Lee Camp is one of my favorite young, political comedians. I’ve been seeing him do his standup at Living Liberally events for years. Lately he’s been doing short videos which are mostly political, but today’s goes and looks at contemporary American culture, music and art. What he is sees isn’t a lot worth liking.
I have to say that while there’s a lot which resonates with me about pop culture, music, and art, I think Lee is being too hard on culture, music, and art writ large. After all, there’s a world of difference between mainstream schlock like the Black Eyed Peas and almost as mainstream creativity from artists like Radiohead, or well outside the mainstream musicians like Fat Freddy’s Drop or Portugal, The Man. Though he doesn’t touch on it, you could make a similar critique of contemporary comedy. Charlie Sheen’s sitcom Two and a Half Men was the top rated comedy show on tv for many years running. If I were judging the state of comedy on Sheen, as opposed to, say Zach Galifianakis or Lee Camp, I’d have a pretty pessimistic view too.
I’d also add that Camp’s comment about people driving through machines in automobiles and missing anything relevant unless it’s smacking them in the face reminds me of a passage from Nikolai Gogol’s short story, “The Portrait.” The story is about a starving Russian artist who is commissioned to paint a portrait by an aristocratic woman who fancies herself an expert on painting:
“Tell me your opinion of the portrait painters of the present day. Is it not true that there are none now like Titian? There is not that strength of colour, that–that– What a pity that I cannot express myself in Russian.” The lady was fond of paintings, and had gone through all the galleries in Italy with her eye-glass. “But Monsieur Nohl–ah, how well he paints! what remarkable work! I think his faces have been more expression than Titian’s. You do not know Monsieur Nohl?”
Implied in the passage is this is a woman who rushed around the galleries – not just some, but all – of them and by virtue of having passingly put her eyes on the works of various artists considers herself an expert. In short, quantity and speed are valued by her more than quality of experience. The result is a warped view of art and art appreciation, not dissimilar to what we have today.
Gogol also said, “You can’t imagine how stupid the whole world has grown nowadays,” which seems pretty much exactly the same point Camp is making.