Look for Silver Artistic Lining

By Rob Patterson

Obama is elected, and at least to us on the left who don’t feel his centrist moves and appointments break the faith, there seems to be hope for a better America. But the economy still remains shaky at best, and aspects of the tenor and results of the election suggest that a contentious divisiveness still percolates in the populace. Some kind of tough times are likely ahead.

What will this mean for entertainment? A blogger for England’s Guardian was also pondering this question as well recently, specifically as it applies to music, thinking along the same lines that I’ve held for some time: Bad times equals good music. And extending it further, better entertainment overall. By the same token, political and social unrest and even conflict also seem to generate better creative popular artistry.

It’s risky to extrapolate too much from the past into the future, and never so much as now. Every era’s specific context has its effect on what the entertainment community creates. And the tools of creation and delivery of entertainment have certainly never changed so rapidly since the blossoming of computer and digital technology. We live in an entertainment world that has changed indeed.

But I believe that the case can still at least be made that the tougher the times, the better what we listen to and view. If history repeats itself, that’s what can be expected.

The Great Depression was certainly, for all the suffering and difficulties of average Americans, something of a Golden Age for entertainment, especially popular entertainment. As I hum “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?”—these days, as I write this, it’s fat cats asking the American people if they can spare billions for their risky wheeling and dealing—I think about how in tough times people seek relief from such in entertainment.

From the mid 1960s through the early 1970s, the economy might not have tanked, and the era was largely prosperous (back then I never expected to be an old-timer recalling a time when you could put a buck’s worth of gas in the tank and ride around all day). But at a time when Stephen Stills sang of “battle lines being drawn, when everyone’s right and nobody’s wrong” in “For What It’s Worth” by The Buffalo Springfield, music, film, drama, literature and art enjoyed a creative renaissance of epic proportions.

In the fall of 1975, I moved to New York City. It found itself basically bankrupt, and on asking the Feds to bail the burg out and being turned down by then-President Gerald Ford—ironic that a city couldn’t get help then and now the capitalist bastards just might—the New York Daily News ran its famed headline on the front page: “Ford To City: Drop Dead.”

Yet New York came alive if not blossomed with an artistic and creative boom of epic proportions that reverberated the world round. In music there was punk rock, new wave, hip-hop, no wave, art rock, loft jazz, and even some of the best folk to come out of what largely seemed like a moribund Greenwich Village scene. And at the same time, visual art, film, theater and to some degree also literature did the same, all of it intermingling and mixing in what I see as maybe the last great flowering of bohemian culture, certainly in New York (now a yuppie workplace, playground and shopping mall for the most part) and maybe the planet (I hope not, but don’t see signs of anything similar on the horizon.)

As to what the future may hold, it’s always best to just say, we shall see. If, as some posit, America is on the decline, it will affect entertainment, art and literature. A major strain of anthropological thought suggests that the greatest art comes from cultures in decline. The desire for change for change and the sense of hope evoked by Barack Obama, reflected in the both opinion polls and votes at the polling places, shall hopefully continue. That has and will certainly resonate in entertainment and art. And what’s called the “culture wars” will persist and have its obvious effect on popular culture.

It’s certain that a weaker economy and tough going for many, from corporations to Joe Six Pack (or whatever the latest Average American Joe may be). I certainly don’t want to wish for bad times for better entertainment. But if we are going to live under dark clouds, it’s nice to know that maybe we’ll also at least enjoy a silver artistic lining.

Rob Patterson is an entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@io.com.

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2008

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