Posts Tagged ‘This American Life’

Nature vs. Perfect

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

This American Life episode #483, “Self-Improvement Kick” aired on Public Radio on January 4th, 2013.  The opening sequence of the episode follows a young woman, Julia Lurie, who is teaching English at an all-girls high school in South Korea.  Through Julia’s interview with Ira Glass and from recordings in her classroom, we learn that South Korea is one of the world leaders in cosmetic surgery and that her South Korean students face significant social pressure to alter their appearance towards a Korean ideal of physical features.  Eyelids, cheekbones, breasts, skin color; all are fair game for alterations in Korean culture.  Julia’s discussion with her class turned towards the debate over whether beauty lies in the natural or in conforming to an ideal. 

In our well-developed societies, we feel an inevitable pull towards nature despite our constant progress (sea-spray scented shampoo, yule log TV program, organic food).  But do we also have an obligation as a species to push ourselves to the absolute brink of progress?  It was thought that the four minute mile was a milestone that would never be crossed.  Athletes have been using performance enhancing drugs for years, trying to gain an edge on their competition, but weren’t they also pushing the envelope of what we could accomplish as humans?  We have schools because we are not content to wander this world in a state of perfect discovery.  We have division of labor so that we can dedicate ourselves most efficiently to a job in our best skillset.  There is no rest to be found in progress, because progress is kinetic, it’s momentum, it’s evolving.  So much as we are pulled into this world of constant achievement, many of us hold back and lean towards a life that strives to commune with and be a part of nature.  The question that inevitably follows this line of thinking is, aren’t we natural?  This debate doesn’t come to a division of whether one way of life is natural or not.  This is a question of values.  Can we be satisfied with anything less than the best?  Can we appreciate the satisfaction we find in accepting less than an ideal?  This is the great question.  For me, I’ll take my progress in steps and look for satisfaction in the pauses.

(that’s Henry David Thoreau…I never read Walden, but there he is nontheless)

Ira Glass – Pitchman

Monday, November 14th, 2011

No one wants to donate. Everyone hates the pledge drive. When the daily National Public Radio programming is put on hold so that a couple of part-time intern-ish broadcasters can beg listeners for a few dimes, most people switch the dial to AM sports talk.  But when Ira Glass, host of the hugely popular This American Life comes on the radio, you know that they just brought in their closer.

Ira Glass is not someone you’d think of as a closer.  He’s not Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross.  He looks like a mix of Buddy Holly and Billie Joe Armstrong and he sounds like your average run of the mill nerd.  But boy, he makes sense.  He cuts his pitch down from the general and talks to the individual.  He talks to the addicts who are still listening even to the pledge drive.  He makes sense.  He also makes you feel guilty, not in the terrible guilty where you end up eating a dozen donuts, but the guilty where you pick up the phone.  The other day, after calling a big-listening non-donator at home, he actually got the guy to say, “I’ve been a scoundrel.”  That’s incredible!  He got a grown man to call himself a scoundrel and then donate.  And imagine all the dozens of other scoundrels listening to that who called in afterwards.  Ira Glass could be as good as Ron Popeil, “Pledge-it and Forget it!” an expert pitchman.

Ira Glass is an incredible reporter, but he might be an even better pledge-drive pitchman.  Now back to your regularly scheduled program.

Patronage and the Future of Art

Friday, January 7th, 2011

At the start of a recent This American Life podcast, host Ira Glass reached out to the listeners to ask for donations.  His show is broadcast on Public Radio and donations are important, not so much for this money-maker, but to many other public broadcasting productions.  Ira asks for money in a classy way and because it’s a well-deserving show it’s an easy pitch.  This idea of asking for donations does lead to a thought about where art and the money to fund it may be heading.

With the dissemination of information through the Internet becoming more possible and more persistent every year (content piracy) it’s going to be hard for artists to charge for content that users can get for free from any bit torrent website.  If people can’t help themselves from stealing from their favorite artists, their favorite artists are going to have to charge them up front.  If you want the next U2 album, you’re going to have to write Bono and the boys a check BEFORE they go into the studio, not after.  In essence, Patronage.  This is not a new concept.

In the Renaissance, Michelangelo was paid well for painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but he was paid up front and throughout the process.  His patrons didn’t wait to see what Michelangelo produced out of his own expenses to debate about whether the finished work was worth buying.  They trusted the artist and paid for his services ahead of time.  This seems logical to me.

To make your name and have someone appreciate you in the first place, YouTube and a million other blogs or websites are great places to become known.  But then once you achieve a level of success, patrons could donate to have you produce even more work.  Look at any other non-commission job out there.  You go to an interview to prove yourself and if you are hired, the employer will commit to pay the employee before any work has actually been done.  In effect, we the people will employ our artists in the future.  If we want quality art, artists will want to get paid for it, and if it’s increasingly harder to earn money on work you’ve already produced, we will have to reward our true artists with commissioned works through Patronage.  Another benefit of this is that our attention and our money will  go from YouTube “productions” like Charley Bit My Finger, which is really cute, to true artists.

If we’re going to keep pirating, and I’m sure people will keep pirating, then be ready for the day when you’re going to have to start paying for artists instead of art.