January 28, 2004
Pope blesses breakdancers
I love weird news. And this is of the loveliest and weirdest order:
CNN: In an unusual spectacle at the Vatican, Pope John Paul II presided over a performance of break-dancers who leaped, flipped and spun their bodies to beats from a tinny boom box. The 83-year-old pontiff seemed to approve, waving his hand after each dancer completed a move, then applauding for the entire group. He watched the performance from a raised throne. "For this creative hard work I bless you from my heart," he said.
Posted by matt at 12:34 PM
January 27, 2004
Revolutionzing the economics of popular culture?
Here's a little excerpt from a column by music critic Barry Ulanov:
"It’s extraordinary that year after year, decade after decade, the beautifully polished machinery of manufactured spontaneous combustion can be set in motion in our popular culture without any protest, or with no more than the most timid and tentative sort of objection. One cannot help wondering about the broader implications of this procedure. If a whole country can be such a pushover for a song and a dance, what does that suggest about that same nation’s political susceptibilities?"
This succintly describes an aspect of the climate of popular music on the radio these days. It also makes what I feel is a solid connection between our apathy about what we're fed on the radio and the apathy of most people to engage in political participation.
Thing is, Ulanov wrote that in 1957. The voice of protest has always been around in popular culture, and it's scary to see how little the arguments have changed over the decades. Makes you wonder whether activists like downhillbattle.org and the groups who preceded them (Ulanov was a big advocate for the economic independence of musicians in the 1950s) have studied the history of previous (failed) attempts to transform the economics of popular culture.
Hey, maybe they have. In fact, I wish them the best of luck. But while the prospect of revolution is always exciting, I'm skeptical about whether it's realistic, or more importantly, whether their vision of completely evading the need for an industry middle man has any possibility of longevity.
Most of all, I'd rather not be reading the same recycled arguments for cultural revolution years down the road.
Posted by matt at 04:15 PM
January 26, 2004
Corporate Social Responsibility, or two-faced capitalism
There's a thought-provoking piece in the change in strategy among activists toward getting corporations to conduct their business ethically. As usual, however, the Economist staff end on a particularly idiotic note. Here are the last few paragraphs:
The Economist: This week Christian Aid … published a report claiming to reveal the true face of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The charity is “calling on politicians to take responsibility for the ethical operation of companies rather than surrendering it to those from business peddling fine words and lofty sentiments.” … It regards CSR as a “burgeoning industry...now seen as a vital tool in promoting and improving the public image of some of the world's largest companies and corporations.”
The report features case studies of Shell, British American Tobacco (BAT) and Coca-Cola—all of them, it says, noted for paying lip-service to CSR while “making things worse for the communities in which they work.” Shell, says the report, claims to be a good neighbour, but leaves oil spills unattended to. Its community-development projects are “frequently ineffective”. BAT, it says, claims to give farmers training and protective clothes; contract farmers in Kenya and Brazil say otherwise. Coca-Cola promises to use natural resources responsibly. The report accuses an Indian subsidiary of depleting village wells. So, “instead of talking about more voluntary CSR in Davos, government...should be discussing how new laws can raise standards of corporate behaviour.”
This is a switch. CSR was conjured up in the first place because government action was deemed inadequate: orthodox politics was a sham, so pressure had to be put directly on firms by organised protest. Ten years on, instead of declaring victory, as well they might, disenchanted NGOs like Christian Aid are coming to regard CSR as the greater sham, and are calling on governments to resume their duties. Might this be a sign … that CSR has finally peaked? If so, it might be no bad thing. If bosses are no longer to get credit for pandering to their critics, they may as well go back to doing their jobs.
The problem is, of course, that the corporate bosses