High Culture’s Imminent Surrender to the Woke
Not at all surprisingly, the classical music world is now squarely in the sights of the woke mob. So now the gang of callow American Maoists is going to teach us that excellence in classical music -- composers and performers -- is also a white male plot. I suppose that soon great American symphonies will be hiring violinists who might just barely be able to cut it in a small-town community orchestra. And the Metropolitan Opera? As an opera lover I can attest: Few sounds are more grating to the ear than opera badly sung, and to sing it well takes extraordinary talent and a lifetime of devotion.
For lovers of classical instrumental music and opera, prepare yourselves for mediocrity and worse. Can the legitimate stage and museums be far behind?
Of course, in the current revolutionary environment, the culmination of 50 years, this had to come.
It's important to see this ongoing cultural revolution in some kind of historical context.
America’s rapid cultural collapse, as distinct from its gradual decline, started with an attack on a key cultural -- not political or economic -- institution, the university. It began in earnest in the fall of 1964 at U.C. Berkeley. This writer was present, a 19-year-old junior, participated as a dissenter, and followed events closely in amazed disgust, as President Clark Kerr surrendered the university to the radical left and handed them a tactical roadmap for the next 60 years.
The events at Berkeley in 1964 and Kerr's handling of them provided the template for the left’s destruction of the American university: Take over the Dean’s office, employ a mob to bring normal university functions to a halt, make “non- negotiable” demands, and then, as a reward, get anything you want from administrators and faculty prepared to sell out the functions of the university - imparting knowledge and pursuing truth - for (temporary) peace.
The depth of U.C. President Clark Kerr’s confusion, weakness and cowardice in October of 1964 -- an important story for another time -- shocked even the left. But leftists quickly drew the correct lesson from Kerr's fecklessness: Universities are easy to mug. And, employing the Berkeley model, mug them the left did over the next two decades. By 1985, perhaps earlier, American universities were unrecognizable as the institutions they had been. The worst consequence of that period was the creation of an entire array of politicized and intellectually vacuous new departments and majors focusing on grievance and specializing in victimology, all born at the gunpoint of the Berkeley tactics that had been validated by Clark Kerr in 1964. For at least 30 years those new departments have been spreading the lie of American and western civilizational evil, tarted up as academic theory and gradually oozing outward to infect all aspects of campus life with the new university ethic: Ideology over rigorous analysis, mandatory beliefs over rational inquiry, and -- above all -- feelings over facts.
As the great Columbia University historian, Jacques Barzun, pointed out in his magisterial cultural history of the West, From Dawn to Decadence, the West's decline has been a long process. It speeded up markedly in the '60s, but the ground was plowed before then, in cultural events preceding World War I, and especially in the reaction of universal horror to that catastrophically destructive and pointless war. By the time the '60s generation showed up on campus, to be skillfully manipulated by the sophisticated old left, it confronted etiolated Dr. Spock administrators, already less firmly tethered than their predecessors to the nation and university's values, and to an absolute commitment to the rule of law as the only legitimate vehicle for social change in a constitutional democracy.
And so in 1964, Clark Kerr, to whom the American left should erect an equestrian statue, collapsed, and America's universities over the ensuing decades followed his failed model.
And now, going on three generations later, with the aid of a young and ignorant army produced by the universities they destroyed, the left has moved on to other targets. It's quite natural that they should focus now on the classical, as opposed to the popular arts, because the leadership of classical arts organizations is even more bereft of clarity and courage than university presidents. And, of course, because the popular culture has long since been in the left's vice grip.
Moving on from its conquered and eviscerated universities and popular culture, the left now turns its suffocating intolerance against the institutions that display, celebrate and perform some of the West's greatest artistic, literary and musical inheritance: symphony orchestras, opera companies, theaters and museums. These institutions meet both of the left’s criteria for assault: They concentrate nearly exclusively on works by European artists or composers, and, virtually without exception, all of them are led by the cowardly. Ecce! The left's perfect victim: The treasures of a despised inherited culture "protected" by the terminally weak. How many executive directors of symphony orchestras, opera companies, live theaters or museums, etc. ever threw a punch on the playground? If our society's corporate leadership is weak and afraid of a fight, which it is, the nation's arts organization leadership has no spine at all.
Let me end this dreary walk through American cultural decline with a story that deserves much more attention than it's received. It was a small item that got little press, even in the part of the country where it unfolded, and none at all nationwide. It deserved a lot. It's an example of what happens in America when the ignorant, intolerant, vicious woke mob and its supporters meet the meek and timid world of classical arts leadership.
In pure creative cowardice, it’s hard to top the following sad tale:
San Francisco’s Lamplighters is a musical theater group founded nearly 70 years ago to perform Gilbert and Sullivan musicals, written and composed in late 19th century England. It also occasionally puts on other light operettas by such 19th century figures as Johann Strauss, Jr. and Franz Lehar. For decades, it has mounted widely praised productions of these works. By the '70s had become a San Francisco institution. The company gained international recognition in the rarified world of Gilbert & Sullivan aficionados when it traveled to the G&S motherland, England, where it was honored for the quality of its production and singers.
In 2016, it planned to mount a production of The Mikado, a G&S favorite thought by many to be the two Victorian gentlemen’s best effort. The show is set in Japan, and the foibles of late Victorian England are skewered by utilizing W.S. Gilbert's Victorian understanding of Meiji Japan. So, to the extent the show comically lampoons any country, the target is England, not Japan. In fact, the show has been performed in Japan by Japanese players.
Unsurprisingly, the Lamplighters' planned Mikado production became the target of a few local Bay Area activist crybabies, predictably whining about racism, cultural appropriation, offensiveness etc., etc. Whom they spoke for, if anyone besides themselves, is hard to say. According to a reliable report, the head administratrix of the City-owned theater where Lamplighters performed joined the thugs in their cultural persecution by threatening to boot the venerable San Francisco players from its San Francisco theater if the company went ahead with such a racially insensitive show.
Here is where the creative cowardice comes in:
Rather than fight the cultural intolerance of a few revolutionaries and their bureaucratic ally, a fight which not only would have redounded to the public image benefit of the company, but almost certainly gained it new supporters and audience, the Lamplighters caved in the worst possible way:
It rewrote parts of Gilbert's libretto to set the show in Italy!
One thinks of painting over Rubens's or Renoir's nudes, adding a tattooed muscle man to Rembrandt's Nightwatch, or rewriting Shakespeare to turn Lady Macbeth into a kind and caring social worker. Better not to have done the Mikado at all, than to vandalize a work the company claims to love, all for the sake of mollifying a few revolutionaries who will be back for more someday anyway.
It takes two sets of villains to destroy a cultural inheritance. Hate-filled, intellectually intolerant, and grossly ignorant revolutionaries, all bent on cultural destruction. And pusillanimous guardians of that cultural inheritance, too confused, timid, and conflict averse to fight for what they claim to love. It seems today's America is well supplied with both. If our governmental masters ever again allow us to hear live symphonic performances, attend the opera or theater, or visit a museum, it's an open question what portion of our justly venerated artistic, literary and musical patrimony will be left to us by the meek appeasers now charged with protecting it.
Photo credit: Agdarley