Yesterday one of my best and longest time friends (we met when we were five), took me to see the Italian Opera, Tosca.
It was beautiful, and tragic, and I loved every minute of it.
At intermission I looked around the audience, and while it was not the first time I had noticed, it is the first time I had really put thought into the fact that my friend and I seemed to be one of the youngest people there. Not to mention, while the audience wasn't sparse, it barely cracked half full, on a final performance no less.
Where was everyone?
The first thing that popped into my head....they are all out watching Fifty Shades of Grey.
**Now in the interest of full disclosure, I have not read the books, seen the movie or truly hold any real primary opinion on the matter. What I have done, is read the synopsis and the ample literature surrounding the issue and the arguments from both sides of the fence. Just this morning I read a letter to the children of a woman who went to see the movie this weekend: "If he turns up inside your apartment uninvited, it’s not romantic. It’s breaking and entering."
This sparked a conversation with my friend about whether art forms like symphonies and operas are becoming irrelevant, and what that ultimately says about our society.
I have friends who honestly think that people go to the opera because they are pretentious and snobby, and not because they actually enjoy it. (Many of these same people lump ballet into that category, and some even theater in general). But as my friend asked, what kind of society would we be if we let the arts go (and sometimes it seems our education system would like to do just that)? What are we left with? What would that look like?
*shudder* It would probably look like whatever we could cram into a 45-second Youtube clip.
I love the symphony, the opera, the ballet, the theater. We are broke some of the time, but when I can scrape up extra money I take myself, and when I can, my kids, to see these things. I think exposing them to the passion of art is more important than buying them more toys or dressing them in the latest fashion.
But, it feels like a losing battle as I look around the theater and see the fact that our hair of blonde and brown is lost in a sea of grey. Where are the children? Where are the young families?
Oh yes. They are trying desperately to make ends meet. And then when they manage to escape the house, they are choosing to go see movies like Fifty Shades of Grey. Movies about wealth and power, and in my humble opinion, the total abuse of it. But I suppose what could be more American than that? As a society we bow down to privilege, pretentiousness and power. Mr. Grey's appeal lies primarily in the fact that he has reached the status of wealth and power. Would we still feel the same way about his actions if he was a night clerk at Walmart?
In this drive for cheap fame and fortune we are losing the arts. For us, for our kids, for our society. We are choosing to feed our souls primarily through celluloid films like Fifty Shades of Grey rather than live performances that provide working opportunities for artists outside of the movie industry. (Don't mistake this for a condemnation of movies. Movies as an art medium do have value. I am only suggesting that we are allowing our other art forms to languish to the point of irrelevancy).
By all accounts, Tosca has many of the same things that should appeal to Fifty Shades of Grey fans: celebrity and wealth in the main character, "tortured" love, jealousy and fear of betrayal. Of course it is not packaged the same. The individuals are real people, not Hollywood actors so perfect in their perfection they appear to be carved out of marble.
So while my friends go see the movie, I sit alone with people who could be my parents and grandparents in a dark theater listening to music that is created by people who are every bit as passionate about their craft as I am about anthropology and writing. And for a moment, all things seem possible and the world is filled with wonder and my soul has been fed.
For a moment, I can step out of myself and the daily grind of being a mother of three and just be....Me. This is a crucially important thing to do for people who are all consumed with their work, their roles as parents or caregivers. We need art forms of all kinds to transport us out of our world and inspire our imaginations.
So, you have two choices in front of you. If you want to step out of your comfort zone, out of your house and temporarily escape your life. You can go to the theater or a live music performance, or you can go see Fifty Shades of Grey. But before you decide, what world do you want for our kids? Our future generations?
Do you want a world of movies like Fifty Shades, or a world filled with music and artists, like Tosca?