Yesterday, I talked about the balance and battle between technical prowess and creative rebellion in art, music, technology, and society.
I ended by making the claim that our culture has become technical-heavy and has lost it’s ability to judge works by their intrinsic value. We’ve lost cultural context, and the evidence for this is our obsession with the visual, the organized, the computational, the nostalgic, the over-produced, the safe, the socially relevant. We’ve reverted to this state because we have no cultural context that allows us to judge works based on individual expression or depth.
It could be my imagination, but it seems more than ever that a technically-stunning photograph, for example, is praised on the internet more than something unique and expressive. In our new internet-trumps-all confusion, we’ve lost our context for judging worthwhile art for human beings – our culture has become one of nostalgia, and judging things on a technical level, because we have no other culturally relevant tools with which to process things. How much honesty is in this song? How much personal expression went into this film? Does this work speak to me on a human level, and give me something new to ponder and apply to life? Is it challenging me? Is it interesting, besides as an impressive technical achievement?
We’ve become something of an autistic-savant culture. In our worship of all things binary, we respond to things well produced. As we flutter through our troves of data, looking and listening to things for mere seconds, and we respond to things with no depth – we don’t have the time. We respond to things which are overtly well-made, solidly produced, and things which fit well into our accepted memes and ideas of tradition, and social fads. That’s all we have to go off of – god forbid, we love something because it’s unique but flawed, it actually interests us, speaks to us, we keep coming back, it keeps giving us something new every time.
Modern music is a great example. As we’ve “improved” production technology, we’ve become over sensitive to vocals being slightly off pitch, beats being anything but exactly on the beat, production being anything other than compressed, electronic, loud, bright, and predictable. It’s sad, really – we end up with boring 4/4, computerized midi beats, robotic, inhuman, less expressive vocals, and conformity and lack of dynamics in production.
I’m not conservative. I despise people who say things like, ‘classic rock is the only real music’, or classical music snobs, or, as I’ve alluded to, jazz purists. I hate that stuff. I want to progress, don’t get me wrong here. I’m anti-conservative. I want something new.
I have friends who assume my criticism of current musical and artistic trends means I don’t want to move on – they say, we’re just not culturally relevant anymore (a topic I want to criticize in a coming post – I think its time to bring cultural relevance to adults).
If I felt offended by today’s music, I would tend to agree. But I don’t feel offended. I just feel bad for artists and young people who have forgotten how to make interesting music. They’ve cornered themselves. There is nothing but dead ends everywhere. How far can you push dubstep? Over-produced pop? With a focus on the technical, everything becomes conformist, inhuman, inexpressive, and boring. It works as an initial buzz. It’s impressive – but that’s only valuable to human beings in one dimension. It gives us a buzz – it’s ear candy. That’s great, but there’s more we can do. We’re limiting ourselves accidentally.
Great music is about rebellion. Progression. New modes of thought and feeling. Unique human expression.
Current music sits well with mom and dad. That CAN’T be a good sign.
Current popular music works well in advertising – in fact, turn on the TV and wait for the commercials – it’s indistinguishable from that cool new song on the radio. That CAN’T be a good sign.
In movies, the technical has taken over. Great frame rates, great resolution, 3-D, blu-ray, bla bla. Video games have become all about graphics, but already, the gaming world is starting to see the dead end of that progression with next generation consoles failing to create much interest. Graphics? So what? Give me a valuable experience, from the heart, from the deepest part of the human mind.
Good technical skills are not useless. I don’t think that at all. I too get a buzz from incredible CGI. But I think it’s about a balance.
We’re conceptual creatures. We don’t need insane resolution or production or technical mastery to enjoy something. In fact, as conceptual creatures, we love to fill in the gaps with our imaginations. For example, I just downloaded the classic old PC game System Shock II which was on sale on Steam. I’d never played it, so I’m giving it a whirl as I’m sick in bed mostly. Even with atrociously outdated graphics, the game stands the test of time and is being talked about quite a bit lately. Great graphics, in fact, can even detract from a gaming experience… again, it’s about filling in the gaps with our imagination, our abstract thinking abilities. Need further proof? How about literature? That has absolutely no graphical resolution – it exists as a purely conceptual medium. In fact, we owe our conceptual superpowers to language, and the evolution of language, and probably vice versa as well. And a great novel is….well, timeless, beautiful, life changing.
When will the focus again fall on individuality and expression? Progressive thought, rather than social massage? We’re oiling each other up, rubbing each other’s bums. We’re all trying to fit in. We’re all confused and have no cultural context. We’re settling down, we’re giving up, we’re becoming critical of skepticism.
Art is this interesting battle between creativity and technical skill. So is technology, science, and society.
And it all starts with philosophy. Our bad philosophy of Digital Maoism (as Jaron Lanier calls it) is subverting our ability to be critical of our horrendously boring media culture. The time is now! We have the technology! Let’s make big, great, weird stuff! Let’s allow CHALLENGE back into the domain of film, art, gaming, politics! Let’s bring back individuality! Let’s love and celebrate our differences – that’s what the universe is all about, after all.