The Lost Audience

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The four salopines of SATC’s Dolce Vita: Charlotte, Carrie, Miranda, and Samantha. Well-packaged role models of compulsive bourgeois consumerism (cum sexual voyeurism) diabolically concocted to titillate the masses. Selfishness, pettiness, banality and promiscuity (disguised as women’s liberation) never looked so enticing.

BY JOHN STEPPLING / VOXPOP’S PLACEBO ART MONITOR

I wanted to try to link together a few things that have been rattling around in my brain of late.  First, I have this growing fear that Western culture, and certainly US culture, has almost completly lost an audience that once knew of art. When I recently went to a screening of Sex and the City, I was aware of just how far most cultural product has distanced itself from its role as art. Now S&TC is, admittedly, a particularly vile piece of  American flotsam, but what is also clear is that it was never intended to be anything like art, not even pop art or folk art — it is only advertising, and in its role as advert it is meant to create superficial associations and a comfort zone for those who followed the TV series. Let me add that by the end I wished deeply that every single character would be killed. Plague, Ebola, hit and run trucks, stabbing, anything, so long as these horrid, terminally decadent, faux hip, and self-involved people would cease existing. But I digress. 

There are certainly examples of good popular film out there, and even of TV and music, but it’s the audience that concerns me. I wonder at what the reaction of many people to a film like There Will be Blood , let alone a genuine masterpiece like Flanders. What is expected of cultural product in an age when that product is almost totally created by corporations? I know that when I showed On Golden Pond to a first year film class they were shocked to know this film had been critically well received. But then, such stuff was never really meant to last. I showed them clips from productions of Beckett plays. Mostly I saw blank confused stares.

Sarah Jessica Parker, as the columnist Carrie Bradshaw, was the linchpin of the Sex & the City TV series, wherein the four female protagonists, as model Lauren Hutton suggested, for the most part may have played out the torrid fantasies of decadent gay writers and producers. In that dimension alone, the show was not just fiction, but inherently dishonest.

I watched a good deal of old fifties TV clips on YouTube the other day, and to now watch parts of I Love Lucy or the Burns and Allen show was to feel just how unformulaic such stuff actually was.


Lucille Ball’s exuberant talent and beauty were rarely properly cataloged or utilized by the old studio star system.

What was once the definition of formula now seems its antithesis. I watched a clip from the old Jack Benny Show, and was amazed at the loose unstructured strangeness of it all. George Burns was almost dada, Benny too, and Lucille Ball harkened back to Buster Keaton more than anything else. To just meditate on these performers sense of timing would be a year’s class in itself. I recall James Agee describing Keaton and that what lurked under the surface of his comedy genius was a sense of melancholy. This existed in minor ways even in a Jack Benny, where it was more sadness or existential resignation than it was melancholy, perhaps. Or what of Groucho Marx? If one ever gets the chance to see old half hour TV anthology drama from the mid fifties, Firestone Theatre and the like, make sure you do. Our age is now reduced to an embrace of The Sopranos or Six Feet Under, and it’s worth a compare and contrast session with some old Playhouse 90 or other early dramas to note what is going on in today’s best TV drama. What is going on is a certain corporate seemless consensus — the reality presented in Six Feet Under (for example) is one that, in the end, accepts the world as it is presented by other media, by the NYTimes or by CNN or the State Department. It hasnt to do with objective *values* so much as it has to do with the technically anesthesizing slickness of the presentation. The framing, the form. In comedy the arc is from Keaton and Chaplin, to Burns and Milton Berle, on to Adam Sandler and Jerry Seinfeld. Sandler by the way has a new film coming out by a misunderstood Mossad agent who wants to be a hairdresser. But its not just the political disengenuous aspect to Sandler, its the dishonesty of his humanity. 


Keaton, one of the eternal greats of comedy, comparable to Chaplin himself in the melancholy nobility of his opus.

Artists must somehow suffer, and Sandler doesn’t. Benny suffered all the time, and certainly Keaton did. The genius of Keaton’s physical comedy could not exist without an existential dimension. Beckett certainly saw this, and it’s why he loved Keaton. I bring this back to audience.  There seems less and less critical awareness of what an artist like Keaton was doing. Or even a Groucho Marx. I remember as a boy watching Lucille Ball and liking her, and finding it funny, but not being able to *see* the weight of her art, at least as it existed in flashes. Watch some of those clips from the early I Love Lucy and you’ll see the humanity, flawed and arrogant at times, and even sentimental often, but always engaged in a dialectic with laughter. The laughs were never without the tragedy that kept one from the nervous almost hysterical anxiety that attends an Adam Sandler joke. With a Jack Benny, you begin with an awareness of the tragic. 

So, we have today in the US a populace more and more addicted to a political process that encourages disunity and the “owning” of *opinions*. It’s what was first created by the Nazis; polltaking and its political reaction. The difference is that today the political culture isn’t looking for mass agreement, or rather it is, but in the form of individual differences. Differences that are really not differences at all. Polls create categories (married, single, white, black, gay, straight, fat, skinny, seniors, under twenty-five, married, divorced, etc., etc., etc) and people feel quite uncomfortable without such categories. Once they are in a category, they can find an opinion (“McCain is more experienced, and I’m voting for him,” etc.). This is the audience that finds Buster Keaton boring and cannot see Jack Benny except as a piece of camp nostalgia. I’ve had students watch Fassbinder and only see his actors had bad 70s haircuts. It’s all about a fetishized assortment of fragments, and it’s always superficial. In fact the superficial really serves as the aesthetic judgement of the age.

Go to YouTube and find an old Brenda Lee clip; from an old black and white regional TV broadcast, singing One Step at a Time. She must be about 14 in it. Watch it. 

Watch some Patsy Cline or even Muddy Waters or my beloved Magic Sam (an artist who died far too early and who I knew personally). I don’t hear people sing like this anymore. A voice like the teenage Brenda Lee seems not to happen anymore and I’m not sure why. But I suspect it’s the non-consumer aspect of things, which is not to say these weren’t professionals looking to make a living, but that professionalism has since mutated like a cancer cell, and it’s eating itself spiritually. People think Obama is this or that, and McCain is that or this, and they *like* Metallica and they *don’t like* Yo Yo Ma, and they *like* the NBA but * dont really like* baseball so much. They think Tibet should be **free** and they like, wish, the Muslim world didn’t look so dirty, and they wish those muslims weren’t so *jealous* of *us*.  Opinions, and no taste, and less education. A managed reality of sound bites and endless advertising. Deep and concentrated listening, the kind needed to *hear* what Bach was doing, or Hank Williams, has all but disappeared. The deep *looking* needed to see into a Rembrandt or a Goya or a Pollack, or the almost buddhist patience to watch a Bresson, that is all but gone too. These thoughts beg questions about form and content, and about the nature of how our lives are mediated. Popular culture is not even that anymore. Perhaps definitions of high and low art have always been meaningless, but the role of popular and folk art still meant an engagement with one’s inner life. Everything today is meant to kill those inner lives.

For now the electoral theatre is in full swing, the contradictions of empire are more and more aggresively denied, and the tensions below the surface for those living in the midst of this madness grow each hour. Media follow instructions, either direct or indirect, from the US government and elite financial institutions, and they spew out a nonstop propaganda stream that is so empty of real critical thought or historical content as to be just white noise. It is only barely real propaganda at this point, because it is so amazingly banal. Spliced between this is bad pop music and pre packaged corporate product —reality TV shows based on the Schadenfreudeof humiliation, and reactionary news spots, and then Sex and the City. For the more educated, you could watch The Sopranos. It’s all administered like well lubricated psychic suppositories. The public clench their glutes and wait for the numbing, and soon it comes. And then it’s time for today’s opinion. —JS

Playwright John Steppling, a senior editor at Cyrano’s Journal in charge of cultural, theater, & cinema matters, is a founding editor of our Voxpop blog.  Steppling lives in Lodz with Norwegian director Gunnhild Skrodal.  He currently teaches at the Polish National Film School.  He’s hoping some of the students will see the value of real culture over blatant philistinism, but he’s not holding his breath.

3 comments on “The Lost Audience
  1. BRAVO! Bravo! Just about time someone spoke in no uncertain terms to the scandalous level of decomposition we witness these days throughout the entire pop cultural ambit. Television, the biggest whore man has ever invented, and US tv, without a doubt the most corrupt of all the whores in this medium, deserve to be condemned for the dissemination of bankrupt values and misinformation about our current social and political realities. It should be said: American television, including its owners and main figures, is a criminal enterprise, whether they accept it or not. And they should be dealt as such.

  2. #######
    #######

    It all comes down to the BAD
    INFLUENCE of FEMINISM (( aka
    emoting feminine mind )):

    —–
    ©1994

    TWO LEGS OF THE SAME WH_RE

    Physicality doesn’t necessarily reveal the psycho-
    logical sex of an individual; ergo, many male
    Democrats in Congress are effeminate pimps for
    feminism.

    America is gripped by the emoting feminine mind of
    feminism, which seduces the unwary by appealing to
    human weakness:

    – rejection of moral imperatives,

    – hunger for sexual arousal and orgasm,

    – immediate gratification of material needs,

    – denial of personal responsibility,

    and

    – reliance on something-for-nothing welfare benefits.

    Feminism is narcissism, demanding that we become
    dependent and worship her for providing for our
    every need, until all of us meet her standard as
    set by the lowest common denominator among us.

    She beckons all within her reach to worship at her
    feet. She promotes socialism and communism, and
    she rigidly extols egalitarianism in her politics
    while being promiscuous and indiscriminate in her
    breeding.

    She is sedentary and lascivious, and she plies her
    sexuality and emotions to catch her prey. Her
    seeming passivity is disarming, so that by the time
    society is alerted to her choking embrace good
    civil order is destroyed, and any hope of recovery
    – of escaping her seduction – is lost.

    Feminism’s purpose-to-destroy is ancient and relent-
    less, and requires a philosophy or mantra which
    appeals to the heart; especially one that is impossi-
    ble to defend against without appearing cold and
    ruthless, unfeeling and uncaring. “All men are
    created equal” is one such mantra (she has many
    others), which now drives all of America’s institu-
    tions to destruction by demanding equal outcomes
    between men and women and between racial groups, and
    through such sinister means as affirmative action,
    proportionalism, and quotas.

    She uses feelings most artfully to seduce us, appeal-
    ing to our emotions while inviting us to follow her
    path in rejecting reason, science, and historical
    lessons–all of which undermine her purpose and set
    us free. And although her sexuality has been subdued
    in the past by the rational masculine mind, to keep
    her from destroying civil society, she never loses
    command of it as means to control her victims and
    advance her purpose when on the march.

    Her political philosophy is always left-wing.
    Liberalism (non-classical), which she owns, is freedom
    from any moral and authoritarian restraints–from the
    rational masculine mind of self-control, personal
    responsibility, good social order and human progress.
    And her lusting heart beats most rapidly in liberal
    Democrats, who garner political power by redistribut-
    ing the hard-earned wealth of productive citizens to
    an ever-growing dependent class, both indigenous and
    foreign.

    Liberalism necessarily rejects history and science
    because both expose the folly of her works, teaching
    us lessons she would keep hidden. History records the
    fall of both Greece and Rome by her hand, and science
    instructs us in the art of inductive and deductive
    analyses which, when applied to feminism, invariably
    refute her premises and conclusions as unsound and
    destructive to civil society.

    Her fascination with youth calls her to give special
    attention to public education in America, where
    opportunities for plying her trade and recruiting new
    soldiers abound. She extols her feminism and deni-
    grates the rational masculine mind by propagandizing
    her message, usually cloaked in a sexual tease. And
    she disseminates it most effectively through Holly-
    wood’s television and movie industries and the dominant
    news media, the latter of which are controlled by
    glorified gossipers and would-be actors who champion
    the feminists’ cause (to a lesser degree she employs
    book publishing, especially novelists’ works, and left-
    wing “liberation” churches).

    She offers only emotional stimulation and sexual grati-
    fication as gifts for abandoning America’s traditional
    values of hard work, delayed gratification, personal
    integrity and moral certitude–all requisite means for
    building grand societies. Evil fascinates her, and
    her attraction to it stems from her desire for the
    emotion that chaos engenders.

    She has all but destroyed the soul of this once-great
    nation by guile and intimidation; a nation now in rapid
    decline. Her means for seduction in capturing the minds
    of the body politic are entertainment and news, two legs
    of the same wh_re: the EMOTING FEMININE MIND of Liber-
    alism.

    -Founders’ America

    #######
    #######

  3. The ugly truth about this show, Sex & the City, is that it is about class and the selling of upper class values to the inane highly conditioned audience. Whatever else it pretends to be about is yet another falsehood. I doubt any of the actors has a clue about what’s really going on here. Given that consciousness follows existence, their huge salaries and fame have already immunized them against any possible conscience pangs. Disgraceful state of affairs indeed.

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