|Image taken from the website The Long Tail.|
In the morning of the 17th of November I changed my plans and went to Centro Cultural de Belém for two reasons: the puzzling title of the international symposium organized by the Lisbon Estoril Film Festival, Art vs.Culture and Cultural Industries; and the fact that writer Hanif Kureishi was going to participate in the first panel discussion.
It ended up being a frustrating experience. I tried hard to understand how what the majority of the speakers was saying was actually related to the symposium´s theme, which I had found so intriguing. In the end, it actually felt like I had attended a private conversation that would have taken place anyway, no matter what the title of the symposium was. Rancière, Benjamin, Adorno and Horkheimer and others were quoted more than once and it was obvious that some of the panelists were actually having a good time among themselves, while I was trying to control my frustration and the feeling that I had wasted my morning.
I ended up leaving without understanding the “Art vs. Culture” statement, but I do think I understood one thing: some of the panelists were actually regretting the fact that the “industry” dominates creativity, leaving no space for less ‘popular’ or less ‘mainstream’ works to get to be known (and maybe... become as ‘popular’ or as ‘commercial’ as others?). There were moments where the actual complaint didn´t seem to be that they were left with no space to be, but that the ‘industry’ didn´t allow them to have an equally wide audience. Rather confusing, no?
I thought it odd that this could be an issue today. And I also thought that, if this is actually what was meant to be discussed under the title “Art vs. Culture and Cultural Industries”, the panel should have included a couple of speakers that could have brought the average age of the panelists a bit below 65 (Hanif Kureishi did actually try to recentre the debate, mentioning what he´s been noticing among his children and their friends, confident that these times are extremely creative, thanks also to new technologies, but noone followed the lead, so he gave up and, visibly irritated, concentrated on his cell phone...).
I also think that these are very creative times, especially in what concerns niche products. A creativity without boundaries, that can be conceived, produced and distributed without being dependent on the rules of the ‘industry’. Or... which actually has got space thanks to the ‘industry’. Considering the specific case of books (all panelists were writers or scriptwriters), Chris Anderson´s The Long Tail: Why the future of business is selling less of more tells us of the numbers of books that would have never sold a copy in a normal bookshop (no space to store hundreds and hundreds of books that would sell small quantities), but which actually sell thanks to Amazon and it´s suggestions (“people who bought this, also bought this”...) and the fact that it can ship any book, as it doesn´t have to store it until it´s ordered. Nowadays, books can also be printed on demand, can be made available on the internet, can reach the most distant places (and let´s not forget e-books).
This is also the time where young talents in music upload their work on the internet for anyone who might be interested, making themselves known through “liking” and “sharing”; this is the time where concerts ae organised in people´s living rooms; where film festivals take place on You Tube.
I know this is a much larger issue and that it wouldn´t be possible to tackle here all different aspects of it. But I was wondering, is anyone denied space these days? Isn´t it true that niches are not given but actually create their own space? Could this all be more of a question of who we really try to connect with? ‘Popular’ products (I use the term to refer to sales, not content) probably still need the ‘industry’ and large formal cultural institutions for their distribution, but niche products (which might one day become ‘popular’) seem to be able to live quite independently these days, happy to be who they are. Could it be so?
A década em que todos puderam ser famosos para 15 pessoas (special report by Público newspaper, 8.01.2010)
Culture and Class (John Holden, 2010)
Still on this blog