The Playgoer: Theatre: Elitist, or just Culturally Useless?

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Theatre: Elitist, or just Culturally Useless?

"What we seem to have nowadays is more of a hierarchy of media...whereby, for example, dance, classical music, opera, and even theater and books, all of which commanded their own sections in Time magazine only a generation ago, are now regarded as lofty and remote subjects for only a handful of connoisseurs." Those pages, he said, are "given over now to a Britney watch or extended investigations into the new iPhone."
-Pico Iyer, quoted in Scott Timberg's LA Times "thinkpiece" on the current tectonic shifts in "high vs low" in our cultural tastes.

Iyer (one of many interviewed) goes on:
Instead of feeling guilty about reading pulp novels, he said, we worry that we've become "elitist" if we go see chamber music or jazz. "The culture as a whole seems to have decided which arts are elitist and which ones popular, and so made some people feel guilty to be watching European movies [otherwise known as art-house stuff] or to be reading novels not likely to be turned into screenplays."
Is this essentially theatre's problem in the current hip scene? Just too damn "elitist" to admit to?

I think the giveaway is in what Iyer says about the "IPhone" coverage. If it's not a commodity, it doesn't get covered. A movie, remember, is not a performance--it's a DVD, or will be shortly, packaged for your consumption. So is a music album, even if now in the form of downloadable tunes.

But aside from "Phantom"-style concession-stand merchandising, theatre has nothing much to sell beyond the tickets, does it? If consumers can't buy a piece of it to take home, and (more important) if investors can't buy a piece of it...then what use is it to the editorial staffs and readership of our mainstream media?

It's not really about "elitist" vs "popular", I would argue. It's about profitable vs...well, nonprofit!

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