Saturday, January 8, 2011

Are We What's Wrong with the Arts?

As he left and the lights dimmed, the biggest question still looming in my mind was do we really need this? We have the movies, a still-in-print comic, shows, video games, etc. … is a Broadway musical necessary for me to see?

About thirty minutes later, Spider-Man was swinging over the audience’s heads, having a chicken fight with the Green Goblin, punching and throwing each other in the air. Suddenly Spider-Man flew down to the ground and landed with a thud 3 feet away from where I was sitting. He tapped a guy on the shoulder and asked if he had any change, then shot back up into the air and jumped on TOP of the flying Green Goblin. And my question was answered, yes this is completely necessary.

A reviewer on Ain't It Cool News, about Turn Off The Dark.

My father this break chastised me a little for being into "experimental theater" and being part of a group that turns our nose up at the "main-stream" things that are popular... well, because people like it.

I read Isaac's great interrogation of the piece... aw heck, let's quote a bit:
Incoherence suffuses the show like a virus on all levels. The different design elements don’t go together. The web of the story is too overburdened to ever weave itself into basic sense, let alone the kind of delight we expect from this sort of thing. And, despite spending slightly more than the annual budget of the Falkland Islands on the show, no one involved seems to have been watching out for the basics of three-dimensional storytelling on stage. This is how you end up with someone singing “Rise Above,” while (via expensive flying and hydraulics) everything sinks.
Now obviously, I don't actually think that the question posed in the subject line should be answered with "Yes." Connoisseurs are people fighting to increase the quality of the theatrical work. But when I see such a huge gulf between what theater people think is good theater and what the rest of the world considers to be good theater, I sit and pause.

Also: Spider-man sounds awful and I still would never see it.

Anyways, I just got off a flight where I spent the entirety watching the coverage of today's horrific events, so I'm not ready to follow through on these thoughts. I'll come back to it when I have a bit more coherence on the subject.'

(UPDATE: As usually happens when I see an article of mine referenced by the Guardian, I would like to clarify a little: I don't, actually, disagree with Isaac's assessment of the show -- I really can't because I haven't (and won't) seen the show. And I don't disagree with where his criticism is coming from -- it's studied, intelligent, and based on not just esoteric but practical concerns.

I don't know what to do with the fact that Isaac is right, but nobody seems to care. I draw a very distinct line between things which are popular and not necessarily high brow, but are still well done (I think the ouevre of Andy Samberg on SNL qualifies), and things which are really badly done but which people still like.

In politics, this is the bafflement I feel when I see people cheering Sarah Palin. I can understand people disagreeing with me (I have respect for a conservative like David Cameron, or George H.W. Bush). But I can't understand badly done conservatism. When Sarah Palin gets in front of a camera, uses the word "Blood Libel" in a sense that just doesn't work, logically, and simultaneously holds the positions that words don't incite violence and words do incite violence simultaneously, I don't know what to make of her supporters.

It's the same here. I really have no problem with silly entertainment or unambitious/experimental work. I just don't know what to do when on the one hand you have someone saying "This is a very poorly designed piece of work" -- and is right -- and our purported audience is saying "my god this is the reason we invented theater".)

1 comment:

Leigh Hile said...

Thanks for asking this question. I read the same review and wondered the same thing to myself. Why is there such a chasm between what's judged within the community as artistically valid and what seems to have mass appeal? And what is wrong with mass appeal anyway? Even if I don't like it, it's clearly resonated with people on a, well, massive level. Shouldn't it at least have my respect for that?

I thought August Shulenburg offered an interested counterpoint in his recent blog post (http://fluxtheatreensemble.blogspot.com/2011/01/arizona-and-imaginative-empathy.html). It's not the quality of the art that's the problem, it's that it exists in a monoculture; it's the same, easily palatable story told again and again. As artist we are (and should be) after the more diverse, more difficult stories.