Throughout history there have been many instances in which an author has used their literary voice to shout the atrocities of the world. One I think we can all relate to is the amazing George Orwell and his commentary on the constant need of an enemy and the positive effects of war on a country’s inhabitants, creating purpose both economically and personally and a sense of togetherness amongst a nation.
In his novel 1984 he writes, “The primary aim of modern warfare is to up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living.” Over 65 years later, Orwell’s writings still hold relevance, if not more than ever.
As a musician nothing has spoken to me more than the terrifying, and seemingly prophetic methods of manipulation used by the beautifully crafted antagonist Ellsworth Toohey in Ayn Rands master of a novel The Fountainhead. Now before cringing and running from you computer let us remember literature can be construed many different ways and for me personally one of the biggest tragedies in literature is the assimilation of Rands work for the Republican Tea Party. As an artist, The Fountainhead is one of the most inspiring eulogies of individuality and dedication to ones work in existence.
Toward the end of the book Ellsworth Toohey monologues his intent to destroy art from the inside out. His meticulous methods of promoting mediocrity in order to drown out anything beautifully crafted or original scream volumes to me today.
“Don’t set out to raze all shrines-you’ll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity-and the shrines are razed.”
“Kill a man’s sense of values. Kill his capacity to recognize greatness or to achieve it. Great men can’t be ruled. We don’t want any great men. Don’t deny conception of greatness. Destroy it from within.”
Here we see a complete outline of the press’ power over popular opinion and their ability to manipulate it to their advantage. The act of berating one’s work seems aggressive, even malicious therefore creating a negative outlook on the action itself and eventually reflecting the same onto the aggressor. However if one whose opinion is respected were to promote blatant mediocrity they in turn would alter the popular opinion of greatness itself. To alter the very concept of greatness gives the mainstream press power over not only an entire media, but the future development of values within an entire population.
In an age where many of the top selling singles and albums are written by the same team of producers and ran through a gauntlet of focus groups one can see how the power of the media can in fact manipulate the values of a society therefore moulding the popular opinion of an entire media of art. The world is impressionable and it seems that certain entities may have learned how to delicately take advantage of the soft minds of the masses.
While I know any production requires meticulous planning and execution, I cant help but feel like the popular opinion of music, or any other main stream media of art have become, for lack of a better word, diluted. Chopin gives way to Bieber, Goethe gives way to Palahniuk and so on and so forth. It seems there is a lack of effort from a consumers perspective and perhaps it can be traced back to this promotion of surface level productions meant to produce a level of, dare I say, shock value.
Orwell also wrote, “Great books…are those that tell you what you already know.” So are we that powerless against such artistic deflation?
While coming to these conclusions I do realize that there is a whole world of art not elevated by the media to what is considered mainstream. I have been a part of this my whole life. But there in lies the scariest part of my conclusions. For one to support a life of art it is a sad fact that the artist is chained to the opinions of a population, and it seems a landslide has taken place where originality is shunned and will not, in fact, can not get the exposure it usually deserves. While I find it hard to believe that the opinions of the few will ever contend with the well oiled machine that is the main stream media, I do at least see hope. There is no denying the collection of people, artist and consumer, that refuse to lower their standards. Such is the romantic nature of art, the indefinite struggle to create, and it seems there is no better way to exercise strength and passion than to fight against that which is unbeatable.