Directing Culture

A while back my friend and former NYU Local colleague Charlie Eisenhood pointed towards a great blog called You Are Not So Smart. I’ve been following it for a few days and it’s been a really thought-provoking exercise, since it seems to me that a lot of the assumptions the blog challenges have significant philosophical implications.

For example, this post about the total randomness that separates becoming a cultural phenomenon from languishing in obscurity. It got me thinking about one of the major questions I’ve been going back and forth on in political philosophy: What role can the state ethically play in cutting down on that randomness?

This is tricky for me because it seems that creating any work of art (let’s hold off for now on defining “art” because that conversation is not only impossible to resolve but usually pretty masturbatory) is an ethical proposition. It always comes from the place of a certain set of values and assumptions (or an opposition to certain values and assumptions), and that can be either good or bad for both the individual and the community. Art is, simply put, a massive public good issue.

So one would think that the state has an interest in promoting art that does something for the public good. The big question for me is whether or not anyone beyond the individual can properly distinguish what that is, or if it’s proper for anyone beyond the individual to even try.

The knee-jerk reaction would be to assume that state participation necessarily requires some level of censorship, and is therefore bad, but I don’t think it has to be that way at all. Think of an institution like the BBC. Admittedly, the United Kingdom has a spotty record on freedom of speech and the press, but I still think the British Broadcasting Corporation serves as an instructive example of how state-sponsored entities can play an active role in entertainment/cultural discourse.

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