Sunday, October 6, 2013

Tú o nadie - in defense of pop culture.

From the series "Lebanon's contemporary history book" by Tarek Chemaly

Astronomer Carl Sagan once said: "Academic intelligence is no guarantee against being dead wrong." It sounds odd to start this post about low-brow culture with a quote by someone you probably have not heard of (and it's no shame), but then, it's just to say that it's fine to trust your instinct as to the things you love.
When Red, the very developed cinematic camera was introduced, a French director of photography I know was among the first to get it. He showed me, side by side, images stemming from red and other images taken from less sophisticated cameras. "Which one do you like?" I gravitated instantly towards the non-Red ones. "But that's because you're used to video" he disappointingly retorted.
But you see, I am a sucker for all those 80s videos with orange faces and blueish hues, that's the aesthetic I like. The more low-fi the better it conjures emotions in my lexicon. People often mistake my work for "unfinished" not realizing that it was on purpose that it looks messy and that - yes - those off-color pixels are supposed to be there as opposed to them being left because of sheer laziness. And it is sad for me how conformist our art schools are - as soon as anyone strays from the path of the composition-visual communication-yadayadayada they are immediately chastised.
When I launched my website very recently, it was a pleasure to see members of the public, art teachers and practitioners, gallerists and collectors all telling me how breezy, light, highly functional but most importantly how much the works simply function within the context. Until that is, an art theoretician kicked in - he sent me one of the most obnoxious emails I had received in a while (and trust me, as a blogger who handles media critique I get so many hate mail, and so even by such standards the email in question was vile) attacking everything about the site, but most specifically the works and the concept behind it.
Sure if you go back to his own statement, it is full of references to obscure philosophers, fancy and convoluted words, sentence structures so odd they end up vague but impressive - exactly the kind of thing that the art world relishes on. 
Still, I stand by my idea which is simple - pop culture is a way to bridge the gap in divided societies as a way to create a collective memory which leads to a national identity. I remember this incident distinctly, when the last episode of the telenovela which introduced Lebanon to Mexican soap operas "Anta aw la a7ad" was aired, I was talking a walk in Achrafieh, a predominately Christian region of Beirut. 
The mood of Lebanon was that of the immediate post-war. The animosities were still raging even if not actively through bullets and bombs, there was a severe risk of relapse, and in the Achrafieh I lived in the supporters of the two Christian factions that lead the last war were still at daggers-drawn. And yet, the streets were eerily silent - not because of a curfew or a security measure - but because everyone was holding their breath by their television set. No matter what their political orientation was, everyone was watching the denouement between "Raquel and Antonio" with "Maximiliano" completing the love triangle. Somehow, the city was peaceful, united, and very much aligned under the same ideology.
The Bee Gees, often derided for their falsettos and cheesiness as representatives of the disco era, are being rehabilitated for their music and orchestration, their song "Stayin' Alive" contains 103 beats per minute - 3 beats more than the 100 that are supposed to be had by the human heart - which makes it ideal for CPR, and sport stimulation listening.
The examples abound as to this, but did you know that one of the most art house Swedish directors - none other than Igmar Begman - the man who gave us movies about nuns mutilating their private parts with glass was actually a devotee of Dallas? Who knew?
The motto of this blog is POPtimism, POPaganda, POP culture from Beirut Lebanon. And so it shall remain.

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