The Playgoer: The New Culturally Ignorant Cultural Elite?

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The New Culturally Ignorant Cultural Elite?

An astute and thought-provoking take on the eternal struggle to win (back) young audiences to the performing arts, from the enticingly named Apollinaire Scherr at Newsday. She surveys some innovative successes of some dance troupes and venues, which only highlight how much the "big" institutions just don't get it.

But my reading of her piece is not uncritical, at least about her beginning premise. Take her lede:

My friend K. is the hippest chick I know. She's worked at The New Yorker. She's
planned projects over drinks with the paint-by-numbers art satirist Alex Melamid. She's gotten help on essays for n+1, the Y generation's Partisan Review, from Benjamin Kunkel, the Y generation's J.D. Salinger. But until last winter, she'd never been to a Balanchine ballet
I have to pause just to ask--what defines cultural "hipness" now? So far, these are all literary credentials. In an article that expresses astonishment that the performing arts (ballet, in particular) is being left out of the young culturati's toolkit..maybe we should start by questioning the cache of the above name-dropping. Not to put Scherr's poor friend any more on the spot--but what has she actually done? "Gotten help"? "Planning projects"? Sounds like some out-of-control W Hotel cocktail-hour networking more than any art appreciation or cultural consumption.

But, still, there's something to the way Scherr phrases The Problem. She continues:
So we [Scherr & "K"] went: a triple dose at the New York State Theater. At the end of George Balanchine's windswept "Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3," a man in a tux joined the New York City Ballet dancers onstage for bows. K. leaned over and whispered excitedly, "Is that him?" She didn't mean Tchaikovsky.
It turns out that you can be a discerning citizen of America's cultural capital and not know the first thing about one of the world's greatest choreographers - like, for example, that he's been dead for 22 years.
Ok, I'll admit something here: I've never been to a Balanchine ballet either! (Though I have been to others.) For that matter I've also never heard of this "n+1" whatever that is. So what do we learn? Perhaps that the current cultural class is hopelessly fragmented? From literary cosmo-sippers or theatre-obsessives like myself, have we all become too myopic about our own fields to take an interest in the arts in general?

Anyway, now that that's out of the way, please do read her stimulating (and perhaps inspiring)account of what City Center and other innovators are doing about the poor K's among us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

wow, neato--thank you for the comments and the blog. I like your take, and I DO think all criteria for hip are ridiculous--the opening was meant as something of a parody of markers of hip.

Why are you anonymous,msr. playgoer?