Tony Brooke: On the Commercialization of the Arts and the Loss of American Individualism

by Tony Brooke

(Written in 10/92 for The Vid, an independent zine)

You might argue that our city, state and national governments are hopelessly mired in a tangle of bureaucracy, self-interest and patronage. It will take more than putting a Democrat back in the White House to eradicate these problems. You might also think that the moral fabric of America is permanently stained with racial differences and rampant commercialism. Well, the fatalist agrees while the optimist dreams. Meanwhile, the rest of us scratch our heads and try to examine our own lives in the context of the world. But, do we actively look, or do we just see? Do you listen, or do you just hear?

There is no better indication of American feelings than our popular culture. The problem lies in determining what is a realistic snapshot of modern Americana and what is fed to us by emotionless marketing. These days, honest cultural productions are increasingly hard to find. With some work, though, we can sift through all of the fads handed down to us by the profit-driven culture barons, and find true creativity. Our national and individual characters are at stake; not for fear of losing our precious "we're # 1" world status, but for fear of losing touch with our own individualism.

If the government/corporation is (economically anyway) the backbone of the country, the arts are the nervous system. The question is: are the arts that we are exposed to sympathetically driven, or have they become some knee-jerk reaction to the latest CNN polls and demographic reports? Are the innovative, creative minds who reside in our USA really being heard? Or are they starving in some loft, unable to get exposure? Rhetorical questions serve little to alleviate the problem: most of us rarely look at the mass media with any scrutiny. Sure, we malign "the system," and kick ourselves for watching 90210, but then we turn the channel and life goes on. Do people count or does People Magazine?

What's the solution? Corporate culture is too deeply entrenched in our attempt at Democracy to have it excised. We all need to take a step back and reexamine how we get our news, and how we learn of cultural creations and events. No single outlet of information is correct. A plurality of opinions and sources of opinions must continue, but without a critical eye, a conglomeration of group-think outlets is inevitable.

Take a chance. Visit a museum in a part of town you ordinarily avoid. Go see a type of music you think you won't like. Turn off the TV and listen to National Public Radio for news and opinions. Ignore the polls and vote for those who you think will selflessly lead. Try sushi. Drive the freeway less traveled. Doubt.