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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

alex dirty beaches in gq- full page

          This opportunity was developed by Jeff Anderson at Solid Gold Public Relations- now opening an office in New York City.  Dirty Beaches- GQ- tuxedo- from the December issue.
           Jeff Anderson...delivered the goods with the Dirty Beaches Badlands campaign.  Personally, I wanted to hire him for that job because of his work on Best Coast, and for him to turn around and work Best Coast in 2010 and Dirty Beaches in 2011- whatever one's personal preference about either act- the results? Undeniable.
          Alex was essentially an unknown outside of the noise tape underground as of 12/31/10 and within the year- WITHIN THE YEAR- he's doing national print media.  Of course, it's all credit to the artist, but you can't accomplish it, not really, without PR.

Monday, November 21, 2011


In Praise of Commercial Culture
by Tyler Cowen
p. 1998
Harvard  University Press

   Any discussion about "culture" starts with the potential for great confusion.  Culture has multiple meanings- most often it is either used in a broad sense- culture as an assortment of believes, customs and shared assumptions that bind a community together in time and space.  Or a narrow sense- to refer to Arts.  This narrow term is summarized in Cowen's In Praise of Commerical Culture:

  I use the terms culture and art interchangeably to cover man-made artifacts or performances that move us and expand our awareness of the world and of ourselves.  I have in mind painting, sculpture, music, film architecture, photography, theater, literature and dance.

    The broad usage is defined in Eric Jones, Cultures Merging: A Historical and Economic Critique of Culture as, "the pattern of beliefs, habits, and expectations, of values, ideals and preferences, shared by groups of people, large and small."

   Much confusion results when writers attempt to talk about both meanings in the same article or how both meanings are manifested in a specific individual.  The broad meaning is more methodologically controversial, the narrow meaning is a widely accepted synonym with a 300 year traditions of philosophical debate.  The network of concepts that lattices the broader meaning of Culture is essentially specialist only territory, whereas the usage as a synonym for the arts was/is/always will be a topic of great interest to specialists, and non-specialists alike.

  In Praise of Commercial Culture- written by a professor of Economics from the United States, is a good example of just how  the discussion of culture as arts continues to generate ample debate well into the present. day.  Unfortunately, the great majority of this discussion- the nature and quality of culture as arts, is the equivalent of cave dwellers making cave paintings: possessed of their own beauty, certainly, but not particularly technically sophisticated.

      That is because even as the Arts themselves develop a larger audience over time, the average interest level of that audience declines.  This observation, at the dilution of the attentiveness of the audience as it expands, is itself at the heart of Cowen's great distinction, Cultural Optimists vs. Cultural Pessimists.

       This distinction spans time, space and ideology to embrace practically the entire history of ideas that surrounds the Arts.  The main school is that of Cultural Pessimism, "Cultural pessimism comes from various points along the political spectrum and transcends traditional left wing/right-wing distinctions.  Its roots, in intellectual history, include Plato, Augustine, Rousseau, Pop, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Spengler.
       Cultural Pessimism has modern advocates, including Harold Bloom, Neil Postman and a legion of arts critics in every country of the world.  For people who actually think about a subject like "the meaning" of the Arts, or a specific Art, this is the "default mode."  In other words, if you are reading this and you have an opinion on the subject "Is a specific Art or Art generally getting better or worse over time?"  you are likely to answer, "Worse."

       Although Cowen does an excellent job in detailing the specific views embodied by the modern advocates of Cultural Pessimism towards the Arts, he doesn't do a very good job of explaining, "Why Cultural Pessimism?" as he purports to do at the end of this book.  His answers are illuminating: Old people don't like new things!  Artists are alienated by capitalism!  Parents don't like new things!  Religion is jealous of the power of the Arts! but pretty shallow.

     I think a better understanding is reached by looking at the maintenance and generation of ideas about art over time as constituting a cultural(broader sense) system, and thus subject to systemic analysis. Shared ideas have their own force, which tends to grow or diminish over time.  The shared idea of Cultural (narrower sense) Pessimism is clearly a winner.  Just how strong the playing field favors Cultural Pessimism is demonstrated by the weak, hesitant nature of Cowen's argument, which largely takes the form of a rather timid argument that market capitalism supports, rather then hinders a Culturally Optimistic view point.  I agree with what Cowen is arguing, but he doesn't go far enough- and that's by decision.

  An Economist, Cowen isn't interested in engaging Plato and T.S. Eliot on their own terms, he is simply summarizing and cataloging their viewpoints.  Personally, I think  In Praise of Commercial Culture would have been better received. (700k rank in book sales.)  Considering that he is specifically seeking to invalidate the ideas of writers of Harold Bloom and Neil Postman, you'd think he would steal some of their better ideas in terms of popularizing an unpopular idea (Cultural Optimism.)

   The position of advocating for Cultural Optimism is clearly vacant at the present moment- really, it's not even a debate that exists outside of this book, but personally I think the Cultural Pessimists are simply wrong for a lot of reasons- a lot of the same reasons that caused me to start writing by own book on what is essentially the same subject (former title: False Consciousness: How Intellectuals Misunderstood the Importance of Art)  but minus the Cultural Pessimist schematic and the hoary analysis of Cultural Pessimism and its causes.


Sunday, November 20, 2011


The Concept of Cultural Systems:
A Key to Understanding Tribes and Nations
by Leslie A. White
p. 1975
Columbia University Press

    The title of this book should actually be "The Concept of Cultural Systems: From The Perspective of An Anthropology Professor."  White is a crucial figure in the second generation of American social scientists, who helped elevate the so-called social sciences from rank Darwinian influenced mumbo jumbo to something approaching a useful, non-racist perspective on human society.

   Writing in 1975, White was writing as someone who had been rewarded for his progressive views- he was the chair of the Anthropology Department of the University of Michigan after World War II- which was a comfortable place to be.  In 1975 the transition from using a metaphor of Darwinian/Biology to using a Systems/Functionalist approach to describe human culture was firmly in effect, and The Concept of Cultural Systems works as a kind of short summary of that specific transition- the how and why of intellectuals ceasing to describe society as a kind of biological organism, and beginning to describe it as an interdependent system.

    One distinction is important to maintain if the concept of cultural systems is to be useful:  Cultural systems are not people and do not possess morals and ethics like individual humans.  Rather, systems are subject to the influence of vectors- which in this book means "groups of people with common interest."  White's repeated use of lobbying examples drawn from the Federal Government of the US in the New Deal era to illustrate the impact of vectors on cultural systems is a clear indicator of his perspective.

  White's repeated description of a cultural system as an integrated whole stood in opposition to the first generation of American anthropologist- Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict- who were similarly obsessed with the way cultures allegedly transferred traits from one to another.

  The transition from biological metaphor to systems metaphor is documented by White but not really examine, however considering the role of technology and business in 20th century life it's easy to see how an anthropologist might spend more time thinking about society as a kind of integrated system.

  One later insight that White is either ignoring or did not agree with is the critical role that the State plays in any society that possesses a state- he often alludes to the lobbying of the state by business interests as an example of how "vectors" influence cultural systems, but he fails to acknowledge that the very fact that businesses bother lobbying the state is a testament to the state's importance in their "mind."

  White's emphasis on analyzing cultural systems without attaching moral judgments about those systems being good and bad is well taken- and that seems to me to be a foundation of the new social sciences of the late 20th century- analyzing cultural systems and vectors without judging those same systems.

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