Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Slightly Off-Topic yet totally worthwhile

What can I say except that a star is born (complete with the dramatic flair of a seasoned performer...note the ending...rofl)

If only the music industry had more performers of this caliber...deep sigh...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Anna Nicole Smith: "The Opera": "I wanna blow you all"

I must confess, I have not actually seen this "Opera". (But I have read many of the reviews and watched the available youtube clips to get a 'sense' of the work). When I learned about this ambitiously polemic concept I was surprised...and yet, I wasn't surprised. Surprised is too strong a word for the visceral age we live in, where shock value and over the top theatricality is all too rampant. So while I can see how such an infamous public figure (and by extension the culture of over-indulgence, consumption, amorality and pop culture celebrity she represents) would make a good Opera "heroine" (no pun intended). The subject is indeed a relevant one in my view and I do find this work to be adequately justified in its aims to draw the attention of (or merge together) certain audiences.

Just a few months ago, The Metropolitan Opera House in New York hosted a "debut" recital for crossover popera sensation Andrea Bocelli. A clear indication of the times we are in. Some complained, while others shrugged or hailed it as a smart move by the Met. I for one, will say that lucrative ploys like these are just that: lucrative. I don't mean to sound redundant but any and all other meanings we attach to these 'events' are just reflections of our own perceptions of whatever art form we choose to focus on. These perceptions can indeed be justified but not rendered absolute. Absolutism often times caters to pretentiousness. With art and music, nothing is really static. The greatness of a work of art is its relative 'nature' which ultimately defies our own limited ways of understanding.  Otherwise, what is the value of going to see something that was composed 200 years ago if all there is and ever was to know about that body of work died along with its contemporaries?

Like everything else in life (whether we choose to 'believe' it or not) art is highly subjective and the more we are willing to input the more we shall receive. This is what I call the art of minimalism. The effort of the artist is perhaps minimal or "fundamentally basic", but that of the audience must be great: a relationship that is greatly undervalued in pop culture where doing the intellectually lazy thing is perhaps being mistaken for entertainment. So, instead of broadening our horizons we are severely limiting them.

This brings me to why I cite the title "opera" in quotation marks above. To my knowledge, no test for any major artistic work is perhaps greater, more telling or more daunting than the test of time. If (and that's a big IF) indeed ANS does manage to be included in the 'great' canon of Operatic masterpieces, then and only then will much of the opera going public consider this a 'true' Opera in the wholistic sense. But in order to achieve this iconic status, it must be received well. This is no small task for a modern day work that aspires to own the title of "Opera", namely because, Opera audiences are not the most welcoming bunch of aficionados. This can be attributed to many reasons (the most stereotypical being a stuffy elitism and entitlement) but for the purposes of this blog we will concentrate on performance standards. Opera is an art form that staunchly resists any form of tawdriness, particularly if the subject-matter is in one way or another 'popular.' But now a days, new media is inverting the relationship between the kitschy and the elite I think, precisely because of performance standards. Opera, on the one hand, is reluctant to lend its title to any work that does not possess certain 'essential' and 'intrinsic' musical regalia, while pop culture and its staunch followers seem to be dressing certain musical features in drag and calling it "high art" a la Lady Gaga. Neither extreme is good, but one certainly presents itself at face-value.

I will elaborate on these ideas in later posts...but getting back to the subject of ANS...

   If the work falls into obscurity, then it will surely be placed in another "less worthy' category such as a Bio Opera (Parody) or something along the lines of John Gay's "The beggar's Opera" now considered a "mock" or "ballad" opera. Both "Anna Nicole Smith" and "The Beggar's Opera" contain operatic elements and motifs, but they are also highly specific pieces of music with nationalistic tendencies, altogether making them highly liminal, which to me seems far more interesting than some poor excuse of a Madonna song, catchy as it may be.

Monday, March 21, 2011

"The Role and Responsibilities of Law Schools in the Deconstruction and Resurrection of the Music Industry"....Can I get some fries with that?

Upon reading the article cited above (I dare not re-type that overwrought title) I couldn't help but cringe a little at some of its implications. The main gist of the argument is that by rejecting innovative and rapidly evolving technologies, the music industry is and has been fighting a loo$ing battle when (lightbulB) law schools can provide the necessary ammunition to fight back for the sake of the artists. Hypothetically, this would be achieved  by making changes to copyright laws that protect the interests of the artist as well as providing free "law clinics" or "a series of organized forums [that] could take place across the world, videotaped and posted on the internet for viewing." This would then facilitate a dialogue which "would be presented as an industry-wide solution to problems." Cue the violins and John Lennon's "Imagine": the ammunition just turned into a down pouring of glitter. Speaking of glitter:

Frankly I just don't see this happening. In fact there is a substantial contradiction in the article that perfectly demonstrates the flaw of this argument. The authors point out that "Congress typically gives the most weight to those entities with the most industry clout and deepe$t pocket$" which, though unfair, indeed seems true, especially in this staunchly capitalist, free-market society. Yes there are laws and "special interest" organizations that protect the rights of minorities and individuals, but people don't always know or have access to these sorts of entities. (Example: How many women who are somewhat interested in politics and have thought about running for office know about EMILYs list? I didn't until a took a class on Women in Politics, which is still categorized as a special interest within the political science field, given it is not one of the "main" courses).

 Law schools could potentially lend a hand and make policy alterations that would benefit the recording artist and their respective label, but for me the problem lies in the lack of objectivity that would plague the man power it would take to organize something like the article proposes (namely some sort of "shopping meta-database" that stores information about artists and their music). The article freely admits that "at least some (for me that's a modest estimation) accept contributions from the very self-interested parties that would seek to sway any solutions. Moreover...many law schools depend on adjuncts and part-time professors, who work for and represent these self-interested parties, making influence possible." I would add that in this economy, the influence, or gross bias really, is more than possible: it is highly likely. Yes subjectivity is in many ways inescapable (and can be beneficial), but when your job requires you to be as level-headed, hard-working and as objective as possible without any form of compen$ation, "double vi$ion" (i.e. ambition) may start to kick in. In effect, the words "lawyer" and "ambitious" are practically synonymous. Asking that somebody dedicate time and effort into something for which they will not be paid is asking a lot.
 Believe me, I hate stereotypes about lawyers as much as the next person, especially as an aspiring law student but I'm afraid this one has some truth. Law $chool is expensive. Lawsuits are expensive. Maintaining a certain standard of living is expensive. Therefore, a lawyer's time and energy is expensive. So, asking that lawyers and potential lawyers provide a sort of pro bono service in order to "reconstruct" the music industry is a little like asking a cat to bark.

In all seriousness though, in this age of social Darwinism, should we really endow an institution that functions on the basis of monetary incentive (both for itself and clients) more leverage than it already has?

Furthermore, the law (as it stands and it was 'designed') simply cannot be updated at the pace of some of these newly developing technologies that are readily available to anyone with access to a computer, because as noted in the previous post, new media is asynchronous and highly personal, while the law is not. In order to pass a new law or modify an existing one, it (the law) must pass through an arduous and time-consuming process of acquiring a majority of votes and in many cases is vetoed and/or filibustered several times. The legislature functions, as we say with Opera, in lyric time,  meaning events unfold at a substantially slower pace (for dramatic effect) than real time.

I propose that since the debacle of the music industry was largely promulgated by surging (and in some ways re-surging) technologies, only those (same?) technologies can and should dissipate attention away from the waning sales, especially since the issue is not the music industry itself (which has become a symbol for capital and power really) but the actual artistic performers and how to acquire some form of copyright or compensation system that values their artistic expressions and the effects they have on society.
Law schools may help, but they can just as easily add fuel to the fire (and in many cases do), in which case instead of a resurrection, destruction and chaos would result.

Having too many Lawyers in a society is like having too many French fries: a select few are good but too many can be unhealthy.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

New Media

Upon reading the aptly titled chapter "New Media" in Baehr & Schaller's book, Writing For The Internet, a somewhat stark realization came to my attention: the 'new media' phenomenon that has rapidly accelerated over the last decade or so is part of a narrative that is not quite so new, but is rather both 'traditional' and (paradoxically) contemporary. The reason I say this 'new media' trend is paradoxical is that, notwithstanding that modernity does break from the mold of tradition many times over, in this particular case I think it doesn't.

The chapter I have cited above supports the claim that 'new media' is new in the sense of actual technologies that are constantly evolving, but can still be 'defined' or as Baehr and Schaller put it "logically tied" to "previous or existing (mass communication) theory". However, 'new media theory' is still very much in its infancy.

 There is, most definitely an aspect of "demassification" to 'new media' that caters to a more personal yet interactive "micromedia experience" (or a niche culture, if you will) and because it is also asynchronous new media technologies (such as the Internet) are largely assumed to be 'groundbreaking'. But in the case of some major corporations that didn't altogether embrace these new technologies (such as file sharing) it resulted in their demise (Tower records is a prime example).

The main justification for the traditional aspect of new media stems from the observation B & S made about new media theory not being a linear progression, so essentially one can surmise it can regress in some ways, or further entrench certain values in our society that maintain the status quo. A clear example of this is how most of the information presented to us is still controlled by government agencies, big business corporations and mainstream media websites. B & S cite the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today as examples of media outlets which are garnering a plethora of hits online even as printed media is rapidly declining which ultimately still grants them a substantial amount of influence if not profit.

In addition to the mainstream media, the Internet itself can be used as a prime example of something once thought of as the idealistic medium that would spark a sort of virtual enlightenment and with its birth would finally put an end to the age of blasphemy and slander. Finally, the spread of democracy and "great truths" would now reign supreme.
         Sadly, this has not been the case. Feel free to start pouting, though on the other hand, some of you cynics might proudly be sporting a huge "I told you so" grin because, well, those sentiments seems like something taken out of a fairytale, or to be more accurate a Disney version of a fairytale. For those of you who are not familiar with the original "Sleeping Beauty" and "Snow White" stories, you are in for a rude awakening. But alas, I digress. If, however I have now irreversibly peaked your curiosity, my friend Google can surely clarify things for you. Or can he?


Because of potential mass audiences, the internet has in many ways become a playground for major corporations and their propaganda, evidenced by the adds that incessantly 'pop-up' at every corner of the world wide web. Take Facebook, which is free of charge yet still has adds for big brands, blockbuster movies and the like tepidly (yet permanently) displayed on the right side of every "wall". Or Youtube which, thanks to Vevo has as many commercials in between songs as any basic cable television station. Or You Name It (which to my knowledge is not in existence, but it's only a matter of time now).

Twitter is probably the best example of a new media 'device' that instead of giving your average Joe (or Jane) a voice has given further clout to celebrities and celebrity culture. Just this week we learned that Charlie Sheen was fired from the sitcom Two-and-a-Half Men. That same day he gained 200,000 followers on Twitter. A man obviously known for his self-less dedication to his craft and charitable deeds for humanity, one wonders if this "celebrity culture" is not some renaissance of the "old aristocracy" only without or outside of any and all ethical or lawful boundaries and 'glass ceilings' in place that apply to the rest of society.

Edit: Charlie Sheen quote: I am on a drug. It's called Charlie Sheen.

Read more:

So you see, just because something is new in the technical sense, theoretically it can be viewed as an apple falling from an over-arching tree, because while the technology may be different, the person behind the large or small screen still adheres to a system that perpetuates traditions within society. In other words, it may take two seconds to communicate with someone on the other side of the world instead of two hours, two days or two weeks, but the themes common to societal standards of power still prevail. This is not to say we should sit back and re-hash the same antiquated theories to explain emerging technologies, but this situation still begs me to ask the question of whether this hyper-subjective yet controlled medium we are communicating through, of which blogging is a prime example, is really all that different from the letter-writing days of old. Well, until we catch up to technology, or until there is really a unique engagement with these platforms that alter the way (western) society is structured and the little engines that could (i.e. true entrepreneurs) aren't consumed by massive corporations (i.e. Google) that are only looking to satiate their financial needs I am hesitant to say this media is all that "new". Or at least not new, new. Just semi-new.

I encourage you to keenly watch the video I have posted as a supplement to what I just outlined and post your thoughts below.