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February 06, 1982 - Image 4

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1982-02-06

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OPINION

Page 4 Saturday, February 6, 1982 The Michigan Daily
American arts: The decline of a culture?

There is only one term that describes the
current state of the arts in America: insipid.
American movies are insipid, American books
are insipid, American painting and sculpture is
insipid. American art has fallen to a level of
talent and imaginative inspiration that should
be shameful to any intelligent and perceptive
individual.
There is little expressed in current American
art. American art is the essence of the super-
ficial-the most blatant and obvious ideas,
brought to the surface and passed off as
profound. There was a time when art,
American, European, and otherwise, was filled
with a richness and variation of theme and
meaning. There was a time, and there undoub-
tedly will be a time in the future, when the
world surrounding us was not taken at face
value-when the complexities of an issue or an,
event were examined with a discriminating
eye, not with the one-dimensional view of a
bland and complacent society.
THIS IS NOT a tract written to embellish the
olden days, or to fill the air with a sense of
nostalgia, but rather it is the distressed cry of
an observer who feels, upon reflection, that the
culture he was brought up to cherish is not wor-
th cherishing.
The art of the past serves as a guide and a
standard by which the present may judge it-
self. If one considers the arts throughout
history, then our artistic standards should be
high. While it might be unfair to judge current
American arts against the rich and varied
cultures of the past, that comparison is often
necessary.
The American culture that is now most
prevalent, and most impoverished, is
television. It is the one method of mass com-
munication that almost every American comes
into contact with on a daily basis. Television is
the inescapable monitor of. all our trends and
all our ideas. Television is the great mirror of
our society. It explains to us, in its own sim-
plistic way, exactly what we are thinking and
what those thoughts mean. This great mirror

currently is giving us a very sad reflection.
EVERYTHING aired on jelevision is
ultimately drivel, from the mindless gab of a
celebrity talkshow, such as "Entertainment
Tonight," to the non-stop offensive violence of
"CHIPS". The thinly-veiled sexuality of
"Dynasty" would be fine if the mind wasn't
constantly subjected to inane plot lines and
vacuous characters. The actors and storylines
of television serve as role models to the
children of American families. Our integrity as
intelligent human beings is incessantly in-
sulted. This is not a call for censorship of the
moral majority type, but a plea for intelligence
and perception to take control of the air waves
and show us what thinking humans can create
for entertainment.
The movies, unfortunately, also have fallen
into the same trivial rut as television. The in-
fantile dreariness of today's movies is matched
only by the dull-witted complacency of today's
moviegoers. Movies that garnered recent
critical acclaim, such as "Absence of Malice"
or "The Four Seasons," stand as shining
examples of the shallowness of today's critics.
The movie reviewers deceptive title of
"critics" only exemplifies the'extraordinarily
"easy to please" attitude of the viewing
audience. So many films get the superlative
"genius" tacked onto their newspaper ads
one gets the impression that there are 10
Citizen Kanes showing in the neighborhood-all
at the same time.
Blockbuster films, such as "Raiders of the
Lost 'Ark" and "Superman II" are glaring
examples of moviegoers stuporous enjoyment of
single-faceted, comic book type adventure
films. There is nothing wrong with adventure
films, but when a nation stands in line for one
genre of film, and nothing else, then that nation
is standing in line for a conforming simplemin-
dedness. That prewritten, plug-in-the-details,
standard Hollywood scripts of Sharkey's
Machine" fame still draw massive box office
revenues speaks poorly of the pervading men-
tality of our nation.

By Andrew Chapman
The cinema, however, is not the only marker-
of a nation's culture.
The novel has always been the art form
slowest to change through the ages. Fiction.
reflects the society it was written in, as does
television, but the style and quality of the well-
written story is relatively constant.
Throughout history bad fiction has been aban-
doned, while the classics extend to future times
and are remembered.
BUT WHAT classics will current day
America leave to the next generation? Most
popular novels are complete trash. Word fac-
tories such as Harold Robbins and Stephen
King keep the public entertained, but it is
slightly shameful that our era will be best
remembered for novels sold in supermarkets.
Tales of young girls who burn their classmates
at a prom, and wild stories of yachtside sex are
fascinating-if one has the mind of a per-
manent teenager.
Even the books that are hailed as meriting
great praise are not what one would expect.
Must we compare John Irving to F. Scott Fit-
zgerald or Henry James? Is Norman Mailer a
social critic comparable to Mark Twain?
Thought-hungry intellectuals will reach out
and grab any outstanding figure they can,
whether that figure is actually worthy of atten-
tion or not. Our greatest recent American poet,
Robert Frost, sits in pale comparison to the
legendary bards of the past. His verse should
say little to a reader trained in the subtle
shades of Dickinson, or the natural spirit of
Whitman.
The pointed and sculpted arts also sit meekly
in the shadow of former genius. Uninformed
criticism of modern art claims it is barren and
void of imagination - that is, of course, untrue.
Modern art has its positive expressive points,
and the power of some modern pieces should
not be overlooked. They too, however, are a
thinly stretched metaphor for our society's ills.

THE MINIMALISM of the late sixties and
early seventies served its purpose, but its con-
tinued existence strains that purpose to the
point of uselessness. The one-toned canvases
and wide open spaces of modern art help us put
our industrial age into perspective, but they
give us a little insight into the impact of that
age upon our humanity. Unbearable boredom
is the only appropriate term that could be used
for a Jackson Pollock retrospective. Willem.
DeKooning's paintings shift a viewer's perspec-
tive along the canvas from character to
character, but they do little to leave a lasting
impression. After the worst of our artists are
weeded out into obscurity are we to be left with
Christo and Frank Stella? Or is the art
historian of the future to be left with millions of
Leroy Neimans to ponder over?
All this criticism leads to a logical next
question-that is, why is current American ar-
tistic culture in such a sorry state?
The answer is not a simple one. The lack of
creative ideas in our society cannot be blamed
on a single cause or event.
There is not, as people may claim, a severe
lack of talented artistic individuals in our
society. We now have as much potential genius
as any other culture at any other time. Blame
for the sagging vitality of the arts possibly may
be laid on the waning spirit of our culture, but
not on our lack of artists. On the contrary, it
may be the overabundance of artists that
smothers the chances that true genius will
arise from the populace.
THE PROBLEM lies,instead, in the very fact
that the arts are a mirror for our society. Ar-
tistic creations reflect, quite accurately, the
society from which they are created. Victorian
literature is outwardly staid, with a hidden
desirous fire lurking in the distance. High
Renaissance painting is refined and bold, with
a commitment to a newly-found intelligence.
Current American art is bland and thoughtless,
an accurate reflection of the dull confromity of
our society.
Our society is sunk in the belief that the slow

progress of our nation is the correct and proper
way to advance. Radical and enlightening
thought is ignored, as is radical and
enlightening art. What is often put forth as new
and exciting is merely a tired rehash of an
earlier method. We take pleasure in the dim
and mildly entertaining .art of our culture
because it requires little reflective insight;
Recent American art, be it television;
literature, or painting,, is open for inspection,
as is all art, but it requires none. It is shallow
and indolent because we want it to be that
way-because we ourselves are shallow. We
have no interest in intensive social criticism.
We don't go to the movies on weekends to be
startled by intelligent and radical societal per-
ceptions, and thus we perpetuate our own
shallowness. The less we want to see of our oW
flaws, the less will be shown to us.
Because of this, our culture suffers. We sit
bound by our own inability to attack what:is
wrong with the way we live. The arts have
always been society's toughest critics, and yet
American arts are stagnant. American art has
grown self-indulgent and ultimately blind to the
problems of the nation.
The cure to the problem is impossible 'to
predict.. Change and social action are
possibilities. Attempts at probing criticism and
perceptive thought are another. Maybe our
nation's youth will realize our society has
blanketed, itself with pathetic self-
absorption, and maybe they will change. The
change cannot start at the artistic level,
however, though the arts can aid in the tran-
sformation. Our society must grow perceptive
at its roots. We must learn the importance of
rational and objective change. Our acceptance
of the tired and the cliched must end. Then we
may move on to a different level of cultural
awareness.
The arts are an accurate mirror, and we
must look into that mirror and realize what it is
that may be wrong.
Chapman is a Daily Opinion Page editor.

*1

Edited and managed by students at The University of Michigan

Weasel

By Robert Lence

Vol. XCII, No. 105

420 Maynard St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Editorials represent a majority opinion of the Daily's Editorial Board

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Renewing a commitment

q

AFTER MONTHS of strained
relations, the .United States is,
taking positive steps in the United
Nations toward reaffirming its
political commitment to the state of
Isreal-
The United States is currently
waging a vigorous lobbying campaign
against an Arab resolution which con-
demns Israel's annexation of the Golan
Heights. The resolution, expected to
pass by a large margin, recommends
severing economic, cultural, political,
and military ties with Israel. U.S. of-
ficials fear that the resolution may be
preliminary groundwork for an Arab
move to bar Israel from the U.N.
General Assembly.
Israel's controversial move to annex
the Golan Heights, an area already
substantially settled by Israelis,
sparked more than just the Arab's
criticism. The Reagan administration
added its condemnation of the an-
nexation, claiming the Israeli move
would anger the Arab world, and thus
damage Mideast peace efforts. Israel,
lashing out at Reagan's chastisement,
warned the United States to stay out of
what it considered to be an Israeli
domestic affair. This political rift
threatened existing cooperation

treaties between Israel and America,
and marked a low point in a close,
longstanding relationship.
By blocking the Arab U.N.
resolution, the United States is helping
to improve its Israeli relations at an
especially crucial time for this hard-
pressed Middle Eastern state. Arab in-
transigence toward Mideast" peace
remains as vehement as ever. And
with the Camp David accords all but
unworkable, even the possibilities for a
permanent Egyptian/Israeli peace
seem irretrievably stalled. In addition,
during this week's visit to the White
House, Egyptian. President Hosni
Mubarak reiterated his support for an
independent Palestinian state, a
proposed Israel has repeatedly
declared completely unacceptable.
Even though prospects for Mideast
peace seem discouraging, the United
States is making an appropriate move
by backing Israel in the United
Nations. American support of the
Israeli state acts as an effective buffer
to the often radical and spontaneous
violence of the Arab states. Only by
protecting Israel's bargaining position
with its often hostile Arab neighbors
can the United States foster a lasting
solution to tie Mideast problem.

LETTERS TO THE DAILY:
Witt rushes to judgment on Greeks

q

To the Daily:
I wasn't very surprised when I
read Howard Witt's column in the
Daily (Feb. 2) which cut down the
Greek system and The Forum.

The Daily often criticizes the
system for its lack of new and
better causes. What really sur-
prised me was seeing a columnist
who has always opposed racism

Lack of communication

To the Daily:
In a letter from Michelle Git-
tIer published in the Jan. 31 Daily
on the question of foreign
teaching assistants, she
describes her experience in
her organic chemistry laboratory
in which she had great difficulties
with her Chinese teaching
assistant.
Perhaps the most important
issue here seems to me to be a
failure to communicate. By this I
mean that Gittler certainly did
not communicate her problem to
anybody on the Chemistry
faculty. This department has
been sensitive to this issue for
many years and it was one of the
first departments to organize a
training session for teaching
assistants as well as to screen
them for English competence.
Occasionally, student demand for
Chemistry courses has exceeded
our capacity to supply teaching

assistants whose English is at the
colloquial level, but this happens
very- seldom and, even if
'something gets by us, we like to
know about it. It is a delicate
question when a foreign born
teaching assistant passes the
limit between expectation by the
student for a "home town ac-
cent" and exposure to some
initial communication barriers.
But to err on the side of safety
would make this department and
University provincial- and,
ultimately, third rate.
We can only solve this problem
if both undergraduates and
graduates recognize the
aspirations of the other. Let us
try and keep this in mind in
discussions on this issue.
-T. M. Dunn
Chairman,
Chemistry Dept.
Feb.3

and prejudice, and who openly
writes about his feelings of anti-
Semitic discrimination,taking a
completely biased and
prejudiced stand toward the
Greek system.
After a quote from The Forum
describing an event which raised
over $400 for the 'Heart
Association, Mr. Witt's comnent
was, "Gee, isn't your philan-
thropy lucky!' You probably dbn't
spend half that much on alcohol
for a typical party."
I do not find hundreds of dollars
being, donated to charitable
causes humorous. But by far the
biggest joke is his ridicule of
money spent on alcohol. Instead
of dealing with the issue of
philanthropy, he creates a straw-
man-alcohol-that he can effec-
tively knock down and uses it to
suggest that the entire event is
meaningless.
It is very unfortunate that the
journalism in the Daily is so
shallow and superficial that so-
called columnists must revert to
criticizing grammer in other
publications. Mr. Witt spends five

paragraphs and extensive time
discovering grammatical errors
in The Forum that any freshman
could find. It seems to me that a
competent journalist could find
less trivial matters on which to
write.
On Nov. 24, Mr. Witt wrote a
column on anti-Semitism in
America. He was upset by the
hatred provoked by some
generalized stereotype that had
nothing to do with him per-
sonally. Ironically, this is exactly
the technique he displays in at-
tacking The Forum. He harbors a
stereotypical view of Greeks and
uses it to evaluate the newspaper.
The only explanation I could
find for his ridiculous simple-
mindedness was a comment he
made Nov. 10 about himself-"So
works my kneejerk mind."
I only hope that the next time
he tries to write a meaningful
column on prejudice in America
he finds out what prejudice is fir-
st.

-Annie Chalgian
Editor, The Forum
February 4

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