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'Our Demented Therapeutic Culture'

by Dennis Báthory-Kitsz

February 21, 1998

This morning I had one of those nexus moments. You know the kind ... when everything comes into perspective and your jaw drops in horror and you ask 'what is going on here?'

By themselves, these nexus events seem innocent enough:

At first we felt a slow tide and thought it innocent. Then we saw the long, rolling waves, and wondered what they meant. And now we discover that we are drowning in a placid ocean of comfortable, regressive, inflexible, unimaginative, two-dimensional, smiley-faced, see-no-evil fear of expression. A simple, wet, cold fear.

Commercials are bloated with music of the past -- and not just old songs, but the original artists. Listening to commercial television regales the baby boomers -- my generation, for goodness sakes, my experimental, adventurous generation -- with a lullaby of tunes that bathe us in our past, while today we do nothing but ... recollect. We love it. What horrific old people we'll be!

Now this: Local educational television changes its name to public television just in time to pay less attention to the actual creation of local art and music. Instead they give us the opportunity to watch, yes, Lawrence Welk reruns. Lawrence Welk reruns! What is this? A dead guy and his pabulum instead of live women and men and their music? You bet. Easy. Like when we were kids (we seem to remember).

Ah! And public radio -- award-garnering public radio -- features the likes of Garrison Keillor, whose slow, ponderous tales of rural life (that never existed) are the stuff of adoration. Adoration! People repeat his stories' closing lines like a prayer. Who will ever hear a word or a note or a thought on such a show that hasn't been worn down like a midwestern welcome mat?

And the Web. Now there's the thing. The Internet. Hoo-hoo, all progress and glittering new-fangledness and flashing cursors and Macs and Pentiums, right? Not on your life. Websites which actually use its multidimensional strengths are shoved aside by old media gussied up in web clothes ... and then they're made comfy. And if you're an artist without the right clothes, baby, get off the bus. Never mind that you may be multidextrous in the real thing, nuh-uh.

Okay, so what's wrong with comfy? Here's what 'comfy' has wrought. An educational philosophy which teaches kids to cooperate, to be machine cogs, to get ready for business, to squelch negative opinions, to fetter their imagination. If a kid survives as a unique, singular artist, it's an achievement against odds in what Rex Murphy calls, "our demented therapeutic culture".

And we have a business climate that has turned the notion of freedom into a business proposition, where artistic worth is determined by sales, box office, best sellers, top-ten's. How many albums Floyd Cramer has sold worldwide, they tell us, that paragon of mediocrity. Yanni is 'one-man musical cliché', Time magazine says -- as if it didn't contribute to it. Music is deemed valuable by what it promotes, not what it says for itself. Mozart wouldn't survive it, that's for sure.

You think not? You think not?

Oh, we're not innocent here on Kalvos & Damian. We're afflicted by this, too. We paw through our collection of CDs, subvocalizing 'too long', 'too harsh', 'too complicated' -- we have to shake ourselves awake, to remind ourselves that music is an artform about acoustic discoveries, not just part of an American quarter-century of bread and circuses.

So what's my point? Ever pump your fist in the air at two points? Ever wonder why? So forget the b-ball and hit up your public broadcasting outlets for some new music. Drop a note to companies to dump the Sixties from their commercials. Ask Keillor & Company their opinions on euthanasia. Erase that thought-eviscerating nanny software from your computer, your library's computer, your school's computer. Turn off The Brady Bunch, get that online connection smokin', and dive into hypermedia. If a tune makes you wince or wonder why anyone would compose it, listen to it twice. Three times. All day.

Experiment. Look for adventure. Our cultural imagination is being washed away, and by the time this ocean recedes, we'll all be nothing but blanched shells.

Now let's play some music!

Copyright ©1998 by Dennis Báthory-Kitsz. All rights reserved.