Within the last week, Matt and I have done three particularly cultured things:
- We saw Bell Shakespeare's performance of Twelfth Night at the Opera House.
- We visited Sculpture by the Sea.
- We went to the Opera House again to see the Australian Ballet's Edge of Night.
What a great week it was, but it has also got Matt and I thinking a lot about how consumerist high culture is. It's a hidden thing - when I think of consumerism, I think of things like Coke and Barbie dolls and ipods. But Shakespeare plays, ballet and other arts are products for consumption too, especially when they are marketed as an essential experience for the upper middle class.
I find great pleasure in these kinds of performances - dance and music performances especially. I love watching and interpreting and I love being moved by it all. I love crying when things are beautiful. I have cried at the beauty of a live performance of Handel's Zadok the Priest and I have bawled my eyes out watching the Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet ballet. But sometimes I feel almost guilty that I experience these kinds of moments so frequently. Seeing a beautiful performance is one thing, but it's never that alone. It's a night out in a glittering city - lit by thousands of fossil fuel burning lights. It's an overpriced meal beforehand, served up by underpaid kitchen hands and waitstaff. We eat food that has travelled thousands of kilometres to sit on my plate. Are the farmers who produced this food in foreign countries getting paid enough to take their family to see Shakespeare? Is this foreign food depriving local farmers of a decent income? Can local farmers take their families to the Opera House? The curtain goes up and the stage lights turn on. Who says that this form of dancing is the highest form of dancing? What about dancing from other cultures? Would this many people pay this much money to see dancing from a different culture?
These high culture nights always seem to go the same way for me: the indulgence of a good meal, the elation of an indescribable performance and then the gnawing sensation as I leave the theatre: how sustainable is this thing that I have just done?
Even with these sobering thoughts, I don't think I want to stop going and enjoying these things. But I definitely don't want to stop thinking of the bigger ethical picture behind it all. At the moment, feeling the weight of each performance I see makes me appreciate these moments as a blessing. Maybe for now it is just a case of being thankful that I get to enjoy these things now, to acknowledge that they are not essential experiences to be a human (not even an upper-middle class human!) and to remember that they are not to be taken for granted.
Twelfth Night photo from Bell Shakespeare, Molto Vivace photo from the Australian Ballet.