Monday, May 11, 2009

More cultured than blue cheese

I'm off to the opera tonight. Rossini's The Italian Girl in Algiers. Thanks to my wife and her family I have been exposed to culture ... in much the same way Chernobyl was exposed to radiation, or how Britney Spears exposes herself to the paparazzi.

I've been told the opera tonight is staged as though it is a modern soap opera, as "the operas of Rossini were essentially soap opera equivalents in the 19th century." (The National Business Review, 11 May, 2009). This does raise an interesting point. What bits of today's popular culture, for opera was once very popular and populist, will future generations deem worthy to cherish?

Is Stephen King going to be turned into Shakespeare's peer by the passage of time? Will the collected recordings of Kylie one day be placed alongside Beethoven by the true connoisseurs of the musical past? Will cinema societies follow up a Buster Keaton season with the films of Will Ferrell?

However, the popularity of something at the time of its release is not always a guide to future status. Much of the classical music that is so championed today was not so beloved when first released. Artists go in and out of favour ... remember the 1980s when you couldn't take five steps without hearing Vivaldi's Four Seasons? Yet Vivaldi was considered 'out-of-touch' and 'uncool' in his later years, much like Vanilla Ice or MC Hammer, and he died a pauper. For painters, being unpopular during one's lifetime is almost a pre-requisite for later success. Books don't have to be read to be considered popular, just purchased ... for example Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time or The Bible.

So maybe the treasured classics will be the overlooked gems of today. Perhaps next to the Complete Shakespeare you might find the Collected Straitjacket Ninja? After all, people misfile things all the time.

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