I dislike entertainment. I can’t stand entertainers and I know what I am talking about. I used to be one of them. I don’t mind being entertained, inadvertently by something I notice around me, something that was not intended to be entertaining, and most of what I observe around me every day is actually very entertaining. What I dislike is people setting out deliberately to amaze me, to make me laugh or cry or forget my troubles. It is part of my resistance to being manipulated, and it seems to be the very purpose of that mind-numbing Tsunami of information and artifice that engulfs us every minute of our lives. While not very long ago people sought to be entertained after their workday or work week, wishing to relax with some mindless fluff, or wishing to escape their misery with some compelling distraction, today we are being entertained not just during work, but during every other activity, from going to school, engaging in politics, or doing business.
Consider a business consulting meeting without some pre-planned well-timed jokes, visual razzmatazz, and some very entertaining group activities. It just couldn’t happen. You want to find out what happens in the world, and you get actors (what else are “anchors”?) presenting you with little featurettes with dramatic musical background. You drive to work with Vivaldi. You surf the net instead of working at the office and pick up the latest moronic YouTube joke or celebrity gossip. Literature is reduced to a Tweet.
The “arts and entertainment” industry is no longer limited to films and TV and musical acts and the odd Broadway show we might take in while on a rare visit to New York. Today the industry is run by conglomerates that also control news, information, and politics, and who apply the same manipulative production principles to all forms of information exchange. The purpose of information is no longer to enlighten but to distract. By concentrating all forms of human communication in just a handful of corporate entertainment centers we have now succeeded in filling every waking minute with distracting content that has a single purpose - to make us NOT think, to make us buy, spend, and toe the line.
Notice the term “Arts and Entertainment”. It is a telling emblem of what is happening to our culture. By lumping art, that timeless and sacred expression of our innermost vision, with the mindless diversions intended to make us forget reality, by merging them into a single field, the purveyors of culture have in fact capitulated to the gods of commercial success. No matter how sophisticated a painter, choreographer, or novelist is, or is made out to be, the pipeline to his or her audience goes through those same boardrooms that hold absolute control of the culture “market”.
You can’t be successful without a Vaudeville act. An artist today faces a simple choice - to have an audience and be an entertainer, or to speak whatever unadorned truth or nonsense they manage to dredge up from deep within themselves and express it in total obscure isolation. There is no middle ground between these two choices, no compromise that doesn’t end up going through an entertainment boardroom.
If you think that avant garde art, the grunge stuff of starving artists in unheated garrets is immune, just step into the Armory Show, that annual extravaganza in New York City that brings together the most “provocative, off beat, and cutting edge…etc. etc.” merchants of art from around the world, and see if you don’t walk away from it with a dizzy headache and the kind of ringing in your ears that you would normally get from an auto trade show.
Today, more than ever in human history, what is sorely lacking is silence, empty space, information vacuum. But since most urban dwellers are unlikely to have the possibility of retreating to a mountain top or a monastery, and since “spiritual practices” like yoga and Tai Chi have been turned into “power practices”, quick and noisy, with the result of adding rather than reducing the stress and noise level, what can artists do to increase silence and empty space for society?
Staying silent may be the most urgently needed act for any artist. Creating in isolation, not seeking an audience may be second best. Eventually the tide must turn (as it always does). An art of silence may emerge, soundless music, blank slate art, motionless dance - the art of nothing.
The Kvetching Factory
"Start every day with a smile and get it over with" (W.C. Fields)