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Archive for the ‘pop culture’ Category

More recently, a Western Australian study aimed to quantify the relationship between art and happiness in the general population. It concluded that people who had two hours a week of ‘arts engagement’ were much happier human beings, all other variables being taken into account. This two-hour period was called the ‘dose-response’ – in other words, the minimum ‘dose’ required for a positive effect.

‘It’s awesome,’ said Dr Christina Davies, who led the study. ‘If you break that down it’s only fifteen to twenty minutes a day. That is a colouring book. It’s easy to get that amount of art into your day.’ Art, she suggested, could be ‘prescribed’ to enhance the wellbeing of entire populations. So why not? Why not launch public health campaigns to make the population healthier by giving them more art? What is wrong with that?

There is, after all, a kernel of truth in this: art can be therapeutic. People who are engaged with art probably are happier. I’m all for everyone being happier. And I’ve seen how art can change lives – it opens worlds and possibilities, articulates difficult and complex truths, and liberates the mind from crushing social shackles.

But while it might be very restful to colour in pictures for fifteen minutes a day, that has as much to do with art as Soylent has to do with actual food. And art by ‘prescription’? That is one letter away from ‘proscription’. I worry about what might be made of this study, about the sidelining of art and artists into a substructure of the wellness industry. The disconsoling truth is that when art is absorbed into institutional structures, those aspects of it that matter the most tend to disappear altogether.

Look at the appropriation of ‘creativity’ by corporate culture. The ‘creative’ executive – according to Businessweek, the most desired quality in twenty-first-century business leaders – attends ‘creativity’ workshops to get in tune with his inner buzzwords. Often these are given cachet by museums or other arts organisations cashing in on the corporate dollar – in reality, it’s just How to Win Friends and Influence People with a new, grandiloquent vocabulary.

Corporate ‘creativity’ feeds parasitically on the perceived status of art – an aura of unconventional genius and inspiration – but refashions creativity itself to suit its own ends. Artists, after all, aren’t primarily interested in making money, but in making art. Arts practice, with its necessary failures and open exploration, is in fact completely antithetical to the aims of a corporation. This distorted notion of ‘creativity’ is then projected back on art itself. It’s depressing to see how artistic culture has embraced the language of the ‘artspreneur’, even as artists’ incomes wither on the vine.

From Alison Croggon’s “On art as therapy” in Overland.

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This is a good and very useful examination of vertical and horizontal concept creep around topics like harm, trauma and addiction. I would argue that the concept of co-dependence has also experienced a broadening to the point of becoming virtually useless as a term.

Some of the concept creep is about increased sophistication in our understanding of impact, but some of it is about a failure to examine interactions from multiple perspectives. The perspectives most overlooked will tend be those of the most marginalised, as demonstrated below.

Two stories illustrate how concept creep can be a force for good or ill.

Story 1: During the 1950s, third graders would climb into their parents’ cars and ride around without seatbelts. When stopping short, fathers and mothers would use their right arms in hopes of keeping their little ones from hitting their heads on the dashboard. These kids lived in houses slathered with lead paint and spent hours in family rooms thick with cigarette smoke. Today, there are laws against letting children ride around without seat belts, lead paint is banned, and there is such a powerful stigma against exposing children to second-hand smoke that far fewer kids suffer from poor health outcomes related to such exposure. Society’s concept of what constituted an unacceptable risk, harm, or trauma expanded for the better.

Story 2: During the 1950s, third graders could walk to school, play alone at the park, or bike 10 minutes to a friend’s house without anyone worrying or objecting, so long as they came home for supper or before the street lights came on. Today, though kidnapping is just as rare, a parent who allows that same behavior is at risk of arrest or even losing custody of their children to their state’s child protective services bureaucracy. Society’s concept of what constituted an unacceptable risk, harm, or trauma expanded for ill. In Hanna Rosin’s words, it  “stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer.”

From Conor Friedersdorf’s “How Americans became so sensitive to harm” in The Atlantic.

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In the coming decade, feminists would gain a transformative foothold in public discourse through the democratizing force of the internet.

From Kate Groetzinger’s “How feminists took on the mainstream media and won” in Quartz.

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Endless blooming and wilting of new identities based on this circus of images constitutes the psychological-affective dimension of liberal feminism’s lack of organising power. The horizontal seepage of capitalist imperatives through feminism since the early 1990s explains why identity-based politics now responds and reshapes itself constantly as a series of trends and conflicts, all mediated by chains of response emanating from mass cultural images: as Tolentino intimates, it is a consumer marketplace in search of new target demographics, not a social justice movement.

The conversations sparked by these images frequently concern issues of diversity in media, business and entertainment. Profit-seeking products and enterprises such as movies, television and corporate boards are invested with crucial significance that they clearly do not possess; being able to recognise an image of oneself in these domains is reconstrued as liberation itself. Disadvantage functions as a cleansing ritual bath, with the power to wash away the sliminess of equating pleasure-seeking consumer practice with political action.

From Eleanor Robertson’s excellent “Get mad and get even” in the Meanjin.

As someone who also writes critically about liberal feminism I agree with pretty much everything in here.. but the only thing I would say in defence of liberal feminism is that its end goals of equal opportunity are not incompatible with those of more collectivist approaches to feminism. We have some middle ground here.
And, we are not born with multiple integrated perspectives. We develop this over time. Identifying one’s own experiences in psychological, physical and environmental interactions and how that all plays out on a backdrop of sexism is a crucial step on the way to developing a wider appreciation of systematic oppression and collective solutions. In other words, if you haven’t yet developed that perspective you won’t see the next perspective.

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Intuitively, the selfie still feels valuable, but the compounded male, white, and colonialist gazes that work so hard to blur Black women and femmes into oblivion have too much force behind them to leave me with enough agency both to politicize a topless mirror selfie and to believe in that politicization one-hundred percent. Since it has been made abundantly clear, of late, that photo or video documentation proves very little and changes even less, simply documenting the Black female body falls short. Maybe a selfie comes close to proving that you exist – that you are at least firmly situated in time and space — but it proves nothing else conclusive about you: this is to say that, self-documentation of Black life still seems unable to contend with the “mass of images” produced by anti-blackness’s aggressive and distributed media campaign.

From Aria Dean’s “Closing the loop” in The New Statesman.

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I read Monkey Grip (1977) by Helen Garner last year and I can’t believe that it is a) Australian and b) I’d not read it until now and c) something this good and interesting was written about single parenthood and wasn’t handed out at the door. It’s set in a very different time to now but captures well the compromises you make with difficult men and also, the possibility of freedom that exists as a single mother.

I thought about the patterns I make in my life: loving, loving the wrong person, loving not enough and too much and too long. What’ll I do? How much of myself will be left hanging in tatters when (if: I don’t want to end it) I wrench myself away this time?

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