Back in undergraduate college, when just starting on my music education degree, I received an assignment where students were asked to formulate a philosophy of education. My thinking then was influenced by a curious textbook I picked up: A Philosophy of Music Education by Bennett Reimer. Of course, it was the wrong time for an undergraduate to perform this exercise, as we had neither maturity nor understanding equal to the task. However, in my naïvté, my answer was all about learning/teaching an aesthetic education — one that focused on appreciating beauty in music and the fine arts. This requires the cultivation of taste, which used to be commonplace among the educated but is now anathema. Money is the preeminent value now. Moreover, anything that smacks of cultural programming and thought control is now repudiated reflexively, though such projects are nonetheless undertaken continuously and surreptitiously through a variety of mechanisms. As a result, the typical American’s sense of what is beautiful and admirable is stunted. Further, knowledge of the historical context in which the fine arts exist is largely absent. (Children are ahistorical in this same way.) Accordingly, many Americans are coarse philistines whose tastes rarely extend beyond those acquired naturally during adolescence (including both biophilia and biophobia), thus the immense popularity of comic book movies, rock and roll music, and all manner of electronica.

When operating with a limited imagination and undeveloped ability to perceive and discern (and disapprove), one is a sitting duck for what ought to be totally unconvincing displays of empty technical prowess. Mere mechanism (spectacle) then possesses the power to transfix and amaze credulous audiences. Thus, the ear-splitting volume of amplified instruments substitutes for true emotional energy produced in exceptional live performance, ubiquitous CGI imagery (vistas and character movements, e.g., fight skills, that simply don’t exist in reality) in cinema produces wonderment, and especially, blinking lights and animated GIFs deliver the equivalent of a sugar hit (cookies, ice cream, soda) when they’re really placebos or toxins. Like hypnosis, the placebo effect is real and pronounced for those unusually susceptible to induction. Sitting ducks.

Having given the fine arts (including their historical contexts) a great deal of my academic attention and acquired an aesthetic education, my response to the video below fell well short of the blasé relativism most exhibit; I actively dislike it.

My reaction stems from more than just the crass commercialism of the creators, who clearly want to promote the technical achievement of coordinating 100 drones in a nighttime light show no one particularly wanted. I find the cannibalization of the music, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, with its famous four-note opening, the most offensive element. The arranger added harp, guitar, piano, and electronics not present in the original and even incorporated the Intel chime. The light show itself isn’t shown in anything approaching real time (just as the music compresses motifs ruthlessly), cutting from view to view so quickly that I doubt the drones did much at all in synchrony with the music, which at the venue was probably playback anyway (accent-lighted mini-orchestra was merely part of the staging). Similarly, movies assemble fight and chase sequences out of disparate parts, making events look skillful where ugly, chaotic lack of coordination is undoubtedly more accurate. (News media cut together stories using similar techniques.)

One might presume such criticisms are limited to the arts and entertainments, so who cares? However, like the broad liberal education that used to be a respected model for us all, an aesthetic education requires enables an orientation and approach that is powerful and applicable at the foundations of culture. For example, the values (not just artistic values, which are frankly lacking) exhibited by the current administration produce policy and direction for the entire country and ought to be perceived as exceptionally crass, stupid, self-involved, and outright hostile. Yet they are instead paraded in front of the world as examples of strength and unity. Dude can’t even manage a simple handshake without turning it into a contest of wills. How well 45 embodies the values and will of the masses is the subject of considerable debate, though his ability to speak their buffoonish language is legion.

Caveat: This blog concerns itself with aspects of ascending and descending common culture. With that goes a certain amount of disapproval. The charge of snobbery and/or elitism is a quick and obvious reply, but if one is at all aspirational, isn’t that quite the point?

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