Archive for theater
Last week I attended a high-caliber symposium co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the UK’s Cultural Value Project. They brought together a dizzying array of researchers (demographers, cognitive scientists, arts policy wonks, “recovering” academics, etc.) to discuss how we ought to measure participation in arts and culture on the local, regional, national and global scale.
“Participation” and “engagement” are key metrics for arts institutions and their funders. But the inquiry often ends right there. I think the vast majority of people in the arts – including artists and administrators – take it as a given that art has a beneficial effect on society. I happen to agree with them. Wholeheartedly. But many powerful people in this world – including those who hold the purse strings – are not necessarily convinced. Funding for the arts is paltry compared to expenditures on science, where, lo and behold, we have a lot of convincing evidence about the importance it holds for humanity. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, I was very excited to launch the Media Impact Project, which aspires to be a global hub for the best research on measuring the impact of media. Supported by $3.25 million in initial funding from the Gates and Knight Foundations, I’m optimistic that the Norman Lear Center can help make media more accountable to audiences and contribute to a better understanding of the role that media plays in people’s lives.
The New York Times picked up the story and I was thrilled to see reporter Michael Cieply focus on this aspect of the program:
In April of this year, I attended Fractal’11, a truly unique conference in Medellin, Colombia, that explored the convergence of fiction, art, science and technology. The event was the perfect forum for me to talk about my winding career path, which began in an English PhD program, meandered through a Web start-up and an international multimedia company and deposited me, quite happily at the Norman Lear Center.
One of the many fascinating themes of the conference (I explored several others here) was the appeal of infotainment, material that serves two seemingly unrelated purposes: to occupy attention agreeably (as the Oxford English Dictionary defines “entertainment”) and to transmit practical information that may just contribute to your survival.
My talk about Entertainment as Virtual Reality focused on the ways in which entertainment – catchy pop songs, video games, movies, opera, toys, etc. – could be understood as simulations, little virtual reality machines that allow us to test our ideas about the world in safe, artificial spaces. Regardless of how distracting a cultural object may be, it is also a powerful transmitter of information about our world, and it can have a surprisingly profound impact on our lives well outside the movie theater, concert hall or American Girls store. Read the rest of this entry »
I was very excited to attend the Free Culture Forum in Barcelona last October: the event was quite unique in its effort to bring together a broad range of scholars and activists from all around the world to work together to develop guidelines for sustainable models for creativity in the digital age. There were some pretty noisy fights, let me tell you, but at long last, we’ve produced a great brief which, so far, has been endorsed by 69 organizations and key players in the field. Please take a look at the document and be sure to watch this fun video about the Forum and its annual entertainment showcase called the oXcars.
A few years ago, a girlfriend of mine dressed up like a pimp and her husband posed as her ho. Everyone loved it — except my friend. Hundreds of pictures and lots of laughs later, she said she’d never ever wear something that wasn’t slutty for Halloween again. “But everyone loved it!” I said. “Yeah, but Larry got all the attention!”
Women have a more than ample supply of trampy costumes to choose from these days, and I can’t help but think that demand is driving it. When I go to Halloween parties these days, I’m often amazed at the self-professed feminists, succesful businesswomen and hard-core intellectuals who turn up as French maids, horny school girls or (a perenial favorite) naughty little devils.
Don’t get me wrong. I, too, am guilty of giving in to the tramp in me. I think one reason I adore Halloween is because it gives women like me, who believe we should be taken seriously in this crazy world, a chance to do all the things that mama told us not to. Why dress up like a monster when you can be an expensive call girl instead? (When I dressed up like Anna Wintour last year, that’s what some guy thought I was.)
In a way, the most dangerous, and most monstrous thing, that a strong self-possessed woman could do in this world is to dress like a prostitute. And, of course, that’s why we like doing it.
Mikhail Bakhtin, the Russian literary critic and philosopher, talked about the political importance of the carnivalesque in literary and cultural representations (hey — wasn’t I just talking about the carnivalesque the other day?). Carnavalesque describes a subversive cultural mode that overturns our assumptions about good taste and proper behavior. Modern day carnivals do this to some extent, as well as Mardi Gras and, I would argue, Halloween. In fact, I can hardly think of any other holiday in the U.S. that so whole-heartedly commits itself to turning the world upside down, giving us a chance to become the things we fear or despise. Whether we dress up like ghouls or sluts, the act of impersonating another character is, in Bakhtin’s eyes, pretty damn subversive. It gives us an opportunity to experience our lives, briefly, from the perspective of another. Most women with strong self-esteem probably have no rational desire to be a sexual object for hire, but I think very few could argue with a straight face that they’ve never fantasized about it. Halloween gives us an excellent opportunity to confront our fears, to show surprising sides of ourselves, and to subvert our own status quo.
So what should I be this year? I’m thinking the girl with the dragon tattoo . . .
I had the rare opportunity to go to the LA opera the other night and I’m so pleased I did. I’d heard that Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro was a crowd-pleaser, but I was still surprised by the generous portions of raunchy humor, physical comedy, catty remarks, and the anarchic glee that infused most scenes. (I was missing Project Runway that night, but I think I got a good dose of the same entertainment pleasures.) Perhaps most surprising to me were the carnivalesque coalitions of characters: unpredictable ad-hoc alliances among women, men, servants and aristocrats fuelled the comedy while suggesting that the social order is very easily subverted.
I’m not familiar with the opera world: my impression is that it’s being barely kept alive by the blue-hair demographic. But, when we went to a hipster club nearby for drinks before, we immediately bumped into some young opera patrons, and during intermission on the patio my friend noticed the unmistakable aroma of mariuana smoke. Well, well, well . . . perhaps this means that opera has found its 21st century audience? If so, maybe LA Opera fundraisers have a new target: supporters of Prop 19, California’s effort to legalize pot.