Saturday, July 15, 2017

links for the weekend--"is classical journalism in decline?" is still the rhetorical question du jour in journalism, which might invite a different rhetorical question, does an arts scene that can't be monetized existed for arts journalism?

Here's an article that asks whether classical music journalism is fading into silence, one of those rhetorical questions as title articles that we inevitably see on this subject.
As arts coverage has shifted from major to minor, the diminution of print coverage of classical music events takes its toll. As in Hadyn’s “Farewell” Symphony, the players, snuffing out their candles, slowly exit the stage one by one until two violins play the final pianissimo adagio.

In 2016, reports of newspapers eliminating arts journalists through layoffs and buyouts seem more mind-numbing than shocking. Since the beginning of the millennium, legacy media has shed jobs across the board. In 2007-08, a quarter of all U.S. jobs in arts journalism were eliminated. By 2011, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s then vice president for arts Dennis Scholl estimated that as many as 50 percent of the local arts journalism jobs in America had vanished. In July 2015, The American Society of News Editors reported its first double-digit decline—10.4 percent— in all newsroom jobs since the Great Recession. And anecdotally, the loss of arts journalists, especially critics, outpaces those in other departments. “I can count the number of full-time classical music critics on both hands,” says Douglas McLennan, the editor of ArtsJournal.
Online journalism has entered the wild west when it comes to monetization. Traditional broadsheets are forced to compete for clicks with The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, Salon, Slate, and BuzzFeed and with the distillation of newsbites on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. “There used to be a media that was top-down, but that has changed rapidly for the news industry,” says Michael Zwiebach, the senior editor of San Francisco Classical Voice since 2009. “People are not addicted to, nor do they trust, one source of information. For a lot of sources like the San Francisco Chronicle and Boston Globe, there has been a free-for-all competition for eyeballs. They take stories they think will bring in the most hits,” which in the culture category is most likely television, movies, pop music, or an occasional blockbuster like Hamilton.

And culture that isn’t easily monetized gets ignored. “At one time when there were classical recordings, there was a revenue and economic stream for classical music and the opera world that perpetuated media to cover them because it was also a business and industry,” says Peter B. Carzasty, the founder of the arts consulting firm Geah, Ltd. The survival struggle of media institutions was only exacerbated by the Great Recession of 2008–09. [emphasis added]

Increasingly shortened attention spans have driven hunger for quick internet news. The 1982 launch of USA Today, specifically designed for a generation raised on television and whose motto was, “an economy of words, a wealth of information,” predated internet trollers who can’t wade through anything over 140 characters, much less a 1000-word review.

It might be impossible to overstate the significance of the phrase phrase in bold--one might dare to say that one of the problems for the classical musical scene is that, in journalistic terms, we could ask whether or not something that is easily monetized even exists to begin with in cultural journalism.  Take one of my pet topics for discussion here at this blog over the last twelve years, polyphonic music composed for the guitar.  Has there been a single headline for that topic?  Nikita Koshkin's 24 preludes and fugues got published this year, at last (!), and yet to date I'm not sure if there has been any coverage (yet) on this cycle. 

On the one hand if there were a more robust or healthier arts journalism scene perhaps this cycle could get the coverage I think it should get.  On the other hand, the knowledge of the guitar and its literature, let alone the knowledge necessary to establish how one could assess polyphonic music, seems to be more a rarity in the classical guitar scene than maybe it should be.  When guitarists so often can say the instrument is not really suited to idioms like sonata and fugue does the fact that Igor Rekhin, Nikita Koshkin and German Dzhaparidze all have cycles of preludes and fugues for solo guitar they've composed register?   You could count the cycle yours truly composed ... if you wanted to ... but this gets back to the aforementioned question as to whether a work of art even exists for arts journalists if it isn't presented to the world in a monetizable format?  The Koshkin and Dzhaparidze cycles are both really good, by the way.  The Rehkin cycle is a bit more mixed for reasons I hope to get to later this year. 

So the lament and concerns about the state of classical music journalism is anything but an abstract or theoretical concern to me.  For that matter coverage of local religious scenes was often wanting.  Had local coverage been more thorough over the last ten years this blog wouldn't have gained notoriety for discussing what was once Mars Hill.  That's another case where presenting a small sea of information in a way that has been stubbornly free of monetization seems to have built up over time in a way where journalism establishments, for the most part, regarded the stuff as not necessarily existing, excepting maybe a stretch between 2013 and 2014. 

When Sousa warned about the rise of what we now know of as the music industry his worry was that amateur musicianship would wither away, and it was the cultures of amateur musicianship he regarded as the lifeblood of musical culture.  We live in an era in which the amateur musical scene is back and perhaps it could even be as robust as it might have been in the pre-music industry era.  But ... I wonder if arts critics and arts journalists have stopped to consider that an explosion of genuinely amateur composition and performance might mean that the cultures of monetizable properties that their bread and butter has depended on is no longer going to be as much of a thing to be covered and that ... as this article puts it:

There are winners and losers in pop’s attention economy, but most acts fall into the latter category

In an attention market, the haves get more and those who have not might lose even what they have. 

The question of how robust the amateur arts scenes are could be particularly scary and unknowable/unanswerable a question for more than just arts journalists and critics; it is a question that may need to be considered at the level of education.  Are we sure that the arts will die unless academic establishments keep it around?  Overseas there's some controversy about some proposed changes in education and a proposal that the loss of arts will be offset by the rise in IT.

‘Arts GCSE decline compensated by rise in IT,’ claims Tory education minister

I don't happen to agree that the arts are the "easy option" for people who couldn't cut it in math or engineering or something like that.  It's not that people who are not disposed toward those things couldn't or wouldn't say that, obviously.  No, I think a concern that has been brewing or erupting here on this side of the Atlantic might provide another reason we can't be entirely sure that an arts education lost will be met as tragic by non-artists--it's the whole canon wars as to what should be in the academic canon of the arts that people have to learn and why.  In European contexts where there's potentially more canonical certainty about German or French or English or Irish art that whole array of topics might be moot, but in the United States the question as to why arts instruction (if we're going to have that and keep having that) might favor a Euro-centric canon is la lively one.  Whether from the left or the right perhaps the blind spot journalists and academics have is that if we no longer have the possibility of a "folk culture" in the age of online videos and digital reproduction, we may still be witnessing a resurgent culture of amateur-driven arts activity.  Or not, that's the thing, it might be hard to gauge. 

Because what journalists and academics often like to rule out is financial success.  Twenty years ago I was eagerly collecting and reading the manga of Rumiko Takahashi, probably best known for Ranma 1/2 and Inu Yasha.  She also made the manga Maison Ikkoku--when a friend suggested her work to me he described her as being a kind of Jane Austen of manga.  I was curious about this claim, though at the time I'd read no Jane Austen.  That would come later.  Takahashi's work may be popular enough that some 200 million copies of her manga or anime adapted from her manga are in circulation but ... have you heard of her work?  Recent headlines about someone involved in the translation of the work were ... disappointing to read but if you don't already know the less you know the better for now.

The theme at this point is the linkage between monetization of art and who gets recognition.  This summer's biggest superhero blockbuster may remain an instructive case in point but we don't even have to stick to that ... .

Terry Teachout wrote recently about how it only took him somewhere between five to six minutes to map out a season of theater programs scripted entirely by women.  Teachout writes for a publication that ... at least for a majority of people who live here in Seattle, would not be identifiable as "left".  Commentary magazine is also not particularly "left".  But if Teachout could map out a season of all women playwrights in under ten minutes that's some context for a recurring set of thinkpieces as to how and why plays by women or other artistic projects helmed by women don't get more exposure.

In the summer of Wonder Woman 2017 this would, at the highest-profile level, seem like a summer to at least keep this topic in public attention. Of course for some authors over at The New Republic, Wonder Woman is just Americanist propaganda. Josephine Livingstone could sympathetically regard the big dumb spectacle of Valerian because even if it's inspired by a comic book at least it's a European comic book rather than an American one.  It seems that for folks at The New Republic or The Imaginative Conservative pulp fiction can be forgiven being what it is if it's mid-20th century European comics or inspires Coppola films ... . 

It's like there's some tacit goldilocks deal where the art can't be TOO mass-produced and TOO popular or it must either not be art or must be propaganda ... but a the same time if it exists in a form that can't be monetized or doesn't make its presence known in a market-force-level way then it doesn't even exist.  From the standpoint of arts journalism as the first draft of arts history a whole lot of the arts never existed.  This will remain the most likely outcome for a lot of arts out there in spite of the fact that, in theory and potentially also in practice, there's more and more stuff you can get access to now in the arts than ever before. You didn't need to get stuff on Prime day but with a market event like Prime day it would be relatively easy to go buy music and film and books.  Which is the transition for this weekend to ...

Elsewhere at TNR ... a piece with a sidelong commentary about the big river company:

Amazon did not come to dominate the way we shop because of its technology. It did so because we let it. Over the past three decades, the U.S. government has permitted corporate giants to take over an ever-increasing share of the economy.
Back in the perma-temping, no-medical-benefits-jobs era of the 1990s I heard an IT person connected to a slightly larger-than-average company in the Puget Sound area complain that what Amazon did was get a strangle-hold on one-click purchasing.  So I have my doubts that "we let it" is an adequate explanation of the rise of Amazon.  It seems like it's just vague leftist boilerplate.  Even for people who tilt conservative or libertarian the history of crony capital manipulation of legislation relating to intellectual property is, if not easy to look up, feasible to research. Wouldn't an author who contributes to the TNR have more time and interest in proposing how massive corporate interests took time to revise and guide legislation regarding intellectual property, trademark, and licensing?  Well, maybe not? 

The older I get the more I get the impression that one of the problems in contemporary popular art is how much it is hamstrung by the reality that the majority of what we have as popular culture is licensed or trademarked and under copyright.  I don't think the "solution" to this problem is to come up with facile and largely unpersuasive arguments against the legitimacy of copyright.  If arts educators wanted to build a case for why arts education is essential here's an angle that, by and large, I have never seen anyone put forth in a journalistic context--in light of how restrictive copyright and trademark and licensing practices are in this new and international arts market, the most compelling reason to preserve an artistic canon of some kind is that by teaching an arts canon that is gloriously public domain and by exploring the ways in which that artistic canon has influenced and inspired more recent under-copyright art, we can give students ways to learn how to cultivate an interest in those arts that are genuinely public domain.  This is something conservatives already want to do on other grounds, as it is, the Western canon and all that. 

It's not like at this point we can even accept at face value the bromide that the Western literary canon is all dead white males.  We're hitting the bicentennial of the death of one of the greatest comedic geniuses in English language literature.  Yes, of course, I'm referring to Jane Austen. I began reading her work shortly after the start of the millennium and I have written here on a number of occasions that as I formulated the tone and literary voice for this blog tackling the history of Mars Hill I made a point of emulating the literary approaches of Jane Austen and Joan Didion.  It happens that I love the former's novels and the latter's non-fiction; it's also the case that I concluded that if there was going to be a kind of anti-Mark Driscoll aesthetic then the counterpoint to Mark Driscoll's camera-loving stand-up comic emulating stage persona drawing from Chris Rock, John Piper and Douglas Wilson would be a literary style inspired by Jane Austen and Joan Didion, both of whom have a penchant for a kind of bemused, chilly detachment.  If you read the first line of Pride & Prejudice and do not instantly grasp the nature of its joke then it's just not likely to be your thing.

There's a little piece at the New York Times recently about Jane Austen's literary style and the ideas running through her work:

It is at the heart of Austen’s work: What is going on behind the veneer that politeness demands? [emphasis added] These distinctive words, word clusters and grammatical constructions highlight her writerly preoccupations: states of mind and feeling, her characters’ unceasing efforts to understand themselves and other people
Human nature (together with the operation of time) is the true subject of all novels, even those full of ghosts, pirates, plucky orphans or rides to the guillotine. By omitting the fantastical and dramatic elements that fuel the plots of more conventional novels both of her own time and ours, Austen keeps a laser focus.

With Joan Didion's work one of the threads running through her non-fiction is a musing upon how the stories we tell ourselves to identify ourselves can often be deceptive, how the stories we tell ourselves to share with others often have a self-exonerating motive so that we don't have to consider what our real motives are.  Both women have male (and female) detractors who resent their icy, elitist style  Granted, and yet what's interesting about the comedic woman is that it seems men who despise women trafficking in humor that pours contempt on people can revel in that sort of humor when practiced by males.  That might be a opic for another post some time later. 

I've written in the past that there are ultimately only two types of humor, you're either laughing with or laughing at.  I had a blog post about this topic way back on August 17, 2013:
A layman makes a case for less humor from the pulpit

Now a writer can do whatever he or she wants and laughing with and laughing at are options we can all avail ourselves to.  But I have this proposal that the humorists whose work survives manage to find some kind of balance so that the laughing with and laughing at have an equilibrium.  For as often as Austen revels in laughing at her characters she arrives, in time, at resolutions to her stories in which we can laugh with them that things worked out acceptably enough for most people in the end. 

I'd write more for this blog post but I'm incubating some stuff about the newest Spiderman movie. A teaser of where I'm thinking about the new MCU Spiderman film goes roughly like this ...  

There's this joke in military cultures that if you break the rules and fail you get a courtmartial and if you break the rules but succeed you get a medal.  That's pretty much the entire MCU in a nutshell, breaking the rules but succeeding.  It's even a puchline in a subplot in the new Spiderman film wehre Captain America has done a public service announcement about how breaking the rules never pays off after a gym instructor has joked that by now Cap is probably a war criminal, but, whatever, the state paid for all these educational videos so we gotta use `em.

FilmCritHulk just went on a tear about the MCU, saying that there's this problem with them, that the gap between what the films SAY they are about and what they REVEAL themselves to be about by how they reward their protagonists in their third acts is now downright disturbing and that the new Spiderman film illustrates in ways that FilmCritHulk now finds frustrating. For the record, I think FilmCritHulk wrote the best, bar none, English language overview of Hayao Miyazaki's film The Wind Rises I've read.  Sure, I happen to like mine, too, but FCH is conversant enough in film and theory that even when I disagree with the "what" or "why" FCH writes in a way that spurs further thought and conversation.  Which is to say that for FilmCritHulk to articulate what Hulk regards as a fatal flaw in every single Marvel Cinematic Universe film that's something to mull over.  And that problem can be summed up in the aforementioned joke about how breaking the rules only gets you courtmartialed if you fail.

While FCH "may" not conversant enough in things military to formulate an objection in terms of military jokes, that's the beef, that it seems the MCU films feature heroes who all break the rules of reasonable/ethical conduct in ways that should get them courtmartialed under normal terms but since they always succeed in the third act they keep getting the medals.  What makes FilmCritHulk's recent complaint about the new Spiderman movie (which FCH does, in fact, like) intriguing is that FCH takes time to demonstrate how and why the Nolan Batman films and Raimi Spiderman films DON'T make the same mistake; Nolan and Raimi gave us heroes who made what they thought was the right and best decision to make at the time they had to make a decision that turned out to be not just a terrible strategic blunder but also to be, bluntly, morally wrong.  Whether as the result of fear or cowardice or resentful entitlement, Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker are both motivated by the reality that they made decisions that led to the deaths of people they loved.

So some of that has to be saved for the actual piece I'm meaning to write ... .

Enjoy your weekend.