NPR had a story this morning about how cable TV is fracturing America that was quite fascinating, particularly with regard to our recent conversations about diversity. You can read a summary and.or listen to it here. (The summary presents the story as far more one-sided than the audio is, so I recommend you listen to it.)
The jumping off point is, of course, Seinfeld, with the question being, essentially, without all of these common catchphrases (not that there's anything wrong with it, yadda yadda yadda, and so on) will our ability to communicate, to find common ground, to unibus out of our plurum fade?
It seems that, basically, what's going on here (and has been documented all over the place for awhile) is that technology and the cheap dissemination of information have created a reality where majority culture is, well, not that much in the majority anymore. Just as demographic changes will ensure that whites are a plurality in this nation (and eventually, perhaps, not even that) our hundred gajillion channels of cable ensure that there's plenty of people walking around who (gasp!) don't even know who won American Idol this year. (which reminds me: who won American Idol this year?)
Here's the thing tho: This is happening now, as a maybe inevitable result of advances we've made, and, as with any large cultural shift, it's going to have consequences, some positive and some negative. And to the people who that monoculture catered to (people who look like me, let's be frank) the demise of monoculture is going to feel particularly negative as we'll no longer be in control. But lamenting it seems about as sane as lamenting the tides.
So obviously, the intersections between this and our diversity conversations are many. But let me just say that part of what makes this fracturing possible is that technology is making it easier and cheaper to produce and disseminate cultural products. Cable shows cost much less to develop than network shows. Web shows even less. Viral videos cost nothing. Digital technology makes creating movies and recording music far far easier and cheaper. We're beginning as a culture to feel the impact of all of this. It will only get more dramatic as time goes on.
But you know what none of this affects? The cost of making theatre. YouTube doesn't make renting a theatre any cheaper. Putting up a play, in fact, seems to cost more and more and the barriers to getting work produced by someone else feel thicker and thicker.
This is part of why I feel like there's an urgency that people feel w/r/t diversity in the performing arts. We experience (To some extent) this sea change going on all over the place and wonder why the art form we love the most, that we are the most dedicated to, isn't changing at the pace of everything else. It's frustrating. And meanwhile, those who do not care about or are actively opposed, particularly those who define "good" as "coming out of the aesthetics of white male majoritarian culture" feel particularly threatened. With everything else changing, there's something comforting about institutional theater to those attached to that monoculture.