A Glance Backwards

As you may have noticed, it’s winter here in the northern hemisphere. Though the  holiday season lends winter the illusion of being a cohesively evocative time, the emotions wrapped up in winter traditions are more tangled and ambiguous than corporate window displays would lead you to believe. Especially so close to the start of the new year, the warm fuzzies sometimes give way to darker–or at least deeper–thoughts on one’s own personal path and the trajectory of the human race at large.

Here at Plan B headquarters, it’s a little cold, a little dark, a little contemplative. It probably wasn’t a smart move on my part to listen to multiple iterations of “Hallelujah” on repeat and think about how unfair it is that Leonard Cohen isn’t more well-known and that Jeff Buckley died so young and that Bono ever thought it was a good idea to record a trip-hop version of that song. The weight of this atmosphere blurs my view of the path to world-saving, and scrolling through the things I’ve written this year makes me wonder if I’m even in the right vicinity.

Of the 37 pieces I’ve written on this blog this year, 12 were about education. 10 were miscellaneous: a few boring updates and some attempts at arranging words in a pretty way to convey certain feelings or describe places. The weird realization, though: I wrote 12 pieces about art and culture. That’s a full 3 times as many as I wrote directly about social change.

Gloomy, day-before-New-Year’s me: “Wait a second. I’m supposed to be serious about making the world a better place. What’s all this nonsense about art?”

And then I thought about it.

During the 1930’s, Adolf Hitler led a campaign against “degenerate” art: paintings that had been produced by artists not of acceptably Aryan stock, works created in vulgar, modern styles, all pieces that failed to extol the virtues of Germanic blood and soil. The offending sculptures and canvases were pawned off at insultingly low prices and secreted away by valiant art collectors, leaving some 4,000 unlucky works to the greedy tongues of a bonfire stoked by Berlin’s Fire Brigade.

Less than half a century later, the South African government found folk singer Sixto Rodriguez’s album Cold Fact in opposition to their apartheid-era aims. Lyrics like “Silver magic ships you carry / Jumpers, coke, sweet Mary Jane” and songs like “The Establishment Blues” enticed masses of young Afrikaners to unite in the midst of an oppressive state of emergency, so government officials scratched out such deviant tracks on Rodriguez’s records.

The creation and distribution of art is often trivialized, its perceived role limited to being a weapon in thinly-veiled status wars between bored blue-bloods and Ivy-educated gadabouts. But if art really means so little, why have repressive regimes been so consistently afraid of its power?

Perhaps that’s just a clever rationalization that will allow me to continue fawning over my favorite bands on this platform, but I rather like it.

See you in 2013, wonderful readers! May you be doggedly pursued by prosperity, serendipity, love, and charming companions.

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