Thursday, June 14, 2007

cultural exceptions

I finally found the full text of the Marc Ribot essay excerpted on be-jazz, thanks to The Improvising Guitarist linking to Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, who in turn linked to the complete piece at All About Jazz. I bet I could have just gone directly from Mwanji's excerpts, but I'm an adrenaline junkie and enjoy a challenge.

My interpretation is that Ribot isn't primarily talking about "state subsidy" as he is the principle of "cultural exception." "Cultural exception" is the idea that art that doesn't enjoy popularity in the market still ought to be financially supported. A natural consequence of this philosophy is that it is a legitimate role of governmental agencies to offer this support. Specifically, Ribot speculates on what things in Manhattan would be like if the city itself were to provide a venue for new music.

It's interesting for me to reflect on new music as a strange beast that can only barely stay alive through the largesse of various societal nannies, a beast that would wither and starve otherwise, last in line at the great trickle down trough of commercial enterprise. The strangest thing about the great (dare I say obscene?) wealth of the US is it's shadow: scarcity. I will boldly suggest that, in fact, the wealth is propped up by a culture of scarcity. By a deep-seated conviction that there's NEVER ENOUGH. By some sort of lurking horror of a sudden collapse, starvation in a society obese with food, brownouts and gas lines in a society that uses 80% of the world's energy, dreaded limitations descending on the Land of the Free. These fears bring tremendous energies to what Ribot calls "free market neo-liberalism."

I'm reminded of strange public statements that either consciously or unconsciously come directly from this Culture of Scarcity. Our military, for example, suddenly isn't big enough. Not if we want to have the suddenly absolutely necessary capacity to engage in three separate conflicts around the globe while at the same time providing National Guard troops in the event of something like Katrina. Our media outlets just don't have the money to take a risk on cultural "products" that might not "become a hit." Our venues "just don't have enough" money to keep their doors open. The public radio station where I do my little show "just can't risk alienating donors." Speaking of which, I have to go do that show momentarily, so further thoughts on this series of illusions and lies will mostly have to wait.

I also have some thoughts stirring on the distinction between "capital" and "labor" that Ribot mentions.

I think I'll leave off for the moment with a quick anecdote: I used to fundraise for a non-profit and had the occasion to schmooze with people who had a net worth of $100 million and more. Many of these people spoke about their depth of admiration and support for the non-profit and its mission. With rare exceptions, when it came time to put pen to check, there was great chagrin, an apologetic smile, and a statement like "I wish I could do more, I really do. But we just can't afford it."

3 comments:

Mwanji Ezana said...

Indeed, the link to the full article is in the first sentence of my post...

"It's interesting for me to reflect on new music as a strange beast that can only barely stay alive through the largesse of various societal nannies, a beast that would wither and starve otherwise"

Have times ever been "good" for new music? Were the 70s loft era jazz musicians any better off than today's equivalents?

--

I've really liked the last few combative posts.

the improvising guitarist said...

Thinking about this for a few days, it occurs to me that the description “strange beast that can only barely stay alive through the largesse of various societal nannies” could be applied to a great many things… even things that are purportedly robust and independent (such as free enterprise and free market capitalism). Big Oil, for example, may run screaming from regulation, but when times get tough, they come crying to be bailed out.

S, tig

peter breslin said...

Hey Mwanji- I'm on a roll...I have a feeling that poking around the issue of jazz-o-nomics might consume a lot of my time over the next while. I do get het up!

tig, yes indeed! This is part of what I'm stumbling around, this "free market" and "market forces" idea as a sham, as a myth that we have bought without examination.

Thanks so much for reading, more on the way....

PB