Jewish World Review May 22, 2002 / 11 Sivan, 5762

Stanley Crouch

Crouch
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Our culture is becoming cartoonish


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | If Congress ever considers a bill to abolish summer vacations for school kids, we can be sure that the motion picture industry will lobby very hard against it on the grounds that the kids should have fun.

What the movie moguls will really be talking about is not fun, but those remarkable profits that result primarily from groups of teenage boys going to see their favorite summer releases over and over. In the downward development of our national consciousness, those kids have society catering to them in more and more ways.

All this began during the 1950s, when rock 'n' roll came into being and the record business discovered that there was a large teenage audience for singers who usually couldn't sing and musicians who usually couldn't play.

Teenagers wanted music that was as obvious and as emblematic as their own naive attitudes toward life.

Eventually, there were two hit parades - one for adults, one for kids. Now there is essentially one. If you want to know what it is, take a look at MTV or VH-1 or BET. Whatever vision one encounters, one would be hard put to suggest that it has much to do with adult life or with any of the kinds of emotions that are deep and complex and that provide us with a grander vision of ourselves.

Most music videos, for all their inarguable technical adventurousness, are largely cartoons starring human beings who have so reduced themselves to shallow mannerisms that they only stand in for pen-and-ink creations.

Television also helped do the culture in, because nightclubs - those incubators and nurturers of talent - could not begin to compete with the lineup of guests on TV shows. This meant that the guy who once would have dropped a bundle taking his wife or girlfriend out was more inclined to remain indoors in front of the tube.

When the Beatles exploded in 1964, we were even more resolutely going toward what we have become. Soon, the so-called counterculture was in full bloom, and the most serious questions about life supposedly could be resolved through sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.

The era saw some grownup achievements - the civil rights movement was largely successful, and the war in Vietnam was brought to a halt. But we are still caught in the adolescent strains of that time - even if kids today are unacquainted with the political issues or even the names of the leaders who drove those movements.

That's because it's difficult to sell social revolution but easy to play to the resentments, vulgar inclinations and fantasies of the young, who want to believe that power and privilege should have nothing to do with experience or even talent. One should only want and, if the world were fair, one should get. The only problem is that adults don't understand what's going on and keep getting in the way.

That's the vision that fuels the trashing of popular culture. And it is held in place because the large corporations that produce popular entertainment never fail to make one of their big new releases a media event - publicity disguised as important cultural news.

This does not mean we need an overthrow of capitalism. We just need brave moviemakers whose goal is to bring together quality and profit. Whenever they succeed, so does the soul of our society.


JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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