Well I didn’t realize that the third blog was intended to be the summary of the project, so it turns out that I will be writing one more entry. As I come upon the closing of the summer as well as my research project, I feel I have a grasp of not only the topic I had been studying, but ideas on art and culture as whole. I went into this subject expecting it to be purely academic, with me cross-referencing books and postulating intricate theories about how everything was related. I thought that the meaning behind the art I would be studying would be so complex that only the elite and educated could access it, that the pieces were unique in their attempt to bring High Culture to the masses through technology. While yes, I was studying Lost, a videogame, and Dave Matthews Band, I thought I could maybe raise these household names to those of classics, far above the normal “trash” found in the respective mediums that these works inhabit. I learned, however, that comparing these works to others was not the wisest path to take.
The question became then, what elevates the works I was studying past Dwight McDonald’s concept of “masscult” found in Against The American Grain? What makes them a piece of art worth delving deeper into, not just manufactured pieces for fame, popularity, and profit? And if they indeed held a more noble artistic distinction, how did they gain and maintain their success in other aspects? In my research, I discovered that the works I studied were not all that complex on the surface, and could be completely enjoyed superficially without understanding the deeper meaning behind them. Many people will want to watch Lost because of the interesting plot and characters, play Final Fantasy XIII because of the beautiful graphics and engaging game-play, and listen to Dave Matthews Band because of their catchy music. I eventually realized, however, that these were not the sole reasons for the pieces existence, merely elaborate “hooks,” or attempts to keep an audience enraptured in them. Unlike other hooks, however, the works almost trick the audience into thinking that they are simply being entertained all while subtly slipping in deeper ideas into the art, and it may not be noticeable if one is not looking for it. Lost does it with the imagery hidden within scenes and philosophical allusions, Final Fantasy XIII with its portrayal of characters facing an impossible moral quandary and avant-garde ascetics, and Dave Matthews Band with its lyrical style and content of the lyrics themselves. The audience can choose to enjoy the pieces without trying to read into it or go past the normal expectations of a piece of mass media.
Art has changed, and agreeing with Steven Johnson of Everything Bad Is Good For You, modern mass media has proved beneficial to our culture in many ways. While I also agree with Dwight McDonald on several points, especially the idea that much of modern mass-art is generated from the wrong places such as demographic studies or profit potential and suffers as a result, my research has proven to me that there is much hope for mass media. Indeed, by reaching a wider and larger audience through the use of the previously mentioned elaborate “hooks,” yet still maintaining a meaningful and beneficial impact on an audience, these works may be more important to a culture than normal types of high art, which tend to only focus on an elite minority. If works of mass media can inspire and make a culture engage in complex ideas, even if it is only a cursory and non-obvious venture that may not affect many, then they are above mass-cult, and true brilliant works of art.