Friday, June 22, 2012

The Ardent Audience Is Back

Well, that break was a little longer than I expected. Sorry. To get things going again, I thought I would just sort through a few odds and ends: news and pages in the world of audience that I've briefly noticed over the past couple of months while I've been busy wrapping up the academic year.

First--and I'm not sure why I didn't see this before--the Victoria and Albert Museum has put up a wonderful web page titled "A History of a Night at the Theatre." It summarizes the culture of theatre-going from 1500 to the present, including a focus on artifacts from the Museum's collections, from depictions of audiences in paintings and photographs to objects like a "box-renters fan." It's definitely something to which I will return in the future. Please check it out.

Back in February, Henrik Bo Nielsen, CEO of the Danish Film Institute, in a blog post titled "Is The Audience Always Right?," proposed a "reverse audience award" in film. He explained that "the award would go to the movie audience that has the curiosity, courage and energy to seek out challenging movie experiences." He made the proposal while lamenting the apparent boorishness of film audiences, as they follow the latest trend, demand action over substance, and generally think about movies as a quick and pleasurable escape from everyday life. While I think that problem may be due to broader socio-economic pressures more than lack of imagination, his idea of an audience award is something I'd definitely support. Recognizing great audiences (Most Engaged, Longest Applause, Deepest Post-Screening Discussion, Best Heckle, etc.) would be a good way to recognize the crucial participatory role of readers, listeners, and viewers in the arts.

At the beginning of June, the NPR jazz blog, A Blog Supreme, had a guest post, titled "'It Can't Be Done': The Difficulty of Growing a Jazz Audience, from Kurt Ellenberger. There has been considerable hand-wringing about jazz lately (which makes me wonder: is jazz dying any more now than it was after Coltrane died? Or in the 1980s?); it got a lot of attention. Personally, I thought that Ellenberger glaringly ignored the very group he was discussing--there was no engagement with actual audience members, just speculation about how to reach "them." At any rate, a summary of the comments and discussion is here

Have you been following the brouhaha around intern Emily White's post about her music collection at the All Songs Considered blog and the withering response from David Lowery? A summary of the firestorm is here. Maybe it's because I work with students everyday, but the "debate" all seems a little rehashed to me. Is it really news that people are putting together digital music collections from a variety of sources, including file-sharing and legal and illegal downloading? Didn't we have this debate twelve years ago with Napster? At least Robin Hilton wrote, "Let's be clear: The debate over compensation doesn't break down along generational lines, and didn't begin with Emily's essay. We know people have been downloading and sharing music — legally and illegally — for years. The 21st century models for recording music, getting it to fans and compensating everyone involved remain works in progress." Exactly.

Related to the subject of changing models of delivery, there was an interesting post yesterday at NPR on the literal legacy of the e-book, titled "Will Your Children Inherit Your E-Books?" Good article--and I'm not one to disparage the beauty, practicality, and endurance of the physical book--but I think one commenter on Facebook summed up the main criticism: "My child has already inherited my love of reading, which is worth far much more than the actual books." That's a point of view that I can embrace, and it's one, actually, that continues to give me hope. 

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