Mr. Spock suggested that “V-ger” – a massive, out-of-control space station hurtling towards Earth on a mission to destroy the planet – was behaving like a child.
“Spock,” McCoy replied, “this ‘child’ is about to wipe out every living thing on Earth. Now, what do you suggest we do? Spank it?”
I mention this here because every now and then someone takes the modern world to task for its lack of interest in classical music. Often, this ardent supporter will scold the culture at large, declaring that society today ought to be more respectful of the grand musical tradition is has inherited. And often such arguments take a judgmental tone: the public should educate itself about classical music, and failure to do so is somehow unjust, or a neglect of duty.
This is what I call “spanking the culture.”
And I was recently reminded of how weirdly obsessive and hopelessly out of touch culture spankers can seem when I saw a clip from the film Bad Teacher. (See here – but be forewarned that offensive language is used.) Although no doubt sincere, these people are not helping.
Contemporary Western culture is a vast and complex thing – and it will take more than a few isolated voices telling it what it ought to like to make it change its course. Furthermore, if a culture decides to abandon an art form that it once valued and cultivated, how is that not its prerogative? And as for Mozart, he didn’t have to resort to arguments of moral suasion to convince the impresario Immanuel Schickaneder to stage his Magic Flute in 1791. Back then, new works were what the public wanted and expected.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not pleased about the general decline of cultural engagement with classical music. And I’m especially not pleased that there is so little public interest in its cultivation as a living art, through new works.
But to effectively address the problem, we (and by “we” I mean those who care about classical music) must attempt to persuade, not simply demand. Moreover, we (and by “we” I mean those who write and perform new music) must put works before the public that are truly persuasive.
Let’s stop trying to spank the culture. Like Star Trek’s V-ger, some things are too big to spank.
© Colin Eatock 2013