Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Diversity VII: Death of Monoculture

This is going to be a short post because I'm starting to come down with a bad cold and my brain is getting fuzzy, but to tack on to my last post, where I talked about how diversity in theater is also going to be partly about diversity in audience.

I happened to re-look over Isaac's recent post about the death of monoculture in response to an NPR segment which I happened to hear as well, when it aired.

Isaac uses the death of monoculture meme to talk about our frustration that theater isn't changing fast enough, and briefly at the end gets to what the death of monoculture meme is really about:
We experience (To some extent) this sea change going on all over the place and wonder why the art form we love the most, that we are the most dedicated to, isn't changing at the pace of everything else. It's frustrating. And meanwhile, those who do not care about or are actively opposed, particularly those who define "good" as "coming out of the aesthetics of white male majoritarian culture" feel particularly threatened. With everything else changing, there's something comforting about institutional theater to those attached to that monoculture.
I think that's what 99Seats and Scott Walters mean when they talk about the "quality dodge." They're assuming that we're all rallying behind the artistic director in terms of perpetuating the monoculture (or, if you'd prefer, the "European patriarchal system" if you're in the 1960s). Some people are, but some of us aren't, in the same way that some opponents of the Single-Payer System are against health-care reform and other opponents of the Single-Payer System just don't think it's the most effective form of health-care reform.

If you reread Scott's post, it makes a lot more sense if you rephrase the argument as "Quality is irrelevant if you define quality as matching the whims of monoculture. Quality is relevant if you define quality as relevant to the local culture." That's a statement I could definitely get behind. I still would disagree with him that a lottery system would accomplish that shift, but it'd be nice to have common ground.

It doesn't surprise me, by the way, that after Isaac talked about monoculture, he reflected on why the Audience Matters.

So maybe what we need to do is figure out how our culture became mono-culture and take aim at that. The MFA-problem is one aspect of that, the New York centrism is another aspect of that, the inequity in access to arts education from an early age is (I think the most important) aspect of that.

And whereas Isaac is correct in his post that YouTube doesn't making doing theater any cheaper, one of his commenters (Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist!) points out:
People worry that the art of theatre and live performances are dying, but I disagree. In fact, I would argue that youtube (and Vimeo) have helped people to have a better appreciation for the arts and would introduce them to something new, something different. Now all you have to do is look up "Kabuki theatre" or "Bali puppet show" and you'll find a clip. This, in turn, will inspire people to read up on this and even get involved.
In a way, what technology leverages to us is an audience that has equal access to culture. Hopefully that'll be a more diverse audience, and then we'll start to turn the tide on this.