The Proletarian Ideal
Now freed from the shackles of student debt, I made a resolution to myself rather recently to begin doing things I enjoy again that previously were rather unaffordable. Among other endeavors, I purchased a number of tickets to the most recent season of the opera. On the whole it was an excellent experience (Siegfried was astounding while Maometto II was a tad dull at times). However, as much as I enjoyed the music each time I attended I was left with a vague feeling of sadness, not brought on in any way by the performance but rather by the surrounding I found myself in.
There was certainly little reason to be sorrowful over attendance, as every evening was nearly a full house. However, if you took a census of the attendees I rather suspect their median age would have been just shy of fifty. It was an overwhelmingly elderly crowd with those under the age of twenty five likely equal in number to those there only via the aid of a walker. The lack of youthful participants certainly can’t be blamed on cost, if you’re under thirty and don’t mind sitting in the cheaper seats the price for a ticket is a tad higher than one to the movies but not by much, but rather a general lack of interest among the young in general.
Just as depressing was the slovenly nature of those my age who were in attendance. I can already anticipate the accusations of me being a snob, so I will happily admit to it. I am one of those people who likes to dress well and go looking for excuses to break out the black tie evening wear. Even if you are not one of those peculiar creatures such as myself though is it really too much to ask you step up you’re game a bit above jeans and a t-shirt? Presumably if you’re attending you’ve paid for your ticket and I imagine like myself you view the experience as a treat for yourself so put on a blazer for heaven’s sake and perhaps a nice pair of shoes!
I cannot help but wonder what this says about us as a society, when high culture is seen as something boring and stuffy for the old and the idea of taking pride in your own appearance is somehow uncool. A friend of mine once philosophized that in modernity we live under a proletarian ideal. Whereas once people idolized the aristocracy, and sought to ape and mirror their practices and appearances, now instead that is the case of the proletariat. We live in an age where corporate moguls wears jeans to show how hip they are and every politician standing for office goes out of his way to emphasize how he or she is just an ordinary joe like the average voter. This worship of the commons has sunk into every element of our culture from fashion to entertainment to even what we find physically attractive in one another (contrasting today’s obsession with attaining a labour’s muscles and build to that of times past when soft hands were seen as the prized sign of a gentleman).
Why is this though? What is the reason for why it is now somehow a plus to be perceived as one of the lowly masses while to be one of the elite is somehow something to be hidden and masked behind a masquerade of mediocrity? In part it comes down to economics. The tremendous growth from modern industrial capitalism had the effect of giving the working masses access to a disposable income that could be spent in part on consumer goods and services. Once that happened it was almost inevitable that some savvy entrepreneur would realize the possibilities such a large market posed and would begin producing and selling products designed to appeal to it. Human beings being the walking sponges that we are, always absorbing from our surrounding environment, it was also almost inevitable that this would also begin to influence culture as a whole. Hence we now have Jay-Z and Pitbull, and their brand of music seemingly trumps Beethoven due to sheer mass exposure.
Partially it can also comes from the fact that modernity, and modern progressives especially, do not deal very well with anything that suggests that we are not all equal. This myth of equality, not in the legalistic sense that we are all equal under the law but in a more formal suggestion that we are all equal in worthiness to one another, is one of the central underpinnings of modern society. The very existence of high culture by default suggests that there is such a thing as low culture, and that one may be superior to the other. The modern day left is loath to assign objective value to anything for it challenges the relativity that is the cornerstone foundation upon which their cathedral is built.
Of course, it is also a delusion of the left that assigning a greater value to one thing automatically make the other somehow diminished or shameful. For all that I enjoy the opera I also am a fan of 80s punk music, and I can appreciate both while also unquestioningly acknowledging that the former is musically far superior to the latter. I’ve read Shakespeare and Dostoevsky but also find guilty pleasure in hatewatching really bad television and films. Everything and everyone in this world has a role to play, from the highest to the lowest, and can be appreciated for that. That appreciation does not us to engage in some illusion of sameness.