Two of the least effective words in the English language are “ought” and “should” which, when employed, are more likely to annoy rather than influence a person’s behavior. If “ought’ and “ should” had any clout, obesity would be conquered, along with alcoholism and drug addiction. Gone, too, would be child and spousal abuse, not to mention violent crimes. Further, the people of this nation would be kinder to one another, not divided on the question of universal health care and shelter for all. And, when an orchestra dies for lack of funding, like it did in Louisville, Kentucky, citizens wouldn’t picket the musicians with signs that read, “Pick up your fiddles and go home boys and girls. Maybe find real jobs.” (“Creative Destruction,” by William Giraldi, The New Republic, 2/15, pg. 44.)
As “ought” and “should” aren’t mind changers, I wonder that William Giraldi uses them freely in his article about the demise of the arts in the United States. Yes, we should buy the books we read and pay for the music that delights us instead of “borrowing” from the internet. Didn’t I say as much myself? (Blog 1/20/15) But the truth is, though we are a nation of consumers, we like free better.
At the very least, we want bargains and more than that, we want what everyone else wants. As Giraldi observes, good merchandising has turned us into a “blockbuster culture” (Ibid pg. 43). We want “the No. 1 movie, the No. 1 album, the no. 1 book,” our senses too blitzed by promotions to demand anything different or better. What’s more, the internet supports this group-think through social media, websites that pass for communities and where the norm is often the lowest, common denominator. As Neil Postman wrote in his prophetic book, by the same title, we are Amusing Ourselves to Death.
Frankly, group-think and searching for what’s cheap is killing the arts. I know, we used to believe the internet would give us more, not fewer choices; but clever marketing is herding us, like cattle, along narrow runs and limiting access. No one knows merchandising better than conglomerates like Google and Amazon. They promise the world but promote only the few. (Blog 7/14/14)
Do I exaggerate? On the surface, maybe I do. Thanks to Amazon, the publishing world seems more democratic. Anyone can be a writer. Using Amazon’s publishing service is fast, easy and cheap. Thanks to it and other companies following the self-publishing trend, there are more books being produced than in the history of humanity. Now ask yourself, who’s reading those books? You may have heard of 50 Shades of Grey, but have you heard of The Killing of the Creative Class by Scott Timber? Thank marketing for the triumph of one over the other.
To prove that our focus is narrowing, Giraldi writes, “Between 1982 and 2001, the number of American’s reading fiction withered to nearly 30 percent… Between 2008 and September 2012, there were 66 No. I songs, almost half of which were performed by only six artists…” Between 2007 and 2009, “260,000 jobs were nixed” in publishing and journalism. (Ibid pg. 41) And in higher education, the number of students majoring in the arts and humanities has plummeted. (Ibid pg 41.)
If “ought” and “should” could motivate us to care about the arts, we’d be rewarded with more variety than 50 shades of grey.