Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Another bit of click bait fluff aspiring to be high culture ...

(Above: a new slogan for the Liberal party? Noted at the Ian Potter branch of the National Gallery of Victoria, which truth to tell, is really the state gallery of Victoria. By Tony Garifalakis, born 1964, titled 'Horsemen', part of a larger assembly)

It was irresistible of course.

There's no greater fool than a cultural snob, and by golly Christopher Bantick plays the role of snob and fool with exceptional style, as you can read in Another brick in the wall of Gen Y cultural decline.

Yep, it's another angry rant du jour, this time about the failure of the youff of the day to appreciate "high culture", whatever that profoundly silly term might be taken to mean.

Here's a classic example of the style, and the stupidity:

Taiwan-born director Ang Lee says he makes films to, wait for it, ''understand more about himself''. If that isn't a 70-millimetre selfie, what is? Then there is the toe-curling indulgence of those music stars, like Sydney singer-songwriter Josh Pyke. He's a 36-year-old who claims that he now ''feels he has learnt to sing''. Oh please! Can you imagine Pavarotti saying anything so crass?

Um, does taking to the stage with Celine Dion count? How about Pavarotti taking the entire staff of an Italian restaurant accompany him to Beijing for a performance of La Bohème?

Does an inclination to vanity produce a certain kind of crassness?

“Luciano used burnt cork to darken his beard, and mustache, and hair, and to cover the bald spot . . . Half the time he just looked dirty. It didn’t endear him to the hotels he stayed in, either, because all his sheets and pillowcases were black from the stuff ... ” (and much more in this review of Herbert Breslin's tell-all book, The King and I: The Uncensored Tale of Luciano Pavarotti's Rise to Fame by Hims Manager, Friend, and Sometimes Adversary, which can be found under the header My Big Fat Obnoxious Opera-Singing Client)

The trouble of course is that classical music people can be just as vain, shallow and silly as any pop star, and the pond could bore everyone to tears by recycling many many examples of this vanity and silliness at work.

The other trouble, the pond suspects, is that as a fan boi for "high culture", Bantick has never actually moved around behind the proscenium arch, and never had to deal with the eccentricities of all kinds of artists (don't get the pond started, that's how blogging as therapy started).

For some reason Bantick seems to have taken a set to Pyke. Perhaps one of his students said he liked Pyke, and it was enough to send Bantick off into a frothing, foaming frenzy:

Or how about this kind of Pyke self-centred twaddle: ''I know I can write a song every day and sing it in my voice and it will be OK, but that is not what I do it for. It's about figuring out what your reason is for doing what you're doing.'' 

Indeed, and while we're speaking of self-centred:

Engaged by the conductor Riccardo Muti to sing Don Carlo at La Scala’s opening night, Pavarotti only barely learns his part, gets nervous, and comes unglued during the performance: “There was a sense of unease from the moment the tenor walked out onstage . . . You had the feeling he might not make it. In one of the big recitatives, early on, Luciano cracked. At La Scala, they don’t take that lying down . . . people began booing.”

Now don't get the pond wrong. Pavarotti had his moments, and the pond is particularly fond of his work with Joan Sutherland and Zubin Mehta in Puccini's Turandot (go on, Gramophone the review here).

Nor does the pond encourage anyone to rip up seats at a performance of classical music, though it has happened, but is perhaps a tad too Rolling Stones ...

But on another day, why not listen to Leonard Cohen? Or Bob Dylan? Or Kurt Cobain's Teen Spirit?

Not if you're the insufferable Bantick (oh have pity for his poor hapless students):

In Australia, elitism is a dirty word. But maybe our jingoistic egalitarianism has gone too far with the sense of cultural equity. Who knows what a sonnet is, a partita, a motet, or who was Goethe or Christopher Marlowe? As for ballet, forget it. There are many other examples. Why this matters is that without a sense of cultural elitism, then the high cultural markers will atrophy. We'd rather get all teary with Leonard Cohen than concentrate, really concentrate, on Mahler.

Yep, it's that old saw that to be "high culture" it must be hard work, a real slog, an arduous bout of concentration and intense focus, or else the end of the world is nigh.

Of course Mahler, being a melody-maker with cowbells, doesn't require that much concentration. Have a bash at Iannis Xenakis some time and see how you go ...

It's a particularly useless way to approach y'artz, and it leads to all sorts of slippery slopes and pitfalls. The pond remembers being told at an early age that Gilbert and Sullivan were useless scribblers of light operettas of the most pathetic kind, and Tchaikovsky a mere melody-maker who would have been at home writing tunes for ABBA.

If you couldn't concentrate, really concentrate on Shostakovich, you were a dummy and a dodo.

But if you were stuck in Tamworth, the doctors, lawyers, teachers and bankers doing G and S were a wonder to behold ... and later you could cut your teeth on Shostakovich if that's your kink and your desire.

But there's nothing particularly profound or virtuous in making only one choice - it's a bit like listening to the radio, or speaking languages, or roaming from comic book and movie to so-called 'literature'. The more stations, the more channels, the more enlivened the mind, the further removed from the mindless pedantry of the Harold Blooms and the Leavis-ites (let no one stand between the pond and David O. Russell's hugely amusing and well performed American Hustle).

In any case, is there such a gulf between T. S. Eliot climbing down off his high Anglican extremely conservative banking tower to scribble Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, and the damn thing being turned into a damned Broadway musical?

There is if you're a pretentious ponce, but just because the pond dislikes Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cats - we could be here all day counting the ways doesn't mean we have to go on about it at tedious, Bantickian length.

Next thing you know people might be taking an attitude to Stephen Sondheim and that's less easy to forgive, though like most artists he has a fair share of turkeys.

The funniest moment?

This goes beyond subjective taste. Does Lou Reed compare with Segovia? It's a no-brainer. Still, Lou Reed took endless column inches of adulatory, valedictory prose recently because of what he achieved (not a lot).

Alas, the mention of Segovia dates Bantick and puts him firmly in the 1950s and 1960s Ed Sullivan middlebrow movement:

In the mid-50s, one out of every four Americans tuned in to The Ed Sullivan Show regularly. 

Yet his programming instinct soon led him beyond what was then considered standard variety-show fare. Not only did the Broadway-conscious Sullivan air scenes from such plays and musicals as Cabaret, The Member of the Wedding, My Fair Lady, Picnic, and West Side Story, but also Maria Callas, Van Cliburn, Rudolf Nureyev, Itzhak Perlman, Roberta Peters, Andrés Segovia, Edward Villella, and Jerome Robbins’ Ballets: U.S.A. all performed for his cameras, some of them repeatedly (Peters made 41 appearances on the program). 
 “If a comic, an actor, a singer, opera star, ballet dancer, or a lady who knits with her toes pleases me,” Sullivan said in 1968, “the chances are she’ll please everybody in town or the country.” More often than not, he was right. But he also took great care to make such “difficult” fare palatable by integrating it into shrewdly balanced mixed bills. A typical 1966 show featured the soul singer James Brown, the comedian Stan Freberg, the impressionist Rich Little, Nancy Sinatra, the U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon—and a scene from Maxwell Anderson’s 1930 play Elizabeth the Queen performed by Dame Judith Anderson. 
This willingness to present so wide a range of artists in the setting of a popular variety show was largely without precedent in TV or radio. But it was all of a piece with the tone of American popular culture in the 50s and early 60s. Throughout this period, America’s deep-seated collective longing for self-improvement, enabled by the power of the mass media, fostered a “middlebrow moment” in American culture, a period when ordinary middle-class Americans took a greater interest in high culture than at any time before or since. (The Middlebrow on Sunday Night)

Oh dear, poor Yorick and Bantick. Middlebrow Ed Sullivan viewers determined on self-improvement.

As for Bantick's students? Poor bastards, the lot of them:

Sure, private schools are in effect nurseries, or, if you like, the last bastions of elitism. I teach in one and I teach serious, classically demanding literature. Yes, it is elite, consciously so, but anything is elite if it is not pandering to the lowest common denominator. How can a book about a vacuous Sydney teenager reflecting on school, like Melina Marchetta's Looking for Alibrandi, be compared with Jane Eyre? It can't.

Indeed. And how can a short illogical rant by Bantick be compared to a reasoned essay by Francis Bacon? It can't, but you do get plenty of comedy:

 Compare the immortal lyrical beauty of John Keats, who also died young and said, ''I feel the daisies growing over me.'' 

Oh dear sweet lord, is that the best quote of Keats that Bantick could come up with?

Is he trying to make the Ween's song Push th' little daisies and make 'em come up sound like a masterpiece?

How does he feel about the Eels proposing I'll pick some daisies from the flower bed of the galaxy theatre while you clear your head, I thought some daisies might cheer you up? (Daisies of the Galaxy if you want to google it). 

Or how about Insane Clown Posse's chorus, Oh shit I've seen a beaming of a daisy Our will to survive It's amazing Look motherfucker look it's a daisy our will to survive (Daisies, if you want to google the rest of the lyrics)

Look motherfucker, you need to come up with something better than daisies or even a host of golden daffodils these days. But do wrap it up:

The ambivalence Australia has to any mention of cultural elitism is reflected in its suspicion of what appears to be difficult to understand. In this sense, schools have opted out of their responsibility to simply lift the cultural standard from Banksy to Hogarth. 

Oh okay, that's a seriously offensive comparison, insulting to both Banksy and Hogarth. But do go on:

The fear I have, is that ignorance will be seen as preferable, even desirable, while serious theatre is unviable, serious literature is not published, concert programs are reduced and other forms of cultural elevation are lost.

Cultural elevation? Won't elevator shoes do the trick?

Yep, it's the age old paranoia routine, yearning for some lost mystical golden age of y'artz and fearing for a philistine future, trotted out by mindless paranoids for centuries, and never mind the way the y'artz keep reinventing and continually astonishing for all those same centuries ...

Oh sure, the pond will admit to having spent a number of wasted hours roaming the galleries of Melbourne in recent days, trawling exhibitions where artists who couldn't draw were invited to draw, and any gaggle of post-modernist nonsense was assembled under the generic title Melbourne Now.

It was generally pitiful stuff, but there were some nice moments too, and a reminder that brave souls do, or attempt to do, and those who don't do, generally teach and write angry rants.

The pond has been on both sides of that divide, but the odd work that titillates and intrigues is worth a thousand angry rants, and if like Picasso, the work has been arrived at by way of rip off or homage, who cares, given that a genuine twentieth century genius like Picasso had no problem ripping off popular culture, African mask-makers and poor old Georges Braque...

It turned out, in the usual way, that hapless Bantick was just being used as click back and the few who bothered to write a comment were on to it immediately:

Mate, this is lazy generationalist clickbait at its worst. Ang Lee turns *60* this year. Sixty. Do some research.

And so on and being click bait, it didn't take long for a response, in the form of Emily Day's Hey Teacher! Leave them kids alone.

The most amusing piece of that piece? The typo of course:

Take that, Christopher Bentick! From Josh Pyke with love ...

The whole melancholy farcical affair turned the pond to thinking about another piece it had read recently:

....newspapers have long printed lifestyle puff pieces next to hard news, but the analogy between that practice and the current model doesn’t hold. As someone who’s written hundreds of newspaper entertainment pieces in my day, I can tell you they still, thankfully, do not take inaccuracies lightly, even minor ones. And as someone who’s written hundreds of hacky blog posts, I can tell you that it’s a practice that rots your guts from inside. Trust me. 

Actually, don’t trust me—that’s the entire point. We the media have betrayed your trust, and the general public has taken our self-sanctioned lowering of standards as tacit permission to lower their own. (The Year We Broke the Internet)

And now Christopher Bentick is doing his very best to help break the full to overflowing intertubes with another bit of click-baiting fluff ... and the Fairfaxians are helping him in their very own
Bentickian ways ...

(Below: Patricia Piccinini, born 1965, arrived Australia 1972, "The carrier", 2012, also noted in the pond's tour of Melbourne. No resemblance to Bantick's thesis is suggested or proposed).


  1. What, nothing on Bernardi? Or is that on it's way?

  2. It is rather amusing to see (if we bother to look) the way opinion writing lizards at the Oz are full of elitist opinions about culture, literacy and the Western Canon, yet accuse others who question them of espousing 'elitist' attitudes...And so amusing to see how these same 'guardians' of High Culture themselves write such unmitigated crap!


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