Vargas Llosa on Culture
About a week ago I came across a stimulating essay by the great novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. In Spanish it's title is "La civilización del espectáculo". In the essay Vargas Llosa reflects on recent shifts in cultural values, the possible differences between high and popular culture, and the ascendence of entertainment as the dominant force of our time. (He's talking mainly about frivolous entertainment.) He observes, as many have, how the distinction between news and entertainment has become terribly blurred for large segments of the population. That's one 'symptom'. This is quite significant because, and I'm sure I've made this argument before, as our pursuit of distraction becomes ever intensified, our ability to sustain, much less improve, a just, democratic society, becomes increasingly endangered. Curiously, I mentioned this essay yesterday to a colleague and she said, oh yes, that's the talk Vargas Llosa gave at Dickinson. (That was in December, 2008, when we were in Malaga.) In any case, the emergence of new technologies plays a central role in these shifts in habits and values. I am reminded of this right now, having just seen a Times headline: "If your kids are awake, they're probably online". Here's the first line: "The average young American now spends practically every waking minute — except for the time in school — using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device, according to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation." Gives pause, no? I am also reminded of a recent conversation with a colleague who has a young son. All his friends have... I don't know what you call it, some hand held video game device. Should he get one too? It's very hard, but I'm all for parents who try to resist the onslaught. Vargas Llosa writes about the declining importance of ideas as a cultural force. The well considered use of reason. He declares himself a pessimist. I'm still an optimist, so one of my tasks is to articulate why my optimism is justified. Stay tuned.