as something to be admired. To borrow Hidoshi's words, it's the standard by which anything creative should be judged. Now, I'm not going to touch the subjective nature of that, simply because well… I shouldn't need to. But I can understand that certain creative works should be held up as benchmarks of what a medium or a genre can do.

On the other hand, you have the crass pandering to the masses called entertainment. Basically it's meaningless throwaway garbage that you use to turn off your brain (or at least that's the argument.) Okay, I can understand that some stuff might not seem like it's important. Or just seem like it appeals to some baser instinct in people.

But, and it's a big but, that assumes that entertainment is meaningless. Which it isn't.

Let's take Rome for an example. What's the first thing people think about when that word comes up (well other than Julius Caesar)? I can bet it's not Virgil's Aeneas. It's probably not Ovid's Metamorphoses. I doubt it's the Roman comedies. And I'm pretty sure no one's singing, "There's something for everyone –"

Nope, they're probably thinking about the Coliseum. And if there's a bigger entertainment fest then watching two grown men face off against each other with swords, I'm not sure what it is.

The thing is that the Coliseum (and any of the bread and circuses programs) is important when you're looking at Roman culture. In fact, I would say that they're a defining factor. I mean what it says about daily life in Rome that people flocked to see people try to run each other off of the tracks at the Circus Maximus or that they wanted to see people face off against lions in the arena.

Not only that but it says something about humanity that we'd want to see slaves try to kill each other. Or that we'd create a business. Or that politicians would set something like that up to distract the masses of people who were unemployed because of the large wave of slaves that were coming into country.

The same could be said about a show like The Simple Life, which follows the follies of two very rich girls trying to do very common things. Do you see a parallel here? Because I do. America has a tendency to want to tear down its idols. The middle and lower classes content themselves with the idea that "Well those people couldn't do my job." And a show like The Simple Life comes around to reinforce it. Is it pandering to the baser instincts of people? Sure. Does it show any type of creative drive behind it? No, of course not. Is it still important to wonder why something like that is popular? Yes.

In fact, I'd go as far to say it's just as important to look at the message that a show like Speed Grapher is trying to convey, and what it's trying to appeal to as looking at a show like Kaiba and seeing what it's trying to say. Or to put it another way, it's not as important to figure out what the creator is saying to the viewer as why the viewer is enticed with the show in the first place.

But then again, I might be a Philistine.


1 comment:

L said...

I can see what you mean, in that what appeals to us in ‘throw away junk’ says a lot about us. I believe it is important when we watch entertainment, not to turn our brains completely off but to try and at least decide why the show appeals to us, and what that says about us and our society.

However, while entertainment may tell us a bit about ourselves, I don’t think that’s enough to justify watching shows that appeal to our ‘baser instincts’. The Simple Life tells us that we like to see people humiliated; we like to see famous people topple because it makes us feel better about being one of the nameless masses, it makes us feel better about being relatively poor. It’s good if we can understand the reason we like this kind of crass entertainment, but that realization is only valuable if it results in action, and improvement on our parts. In other words, it’s good to know that it’s base to watch certain shows, it’s better to stop.

Of course everyone needs downtime, and there are stressful moments in our lives when turning our brain off can give it the time it needs to cool down. Entertainment has its place. But I think entertainment can be made to appeal to our high nature. I’m sure we can all list a few anime series that managed to entertain us without completely debasing us, and perhaps even elevating us.