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MY NEW DISEASE

by Polar Levine 10/27/01 for popCULTmedia

Ive been laid low recently by some unfamiliar bug. Im sure its not anthrax. But it must be some new virus the Evil Doers have concocted. The symptoms are disturbing and embarrassing.

My personality is generally defined by a low-level but persistent cynicism -- that is, if you define a cynic as a puppy-dog optimist spurned by Gods annoying practical jokes. Discontent has always been sort of an aphrodesiac.

But since Sept. 11 somethings different. It might have something to do with Nile Rodgers We Are Family project Ive been working on for the past two weeks with its contagious message of joyous unity thats making me go soft. But Im finding myself less judgmental lately -- less knee-jerk about my world view.

I loathe Georges Bush I & II. But my verbal deathray has been off Ws case while he deals with the vigors of WWIII. Even my rages over bland music and media events have been on hold throughout the current parades of popStar telethons.

There are all these pissy reviews of the recent NYC Benefit Ive been reading -- so much griping over its too many old Brit white guys and too few non-white guys and its un-PC warTalk. True, it was a pretty bland affair. Lots of boring music, dumb jokes and firemen saying bizarre things. But what the hell... Paul McCartney, whos chronically suffered the misfortune of not being John Lennon, put together a show in a hurry and called the people he knew -- mainly British old white guys like himself. He used an easy, popular theme thats been played to death already -- our heroic police and fireguys. He could have used any of the other easy popular themes -- multiculturalism, peace as a response to a genocidal blitzkrieg, bomb the entire Middle East for the sake of Freedom, etc. Our cops and firemen truly have been heroic and Ive told them so as theyve been constantly on duty in my neighborhood a few blocks north of Ground Zero. But they sound a bit less heroic when they express their TV wrestling-style views on American foreign policy. Unlike many of us lefties who are down with the workers of the world as long as they keep their mouths shut, McCartney wasnt afraid to let them say many of the dumb things they say when not stoicly performing the business of heroism. Ok, so dont buy any Wings reissues.

By the way, Nile Rodgers put together his very inspiring We Are Family project with a bunch of people he knows best who are primarily, like himself, over-40 black folks. If any rappers, rockers or kiddiePop stars decided to get busy on a big event to help out us stressed New Yorkers I imagine wed see a suspicious overstocking of under-30 people. So what?

Have I gone squishy dumb? Im having trouble being mad at anybody but complainers unless theyre complaining about having their kids possibly die of anthrax.

That first post-Attack TV event with all the anonymous musicians on a simple set with no posing and showbizzery was an uncommon statement of class, talent and caring. Absolutely nothing to sell us. Every one of these events that follows will look slick, bland and dumb -- show biz as usual -- in comparison to that first one. But thats what the arts in America are: over-produced entertainment packages intended to generate outsized incomes for celebs and the corporations that sponsor them. Theres the strutting, posturing, attitudinizing, merchandising, mindless pageant of predictable signifiers and culture branding that weve come to expect of our cultural ecology. Why complain now when theyre doing it for free?

If we want our artists to have something to say that has some meaning we have to develop some collective understanding of what the arts are and what theyre not. Theres art. Theres entertainment. Art. Entertainment. Choose your medicine. As long as we buy into the long established role of The Artist in America as deliverer of diversion and our pied pipers leading fans to advertisers -- thats what well get when our revered creative types try to express the inexpressible in the events to come. If we reward entertainers with deification for providing us with predictable juvenile melisma-mongering about teen romance or a cheap fuck you as a fashion-statement proxy for a real counterculture -- that will determine the quality of the culture were left with when this mess is over. Its that very culture of pointless bad-attitudes and bellybuttons that the Islamic nations and our European allies alike are trying to keep out of their countries. Because an endless stream of low-grade mass entertainment is toxic just like a steady diet of junk food. And its allure to profit-makers serves to keep more challenging creative expression with some fiber in it stashed away in the hard-to-find, hard-to know-about zone.

You dont want Bon Jovi, Elton and Mariah to define our political and existential angst during this critical time in our history? Then help develop an alternative creative venue. And aim your reviews at -- not the usual suspects that get lined up to perform at these events at their own expense -- but at the media cartel that markets blandness and calls it The Arts.

Oops -- am I complaining again?

Polar Levine
Editor popCULTmedia