The parable of the Golden Arches

11 12 2009

There once was a blogger who decided that, after a long hiatus from eating at McDonald’s, he would finally go back and see what it was like. After all, he had heard that it serves salads now, and has tried to go with some healthier items on its menu. He wanted to see if the hordes of people who went to McDonald’s instead of all of the other eating options available were on to something. Maybe there is some profound cultural experience that he had been missing by turning his nose up at this stuff.

Sadly, he went back, and all he experienced was what he had experienced before: overly salted, fried food with all style and no substance. There is the smiling Ronald McDonald, the Hamburgler, and the bright, appealing energy of a franchise that can do no wrong. But still, he thinks to himself, is this really nutritious? Should people be eating this stuff? Is it really giving the people what they need, or are they just settling for something that is leaving them in their uncultured, undeveloped habits of food and dining?
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On art and commitment

11 12 2009

[originally posted here]

Shostakovich is a composer very dear to my heart, and not just because I am an ex-Marxist. The power, drive and idealism that his music exudes are truly astounding in a century so dominated by musical experiments that didn’t work. There was no flamboyant experimentalism in his music, even though it was indeed modern. His symphonies are unparalleled works of music in the twentieth century, and he is undoubtedly the greatest master of that genre in modern times.

Shostakovich was not a great composer in spite of being a communist. It was because of his convictions that he could write such moving symphonic works. He very much tried to be a composer of the people, even if the Stalinist bureaucracy tried to put stumbling blocks in his way.

Was he stifled as an artist because he lived in such a repressive regime? One of my favorite anecdotes is that of Bertolt Brecht moving back to Soviet-occupied Germany. When asked by Western reporters whether he felt repressed because of the censorship of the Soviet regime, he replied that at least in this socialist society, important government officials would set him aside for hours to talk to him about his work, when in the West they would simply ignore him.

Do we censor the arts and ideas by simply ignoring them? Is our own society even more toxic to the arts and culture because, rather than persecuting them, we simply ignore them? And does such a situation lower the aesthetic standard of the works that this decadent society produces?

I don’t want to impose a repressive regime on anyone, but what is the true intellectual and cultural cost of the dictatorship of personal license?