Jane Hirshfield (jh) Thu 27 Dec 12 13:12
We're only just at the start of this and the conversation has touched on politics and power, sense of history and forgetting history, bridges, fashion, social networks, capitalism, elections, civil society, facebook, information overload. In the old days of Eastern Europe, a young playwright influenced by a rock band could write serious (and funny) plays, philosophically informed political thought pieces, and end up president of a country; art was subversive, and mattered; it was a way to cut through censorship and to move a culture. Now we've got little censorship in the extended West except for the ways that money can drown out other voices. We've got Gangnam Style, corporations, on one hand, and on the other, worries about violence, social structures, and climate change. Is there a place for art at the table, or is that just so 20th century? In China, an artist can still be jailed; presumably, people pay attention, and that's why he's jailed. Bruce, as a writer of science fiction, do you think you have the power to move the world's rudder? Do you think any art does?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 27 Dec 12 14:05
<jh>: Love the idea of art as trim tab. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trim_tab)
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 27 Dec 12 14:49
I'm quite the Vaclav Havel fan, and I re-read some of his work after his recent death. I was thinking, "Well, he was a creature of the Cold War, this is going to seem quite dated now," but I was startled by its immediacy and relevancy -- not to Communism, but to contemporary society. Americans don't have state-supported censorship, but they do have a civil cold war, and the factions don't talk to one another at all. There's no open debate, there's no discourse. There's a little bit of room for debate within the factions but between them, there's nothing. The Republican Right lives in absolute terror of MainStreamMedia tyranny. They consider every anchor of civilization to be under relentless attack by idlers, moonbats and feminazis. If you listen to 'em, and I do, they sound like they're being bathed in acid. Every day they nail the doors of ideology more tightly shut.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 27 Dec 12 14:58
I lost a favorite uncle this holiday season. He was elderly and frail, and he had a good life -- a remarkably jolly character, really, the life of many a party -- so it's not a tragic loss, but I find that the grief touches everything I see. Grief is a worldview all its own. Grief gives reality a lunar glow. It's healthy to be placed in touch with the tragic side of life, the losses that make life's value so clear. It's like winter daylight. My uncle wouldn't want me to be all upset about his passing, and to tell the truth I'm not "upset," but I am diminished. Changes in the state of the world are marked by absences as well as by novelties. The year 2013 will be the first year of my life that does not contain my uncle. It'll be different.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 27 Dec 12 16:43
My sympathies, Bruce. Jane asks a great question. I think part of the problem for artists thes days is the fragmentation of the culture/market. My old friend Peter Case posted on Facebook a while back that he was starting a label, and my first thugh was, "Pretty soon it's going to be one man, one label." He wrote back, "It's like the fall of the Soviet Union: the playing field is completely level." That's both good and bad. It means Peter and I have better access to the market by virtue of all the amazing tools available to us for making and marketing our music, but it also means the ceiling has come down so low that the ability to make a decent living (let alone a fortune) as a musician is greatly diminished. The failure of the "music industry" is a natural result of its venality and greed, compounded by its failure to recognize, acknowledge, and adapt to the changes brought on my advancving technology. There might have been a time in the '70s when I could have made some money witha hit record or two, but I would been much more likely to have ended up in dept to the label and not even owning the rights to my own work. So I don't mourn the demise of the labels. I earned a mlower-middle-five-figure income from my musical en- deavors this year, and I think I've done better than a lot of people I know and respect. Even a successful recording artist or novelist or poet or whatever is unlikely to penetrate the culture on the level of a Bob Dylan or Francis Ford Coppola or John Irving. There are too many media, too many niches, too many subcultures, each catered to by its own channels.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Thu 27 Dec 12 18:47
hi <bruces> --- not a big general telelologically ambitious question but due to coincientally reading a lot of 90s fiction about sarajavo --- wondered how it was doing these days, how you think it's faring in the panoply of cities, etc
J. Eric Townsend (jet) Thu 27 Dec 12 18:49
I'm a fan of two musicians who support themselves by running their own labels for their own music. They don't live in SF, Manhattan, or any other expensive place. One lives in a cheap part of Arizona and the other lives (I think) outside of Edinborough in a cheap place. On the other hand, they sell music globally and don't pay a cut to an agent or a record label.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 27 Dec 12 19:11
Right! I know quite a few musicians who relocated to places where the cost of living is manageable. Access to the Internet and an airport (or an Interstate Highway) are all they really need. (PS sorry for not proofreading my post!)
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 27 Dec 12 20:08
Two good questions: Jeff: "Do we double down on where we're at, or do we stay location-light, burrow our roots into the net, and go where the wind takes us?" Jane: "...do you think you have the power to move the world's rudder? Do you think any art does?" A relevant data point: there are 7 billion people on the planet; that's a 7x increase since 1800, and it's doubled since 1970. So it's not just that we have fragmentation, an exploding number of channels, etc. We have massive increase in the number of humans, in the number of voices, the number of artists, musicians, journalists, engineers, cooks, bottle washers, etc. Jeff: I think it's a good time to take root and build - build sustainably, that is. We can't afford a lifestyle that spends too many resources, given the inevitable competitive pressure as populations grow faster than the resources to support 'em. Jane: I think it was easier for one artist to make a difference when there were fewer people, and fewer of them making art. And, for that matter, fewer rudders to nudge.
Roland Legrand (roland) Thu 27 Dec 12 20:13
So in these times aspiring journalists run their own individual media outlets, musicians their individual labels, authors their own publishing house etc. It sounds all wonderful and creative, and it is, but at the same time the pressure on people to succeed, to stay creative and awesome year after year is relentless. Their loved ones may pass away or get in distress, it doesn't matter for the market in which we're all supposed to compete on a very individual level (which includes even those still working at corporations - they're supposed to be 'intrapreneurs'). Therapists tell me about the increasing damage they see every day, caused by this increasing pressure to perform. The middle class is falling apart under the pressure of globalisation, technology and extreme competition. Should we not take this into account when discussing phenomena such as the Tea Party or outbreaks of mindless violence?
Brian Dear (brian) Thu 27 Dec 12 20:48
<scribbled by brian Wed 20 Mar 13 18:19>
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Thu 27 Dec 12 22:02
Any recommendations for Bollywood films?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 28 Dec 12 00:16
Come 2013, I think it's time for people in and around the "music industry" to stop blaming themselves, and thinking their situation is somehow special. Whatever happens to musicians will eventually happen to everybody. Nobody was or is really much better at "digital transition" than musicians were and are. If you're superb at digitalization, that's no great solution either. You just have to auto-disrupt and re-invent yourself over and over and over again. It's pretty awful to be a musician and have no possibility of health insurance (as Jaron Lanier keeps pointing out), but you could have been a Nokia engineer. You'd have been blindsided even harder and faster, and you wouldn't even have had the girls and the weed.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 28 Dec 12 00:29
Well @loris , Sarajevo has been around a long time, and it seems to be making its way in the world, but of all the former-Yugoslav countries, Bosnia-Herzegovina is definitely the worst. That area is not a nation. It's a frozen conflict. It's been frozen a long time, but it's never worked like its Dayton creators fondly imagined it would.
(Jeff Kramer) O o . o O (jeffk) Fri 28 Dec 12 04:01
<jonl> and I are both lucky to live in Austin, which lessens the argument to stay light and move to a better, more connected place. Things are pretty good here, drought and state government not included. <bruces> notes at the beginning of the thread about moods brought on by different locales has a lot of merit, though. I know I feel very different walking the streets of a new city, soaking the place in through the soles of my feet. Hemingway wouldn't have been Hemingway if he'd stayed in Chicago, <joi> wouldn't be able to do what he does if he spent all his time in Boston, and I know my trips to Mexico gave me a useful insight into how other countries incorporate the web and social media. The Internet is great for access to cultural trends, and may wipe away some vestiges of earlier times like Third Culture Kids, but sometimes it's like reading a food blog versus going to a restaurant. You're experiencing the thing, but not in the same way. I agree it would be a selfish use of resources to globe-hop for purely personal enjoyment. The only way it helps society is if you're giving something back. While we may not all be journalists or novelists, the ideas and code we produce are enriched by the places we've been and communities we've had face time with. Maybe with all the location-specific stuff that's happening, like charter cities in central America, health care technology in the Bay Area and concentrated new aesthetic art scenes in London, maybe there will be great value in having people with skills and insight and experience who can be mobile and help grow and spread these things. Maybe that's just naturally what some people do, though, so maybe the question is moot. If you're inclined to be mobile and go where the fires are, you'll do that, and the fact that you're that kind of person will inform the contribution you make.
Rob Myers (robmyers) Fri 28 Dec 12 06:51
> I hear some rumors -- and I believe them -- that Greeks are fleeing the EU and starting businesses in Belgrade. That's an interesting historical reversal. I know Serbs who once fled Belgrade to work in Greece.
J. Eric Townsend (jet) Fri 28 Dec 12 07:26
(<roland> also describes working at a lot of places in the bay area and why I'm not sorry I left. )
Paulina Borsook (loris) Fri 28 Dec 12 07:58
[more tangent] --- too bad about sarajevo, as my understanding was that it had always been previous the most cosmopolitan city in the balkan, most like a world capital. so, sorry to hear. what i have read about it most recently is that still, all the jobs are with the ngos or the gray/black economy. but carry on with the big picture talk...
David Gans (tnf) Fri 28 Dec 12 08:50
<34> great post, Jon. The expanding population puts a strain on everything, including our compassion.
Christian De Leon-Horton (echodog) Fri 28 Dec 12 10:03
>The middle class is falling apart under the pressure of globalisation, >technology and extreme competition. Should we not take this into >account when discussing phenomena such as the Tea Party or outbreaks >of mindless violence? But which middle class are we talking about--the middle class of the United States, of Europe, or of emerging economies like China? Honestly, I think what we're seeing in the United States and Europe should serve as a warning for people in the emerging economies. Control your financial elites, or they will ruin you.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 28 Dec 12 11:28
@bslesins, you shouldn't have gotten me started on recommending Bollywood movies. It depends on what you want from the experience. Bollywood flicks are definitely an acquired taste. I'm not really a cinema guy myself, so I watch them like a global media analyst -- "Hey look, this Tollywood studio has hired a New Zealand production firm! And they got Amitabh Bachchan's daughter-in-law to do the female lead!" Only farangi Bolly-geeks have that kind of fierce enthusiam. Most foreign people who want to dabble in Indian movies want to see something that's all really, truly Indian, so for that purpose, you can't beat the original Rekha version of "Umrao Jaan" from 1981. A great date movie. It's all about a lovely and sweet-tempered 19th-century Indian girl who is kidnapped and forced into gold-spangled courtesanship with some really handsome and dashing clients. The soundtrack is great, the costumes are awesome, the diva Rekha is in absolute top form here. It's one of the great Indian movies about being Indian. If you're not somehow moved by this movie, Indian cinema is not for you. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umrao_Jaan That being as it may, Umrao Jaan never made a fraction of the cash from the big-budget India pop rubbish of 2012. Indian films have never made this much money, or had this much crowd response, ever. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Bollywood_films_of_2012 "Umrao Jaan" of 1981 is a film that most any film critic would have to respect for its formal qualities, but scarcely any of these 2012 hits are much "good." They're professionally made Indian action films, comedies, and romances, made with bigger budgets, more lavish production values and more technical skill than any previous ones. If you want a taste of that, go sit through "Dhoom 1, 2, 3," or "Dabangg 1 & 2," or maybe "Jab Tak Hai Jaan" if you like dancing. "Gangs of Wasseypur" and "Shanghai" are two indie art films where energetic Indian cinema intellectuals are being very "cinema" and very "committed." I'm hugely interested in those new Indian art-cinema guys, I dig them totally and dote on all their doings. They're auteurs, they're not the mainstream; intellectuals like 'em, they're not a big deal. Pretty much any Aamir Khan film is gonna be okay. Anything directed by Karan Johar is gonna be a well-crafted crowd-pleaser. Farah Khan is a female director whose movies are extremely funny if you know enough about the Bollywood tradition to get her in-jokes. I'm more interested in the industry itself than I am with the movies per se. Thanks to Twitter I'm closer to that Bollyworld than I ever was. It's like an allegiance to any other overcrowded soap opera -- if you get emotionally invested enough in the goings-on, it doesn't much matter that it isn't actually drama. It's a soap. But it's a soap on an Indo-Global scale. Oh, and if you like science fiction, watch "Endhiran the Robot." Every colleague who watches this Tamil sci-fi movie is mind-blown by it. You think I'm kidding here. Go try it, I dare you.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 28 Dec 12 11:45
I find it disquieting when people want art to make a whole lot of difference. When Vaclav Havel went into politics he stopped being an artist. He just wrote speeches. He was an okay president because he was moral and honest, but as a head of state, Havel was never very effective. He never assembled a working coalition of the nation's power players in his court. He was an artist, he didn't have a proper panoply of heavy-duty lieutenants from industry, the military and so on. You really want music to change the world? Okay, the wife of the new Chinese premier is a career musician. Peng Liyuan. She's got plenty of clout, she's a Red Empress, a dragon lady. She's a real-deal musician, she's on TV, she's pretty, she's popular, she can sing. She's got the rank of an army general. She's gonna change your world a lot. http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1081646/chinas-peng-liyuan-first-lady-s tar-power
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 28 Dec 12 17:47
In the Mondo 2000 conference here on the WELL, back in the 90s, I started a topic called "does art transform consciousness." Everybody had an answer and nobody had an answer. (Okay, that's glib, and I should admit I don't really remember much about that conversation.) I see art everywhere. Halfway through our road trip to New Orleans today, we stopped at the Vermillionville in Lafayette for lunch: http://www.bayouvermiliondistrict.org/ "The Vermilionville Living History Museum & Folklife Park is an operating unit within Bayou Vermilion District created to preserve and represent Acadian, Creole, and Native American cultures within the region. It provides Lafayette residents and visitors from all over the world a wonderful opportunity to view a lifestyle as it occured during a time period spanning from 1765 to 1890. Vermilionville is the largest physical representation of Acadian and Creole culture in the world. The park sits on a beautiful tree-covered 23-acre site on the banks of the Bayou Vermilion in the heart of Lafayette, providing a place for music, food expression, cultural exchange, historic architecture and much more." There was a driving rainstorm, so we didn't get to revisit the park, but we'd been there before. It's a bunch of older houses with artifacts from a different time, we've visited others like this; you probably have, too. Quote from a novel called _The Go-Between_ is relevant here: "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." Historical artifacts can step us into another culture, and art can step us into another consciousness, another aesthetic, another lens on the world. When and whether it changes us is a complex question, we could probably talk about that and nothing else for the next two weeks. The answer is probably somewhere between "maybe" and "sometimes." Henry Miller said "one has to pass beyond the sphere and influence of art. Art is only a means to life, to a life more abundant."
(Jeff Kramer) O o . o O (jeffk) Fri 28 Dec 12 18:30
I wonder how long it'll be before they're scanning those historical artifacts in and printing copies on demand in the gift shop. Bruce linked to the text of a keynote Aaron Cope gave at the New Zealand National Digital Forum. I've been evangelizing it to everyone who will listen, and in that vein I'll drop a link here. Read it, it's excellent. <http://www.aaronland.info/weblog/2012/12/01/coffee-and-wifi/#timepixels>
(Jeff Kramer) O o . o O (jeffk) Fri 28 Dec 12 18:32
Oh snap, and now I see that there's a video of it as well: <http://webcast.gigtv.com.au/Mediasite/Catalog/catalogs/NDF/?state=oR6Djn2zk8fM sqLA10LF> (All the way at the bottom.)
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