Got Culture?

New publication (2015) entitled Culture Crash: the killing of the creative class by Scott Timberg is a worthwhile read. Through interviews, expose’s, statistics and critiques Timberg orchestrates an account of creative class exit. Akin to Hilary’s “It takes a village”, Timberg shows that “It takes a creative class” to have a culture. A coalescence of new technology, corporate capitalism and an economics of deliberate income disparity results in the loss of livelihood and future for innumerable artists, musicians, writers, designers, journalists, photographers, etc. Timberg maintains the creative class is more than these. It also includes the de facto curators, critics, creative savants, etc. found owning or clerking bookstores, record shops, video/movie/DVD outlets, clubs, media publications, etc. Anyone engaged by any aspect of art, production or reception, comprises what it takes to make culture. That group is disappearing. Aw, c’mon, new technology has liberated us so that greater and easier access to the production/reception of art has become a reality for all. And it has. Only that reality pays just shy of nothing. (““You know how many hits you need on Spotify to make the minimum wage each month?” the roots-musician and University of Wyoming economics professor Jason Shogren asked. “More than four million.” “The young, tech-savvy cellist Zoe Keating has done everything digital cheerleaders advocate: she self-releases her music, has 1.2 million Twitter followers, and, in 2013, between two million You Tube views and 400,000 Spotify streams, earned from both services a total of about $3,000”” pgs. 94-95). The handful of people owning the servers amass millions. Timberg describes this new bent displacing culture as “All or nothing.” Top sports competitors receive “All” while others who made the event possible by competing (the also rans) get “nothing.” Capitalism is competition. But art is not. Easel painting and golf may share being solitary endeavors. Who appreciates a painting on the lowest score (par, below par or over)? Remember, the culture critic has also been discarded as expendable, replaced by critiques of box office draw, marketing expertise, brand viability, number of likes and increasingly “personal “ algorithms (Timberg points out that within the entire U.S. there are only 2 dance critics employed by publications. Art students are instructed to create a brand for themselves.). This “All or nothing” economy results in deliberate income inequality manifested by superstar musicians, actors, journalists, and block buster ”hits”, top ten writings, songs, movies, etc. mostly by the same producers. Celebrity obsession displaces mega lotto dreaming with its Horatio Alger promise of being a winner (again, the mindset of all or nothing). Whatever happened to jazz, the great original American music form? Shush, no Ken Burns, please. Jazz receives no air play on corporate controlled radio (with predetermined play lists not compiled by the station’s DJ). It has vanished from accessible TV and film and is not covered by corporate media owned publications. Performance venues, like clubs, are few and far between. To be a young jazz talent today is to live out of your car. Marketing may have made P.T. Barnum a great circus impresario but it doesn’t make music. For Timberg, culture is the glue that holds a people together, gives them a commonality accessible to any and all, keeps them from the isolation that perpetuates social catastrophe.

This book is a must read for those troubled by 2015’s Newark Famfest (which, in keeping with Timberg’s insight, was never reported on after the event, never critiqued). Famfest embodied all the elements that Timberg attributes to the crash of culture and the demise of the creative class. Corporate executive committees determined production oblivious to the everyday workings of any pre-existing “creative class” (as though the class was guaranteed to manifest itself to ensure a success). Organization followed the deliberate income disparity economy of paid community leaders and “others”, totally promoting and relying on new technologies for event promotion, communication and coordination. Analysis agrees with Timberg – once it’s gone, you cannot create the creative class through some Donald Trump Apprentice program. Contemporary American culture was prefigured by the Grand Old Opry’s Minnie Pearl who made it a point to leave price tags on all that she appeared in.

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