The most important single fact about Culture in contemporary America is that patronage of the arts has been democratized and criticism of them has not been. Most of the difficulties arising from this lag have been falsely imputed to the emergence of “the mass society.” A great many “crises” in taste would gradually disappear if the energies of our cultural institutions were systematically and imaginatively reinvested in these new contexts of patronage.
We thereby would clarify for new and insecure patrons the aesthetic choices a different kind of society demands of them. These acts of patronage stem from the rise of the new institutions of mass production and mass communication. Yet mass education for all practical purposes simply ignores these new arts and their new modes of patronage, effectively turning unexperienced patrons over to the unexamined blandishments of advertising.
A desirable humanities curriculum in a mass society would make it possible for everyone to lead an examined life as a patron of mass production and mass communication. A realistic agenda for the humanities, then, would provide for the most rapid creation and widest diffusion of a body and tradition of criticism that encourage the support of excellence within these mass institutions.
The important thing to remember is that priority must go to the encouragement of excellence in our society’s central institutions. For these set the tone of the society. All else is secondary in the humanities, except as it ultimately contributes to the health and growth of these central institutions. For in the last analysis, the humanities strive to render everyday life more humane. And everyday life in America today can never be much better than the conditions of life encouraged by our central institutions of mass production and mass communication.
There is even a sense in which Sunday Culture can become a kind of highbrow escapism from the inadequacies, moral and aesthetic, of our work-a-day culture of automobiles and television. The humanities must constantly be on guard against succumbing to that kind of “cloistered virtue.” Alienation from mass culture is never an acceptable substitute for its gradual humanization.
Sam Katz films the Rizzo years
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