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Thread: Cultural Critique, Social Engineering or ...?

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    Default Cultural Critique, Social Engineering or ...?

    When is a play, movie, novel, essay, sculpture, painting, etc. a cultural critique? When is it social engineering? Is it ever solely one or the other?

    How is culture critiqued and shaped?

    This thread is an exploration via example.


    ~~~~


    A play from 1928, and its film version from 1931, German with English subtitles, The Threepenny Opera:

    Quote The Threepenny Opera[1] (Die Dreigroschenoper) is a "play with music" by Bertolt Brecht, adapted from a translation by Elisabeth Hauptmann of John Gay's 18th-century English ballad opera, The Beggar's Opera, and four ballads by François Villon, with music by Kurt Weill. Although there is debate as to how much, if any, Hauptmann might have contributed to the text, Brecht is usually listed as sole author.[2]

    The work offers a socialist critique of the capitalist world. It opened on 31 August 1928 at Berlin's Theater am Schiffbauerdamm.

    Songs from The Threepenny Opera have been widely covered and become standards, most notably "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer" ("The Ballad of Mack the Knife") and "Seeräuberjenny" ("Pirate Jenny").
    From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Threepenny_Opera

    A copy of the play is here: https://www.academia.edu/7003101/The...Bertolt_Brecht

    And here is the 1931 film:


    Brecht, the playwrite, was an interesting person and developed a particular approach to theatre which he called Epic Theatre:

    Quote Brecht developed the combined theory and practice of his "Epic theatre" by synthesizing and extending the experiments of Erwin Piscator and Vsevolod Meyerhold to explore the theatre as a forum for political ideas and the creation of a critical aesthetics of dialectical materialism.

    Epic Theatre proposed that a play should not cause the spectator to identify emotionally with the characters or action before him or her, but should instead provoke rational self-reflection and a critical view of the action on the stage. Brecht thought that the experience of a climactic catharsis of emotion left an audience complacent. Instead, he wanted his audiences to adopt a critical perspective in order to recognise social injustice and exploitation and to be moved to go forth from the theatre and effect change in the world outside.[68] For this purpose, Brecht employed the use of techniques that remind the spectator that the play is a representation of reality and not reality itself. By highlighting the constructed nature of the theatrical event, Brecht hoped to communicate that the audience's reality was equally constructed and, as such, was changeable.

    Brecht's modernist concern with drama-as-a-medium led to his refinement of the "epic form" of the drama. This dramatic form is related to similar modernist innovations in other arts, including the strategy of divergent chapters in James Joyce's novel Ulysses, Sergei Eisenstein's evolution of a constructivist "montage" in the cinema, and Picasso's introduction of cubist "collage" in the visual arts.[69]

    One of Brecht's most important principles was what he called the Verfremdungseffekt (translated as "defamiliarization effect", "distancing effect", or "estrangement effect", and often mistranslated as "alienation effect").[70] This involved, Brecht wrote, "stripping the event of its self-evident, familiar, obvious quality and creating a sense of astonishment and curiosity about them".[71] To this end, Brecht employed techniques such as the actor's direct address to the audience, harsh and bright stage lighting, the use of songs to interrupt the action, explanatory placards, the transposition of text to the third person or past tense in rehearsals, and speaking the stage directions out loud.[72]

    In contrast to many other avant-garde approaches, however, Brecht had no desire to destroy art as an institution; rather, he hoped to "re-function" the theatre to a new social use. In this regard he was a vital participant in the aesthetic debates of his era—particularly over the "high art/popular culture" dichotomy—vying with the likes of Theodor W. Adorno, György Lukács, Ernst Bloch, and developing a close friendship with Walter Benjamin. Brechtian theatre articulated popular themes and forms with avant-garde formal experimentation to create a modernist realism that stood in sharp contrast both to its psychological and socialist varieties. "Brecht's work is the most important and original in European drama since Ibsen and Strindberg," Raymond Williams argues, while Peter Bürger dubs him "the most important materialist writer of our time."[73]

    Brecht was also influenced by Chinese theatre, and used its aesthetic as an argument for Verfremdungseffekt. Brecht believed, "Traditional Chinese acting also knows the alienation [sic] effect, and applies it most subtly.[74]... The [Chinese] performer portrays incidents of utmost passion, but without his delivery becoming heated."[75] Brecht attended a Chinese opera performance and was introduced to the famous Chinese opera performer Mei Lanfang in 1935.[76] However, Brecht was sure to distinguish between Epic and Chinese theatre. He recognized that the Chinese style was not a "transportable piece of technique,"[77] and that Epic theatre sought to historicize and address social and political issues.[78]
    From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertolt_Brecht

    And this play echoes even today.... ever heard the "jazz standard", Mack the Knife? It's from The Threepenny Opera. Here is Louis Armstrong:



    A translation from the German lyrics in the play:
    Quote And the shark, he has teeth
    And he wears them in his face
    And MacHeath, he has a knife
    But the knife you don't see

    On a beautiful blue Sunday
    Lies a dead man on the Strand*
    And a man goes around the corner
    Whom they call Mack the Knife

    And Schmul Meier is missing
    And many a rich man
    And his money has Mack the Knife,
    On whom they can't pin anything.

    Jenny Towler was found
    With a knife in her chest
    And on the wharf walks Mack the Knife,
    Who knows nothing about all this.

    And the minor-aged widow,
    Whose name everyone knows,
    Woke up and was violated
    Mack, what was your price?

    And some are in the darkness
    And the others in the light
    But you only see those in the light
    Those in the darkness you don't see

    But you only see those in the light
    Those in the darkness you don't see
    From and more about the song here: https://www.thoughtco.com/mack-the-k...german-4076149
    *I have loved the stars too dearly to be fearful of the night*

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    Default Re: Cultural Critique, Social Engineering or ...?

    That is a pretty good question.

    A lot of times I look at the opposites. In my view, one of the most major, border-less, driving forces of peace is music. Of note, look at Monsters of Rock vs. Iron Curtain. The end.

    From what I have experienced, it does not matter the country, Chinese, Brazilian, Swedish, whoever, they all have the ability to assemble us peacefully and make us leave our ego at the door.

    From within music itself, it has always been friction of Underground vs. Corporate. So on the private side, there are definitely moneyed interests who like to control artists and run it like a business. On the governmental side, you tend to get the "cons" like that silly Tipper Gore, trying to critique things out of existence.

    To call it "engineering" implies control, intent, and usually lack of knowledge of the audience. If "international music for peace" is also an attempt to instill values, change attitudes, and so forth, at least it is more open and works by voluntary participation.

    There are examples of rioting around classical music, at performances of Beethoven, or some of the initial reaction to modern classic like Rites of Spring, and then of course France grabbing a piece of Tchaikovsky for a type of war march. The U. S. national anthem, lyrically, could be criticized as a bit overbearing, written by a drunk non-participant, who nevertheless was writing about 1812, which could be called a just war. If it had included a few lines about "Britain, keep your private central bank to yourself", then it would have been much more meaningful, but it just comes out more as "we like to shoot guns and worship the flag". It is not something I care to be around, much like the Pledge of Allegiance, another flag worship, written by a socialist in the 1930s and supposed to be accompanied by a palm-up salute otherwise similar to Nazi style.

    Most art is probably a legitimate critique. Dante and Chaucer both critiqued Venice, which is the same force that H. G. Wells and Huxley later criticized. Wells was in the Fabian Society for five years, came out and soon wrote "Faults of the Fabians", which is less famous than his other stuff. I don't think Wells was ever "playing a reverse" or trying to get us to blindly follow the opposite. Huxley may have been more involved and perhaps closer to "predicting what was going to happen".

    If someone wants to promote socialism, fascism, or extreme religious beliefs, I would have to say it is their right according to free speech. Engineering is "behind" that in the form of thought control, the selection of ideas, false histories, and so forth, more along the lines of "plain information" than art. Or, you don't generally find a death squad forming as a result of a song or play. The message or belief is already in existence, and they are merely celebrating it.

    9/11 sawed radio stations in half, and forbid them to play anything that might have a "sensitive" word in it, and press them even further into the bland and generic. But this is a pile of "F. C. C. rules", and has little to do with a wave of musicians popping up to sing "we want you to believe the official story and fight back".

    Some say it is engineering to prevent censorship, because then everything becomes perverse or degenerate. But if it is fair to allow fascist art, then it is fair to allow perverse art.

    As a "bad example", I keep getting back to U. S. National Anthem. When it says "land of the free", that was, indeed, true at the time, considering the enemy was the central bank. But since that victory was surrendered, it would now actually be false. I believe it was a spontaneous, emotional composition, inspired by the tunes of drinking songs, not likely intended to galvanize the country around socialist flag worship. 1812 made the bank spend several years figuring out how to break in without that type of violence or war, so, in the long run, it was of immense benefit to them adjusting strategy, and the song has gotten flipped around to seem like a support of that system.

    What may be worse is music used in advertising, something about a product. With enough of that, you find yourself at eleven at night having strange memories of things about dandruff shampoo or some car. Arguably, it is a type of art, although kind of "on its own plane". I never got much value from subconsciously repeating themes about fictional tv characters or stuff I don't need, and it takes a long time to clean out.

    When you get to something like Michael Jackson told Epic to release Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" as a single, and then it becomes the hallmark of the "back masking" phobia, I don't even know what to call it any more. On one hand, you could say Mikey did some engineering by making the tune become immensely popular, and on the other, it seems difficult to maintain the world-wide popularity of cannabis has much to do with what happens when you play this backwards, or, the mind hearing everything backwards and always interpreting it and swallowing it whole as some eminent psychologists must have claimed.

    Plenty of art is anywhere from influential to outright manipulative, but, on the artist's part, it seems to me to hardly ever amount to engineering on the level of "plans from behind the scenes" which can almost exclusively only be used by dominant institutions.

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    Default Re: Cultural Critique, Social Engineering or ...?

    This is a thought-provoking critique. Derrick Jensen (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derrick_Jensen) questions the significance of the prevalence of the sociopath hero in popular culture.

    I’m not sure about all the premises of his argument but he draws out some interesting streams of thought. The main question he explores is: what can be inferred about who we are as a society from the media/art/culture that we create and consume?

    *I have loved the stars too dearly to be fearful of the night*

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    Default Re: Cultural Critique, Social Engineering or ...?

    Quote Posted by Cara (here)
    This is a thought-provoking critique. Derrick Jensen (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derrick_Jensen) questions the significance of the prevalence of the sociopath hero in popular culture.

    I’m not sure about all the premises of his argument but he draws out some interesting streams of thought. The main question he explores is: what can be inferred about who we are as a society from the media/art/culture that we create and consume?

    I think the saying "no government can exist without the consent of the governed" (I believe it was Locke who coined the phrase) applies here. That is, expressions of culture, art, entertainment, etc., exist at the pleasure and desires of culture in a demand vs. supply type relationship. I don't think art and entertainment shape culture as much as culture embraces art and entertainment. The former has a social engineering element to it (and probably plays some symbiotic part of the dynamic), but it is more likely the ladder produces art and entertainment per the path of least resistance. In other words, we are rife for this type of entertainment; it's what we want to consume...

    That said, the question remains: why do we embrace sociopaths as our cultural heroes? The author of this opinion piece seems to be suggesting art and culture, e.g., insensitivity to violence, misogynous aggression against women, etc., are products of culture that propagate sociopathic tendencies; I would argue this is not an accurate correlation. Rather, art and entertainment directly serves to reconcile in our psyches and subconsciousness the very modus operandi of the rules that govern our society at large; we live in a society that is sociopathic by nature; that is, our our debt-based money system, while not intellectually understood by all, affects all of us at a visceral level; our culture itself operates via the principals of slavery and is a system governed by sociopaths; the controllers of our world who (that?) exist in the shadows and project a false matrix of propaganda-charged reality in order to confound, manage, and ultimately cull us and/or feed off our collective energy is also a system governed by sociopaths. All of this doesn't even consider the democide, genocide, and perpetual wars and violence waged against the masses by the sociopathic social structure at large. For whatever the reason we live on a prison planet that is ruled/governed by sociopaths. Is it any wonder we unconsciously adopt these type of characteristics in our hero worship? On some visceral level, people want to understand the world around them and want to understand the dynamic of the the principals that formulate our reality. And that's why we embrace sociopaths as our heroes...

    For those of us who binged watched Breaking Bad, relating to the character Walter White is a perfect example. One might ask (as the author of this video has), why would one glamorize a character who has no redeeming qualities? But that's actually not true. Walter White's redeeming quality is his smallness; in that sense, he is just like you and me. He is a small and helpless person and he is a victim of a much larger reality on all levels. He is but a feather flowing haplessly atop of a powerfully moving current. His character's lot is a metaphor of all of our lots. Yet when he outsmarts his "controllers", so to speak, and puts himself in situations that control the current (even as he makes dubious and immoral choices) we cheer him on. We want him to defeat the river and manipulate the powerful flow that carries him helplessly along no matter how uncomfortable some of those choices make us feel. It's dark--and yes, we do feel uncomfortable cheering him on--but sometimes it just feels good to flip off those invisible forces that seemingly have no empathy whatsoever....
    Last edited by T Smith; 29th October 2019 at 21:17.

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