Oct/Nov 2019  •   Reviews & Interviews

However vanishingly, life is still a wonder

Commentary by Gilbert Wesley Purdy

My digital funnies dropdown menu is the one daily indulgence I can afford. There being little Internet money to be made from comics, until one has millions of "followers," most are reruns from 20 or more years ago: Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County, Fox Trot, etc. Presumably, their creators are mopping up a last bit of pocket money from jobs exceptionally well done.

I add a new comic strip now and then. The scroll has become long enough that it takes me a while to get through it. Some 20% or so of the pages only rarely post a new comic. The creator of first run material is understandably discouraged by being expected to provide it for pennies, I suspect. I don't blame her or him in the least.

Perhaps not quite as much an indulgence, an hour or so after reading the funnies I am generally on YouTube listening to the exceptional classical music posted there. Only a year ago, the platform avoided running advertisements during a piece. Now it does so frequently. Among the ads is a pop-up offering advertisement-free content for a modest monthly fee. If I don't like having my concerts constantly broken up by ads, I am provided a more civilized option.

To be honest, YouTube is not quite so unremittingly mercenary. It tries to adjust to minimize the classical music conundrum. Most ads play early in the listening experience. Their algorithms begin to "understand" how to recognize the signs that a piece is between movements and more often succeeds at inserting the ads there where they are less intrusive. After all, an angry potential-customer rarely buys the products in advertisements that infuriate them.

Classical music does not garner millions of followers so the videos on YouTube are not direct money makers. But high-end musicians love what they do and they are trying valiantly to maintain the infrastructure that is necessary for it. Impoverished freelancer that I am, I still get to listen to superb music played by exceptional performers. However vanishingly, life is still a wonder.

Classical orchestras are going belly up at an ominous rate. It may be hoped that YouTube watchers more able than I to buy concert tickets will also be enjoying the music, and that, in this way, classical's not-so-slow death may be slowed. Individual performers may turn their lifetimes of constant practice and dedication into further opportunities to play in more and better venues for small paychecks.

The alternative is simplified scores of Mozart played by the local high school orchestra. Of course it would be unkind to disparage that. The kids practice, too. They try very hard. Just look at the looks on their faces. Should the jocks playing the weekend football game get all the attention? If you ask Uncle Joe, those games are better than the pros. They're being played for the love of the game instead of obscene amounts of money

Of course those pro football players aren't being paid millions for their talents per se. They are paid for being entertainers. Fans will pay huge sums to sit in a stadium seat during the games. Television networks will pay huge amounts to get their clients' ads in front of young viewers surging with hormones and confidence that life is going to be great and accessorized. Associated Web sites will get many millions of followers eager to own the latest trendy object.

Impoverished freelancers, unable to buy (or to wish to buy) the products featured on the constant commercials, used to get to go along for the ride as well as for the commercials (some of which are very entertaining in themselves). As of recent years, however, they are able to see the shrinking percentage of the games that are shown on major networks. However vanishingly, life is still a wonder.

As for the classical musicians and their shrinking paychecks, those paychecks reflect their entertainment value also. The target audience for supercharged results (and, therefore, paychecks), in case you missed the point above, is young, unreflective persons saturated with hormones, baseless optimism and with room still left on their credit card balances. Still the musicians dedicate their lives to endless practicing in order to play an inconspicuous part in a symphony orchestra. The high school musicians (bless their hearts) practice an hour or two most days, perhaps, in the pursuit of learning that such is not a path along which they can or can wish to continue until they can fill a chair in a professional orchestra playing Mozart.

If the term "impoverished freelancer" is used as a euphemism for culturally literate writer long studied in the humanities and the lessons history hands down to us, however, classical musicians can thank their lucky stars. While both professions involve cultural models generally rejected as oppressive and/or outdated, at least classical music doesn't say anything. And that makes half the difference.

The other half is that high school poets and scholars never stop thinking, as adults, that the hour or two a day of practice, perhaps, that they put in years or decades ago, qualifies them as writers and thinkers for life. Or that being in a bad relationship counts as 24/7 practice towards the infamous 10,000 hours required to become an exceptional poet.

Unlike the school orchestra, the high school poet never had an audience to please. Unlike the high school poet, the orchestra cannot be deaf to the squawking noise it makes. For all the effort a loving audience makes, it cannot help but register its reaction in its cringe-smiling faces. It can never be equal to all other orchestras by virtue of the collective sacred personal expression of the musicians.

The criteria of the new writer and thinker is telling. History is oppressive and outdated. It's all for the better that they go without it. Western humanities are a crime that must begin to be punished. Everyone has the right to equal appreciation of their sacred self-expression. Everyone has the right to the history developed by their identity group. Negative or unwelcome comments will not be tolerated.

So then, gangs of digitally pumped poets and alternative historians now roam the Internet, with fierce tattoos, saying "Namaste," sexting and just looking for a reason any reason to go off tag-team on some isolated defender of outdated elitist definitions of "content" and "quality" who just wants to read the damned funnies reruns. Well... and listen to fine musicians play classical music. Um... and read digital facsimiles of all the free hundreds of years old books that I could not possibly have afforded before the Internet. And sell the occasional book of my own.

But forget about watching the Green Bay Packers anymore after last week's game. Um... where was I? Oh yeah. However vanishingly, life is still a wonder.


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