As a teenager I was a huge (huge) fan of Peter, Paul, and Mary. Their folk music roots, musicianship, social consciousness, and wry humor blew me away. They had a number of breakout hits (slightly unusual in the late 1960s for what was essentially a folk music group). And one of these was a song I (and I guess many others) heard as funny: Peter,Paul & Mary I Dig Rock & Roll Music (1968).
I had not thought about it much since then but have in the last few years heard it a number of times and something new came across to me. It’s awfully snarky, something I didn’t really pick up on originally. Cases in point,
- Regarding rock and roll music generally:
The message may not move me
Or mean a great deal to me
But hey! It feels so groovy to say
- On The Mamas and the Papas:
[T]hey got a good thing goin’
When the words don’t get in the way
- The Beatles
And when the Beatles tell you
They’ve got a word “love” to sell you
They mean exactly what they say
That’s not all of it, but you get the gist. PP&M had a reputation as brainy, socially aware musicians. And at the risk of over-analyzing, it was probably a bit off-putting for them to observe the incredible success of rock and roll groups. (I won’t put “less talented” into their minds or mouths, but read those lyrics again.)
To get belatedly to the point having to do with this blog, there exists in the hearts and minds of at least some in the nonprofit arts sector a sense that the work they present is superior to most or all popular culture and that (and this is the real message) those who patronize such culture are inferior. Even if they don’t say that out loud or acknowledge it to themselves this sets up a monumental barrier to connecting with new communities. And even if it is unconscious and unspoken, the attitude itself is easy for people to spot when it is directed at them.
To those who respond, but it is better, I can only say the following:
- Be careful that your myopia about European aristocratic culture is not getting in the way of your addressing these issues. There are other cultures, all with significant things to say about the human condition.
- Not all EAC (European aristocratic culture) is better than all popular culture.
- It would behoove us to get to know and understand popular culture better. There is much that is significant, valuable, and thoughtful to be found in it. Yes there is much that is not, but then history has had a chance to winnow out much of the “less than” in EAC.
- If our survival depends upon significantly expanding our base of support (and it does) then holding negative attitudes about those we must reach will doom us.
- And if our survival does depend on this, it is us,–and only us–who can do anything about it. There is no wand-waving fairy godmother to step in and fix things.
Arrogance, even unconscious arrogance, is a self-inflicted wound that can stop community engagement–the development of relationships with new communities–efforts in their tracks.