Thanks to the new President, there is no talking about anything at all these days without talking about the class crisis, which in the case of culture is far more complex than just popular versus high art, mainstream versus independent. The more stable opposition really is this one: cultural products with huge budgets, marketed and distributed by cultural empires and oligarchs; and cultural work that is without media mileage or public support, but which exists as artistic productions on a smaller scale, in the margins. Then of course there are the workers on whose backs big budget productions earn, who are without the financial or social security —really no different from freelance cultural workers.
Where popular culture—television, radio, commercial films, magazines—are in the hands of the few who profit from and control mass culture, there are two extremes that exist beyond it. There are the expensive, fancy, fringe productions that might not be popular, but which are created by the elite to corner a very specific wealthy audience that will spend on expensive products: designer clothes, furniture, luxury magazines, coffee table books, art—where art is a return-on-investment, are items of luxury and privilege. Then there are a greater a number of cultural workers moving independently, without the financial ability to live off their works, and oppressed further by structures (i.e., the BIR) that refuse to acknowledge the specificity of this work.
Within this state of affairs, very few cultural workers are “free to create,” where only the wealthy writer, artist, musician, filmmaker, is free from hunger and need, and free from the oppressive conditions of our systemic dysfunctions. This very small group of cultural workers do not speak beyond their privilege, which is the crux of this crisis.
And what should these artists speak about you ask? Oh, a wellspring of issues. They could talk about building artist unions, which is the only way to protect cultural workers and professionalize our industries. They could speak about culture beyond the things we buy or consume, but also as what is built around us. The mall as a cultural monstrosity has changed the way people live, and affected our perceptions of culture. The disinterest in history and heritage is a cultural crisis bound to how we are (re-)building our cities, but also what our artistic works deem important. The inability to discuss issues beyond the superficiality that social/media adheres to, is about a cultural refusal to ask the questions that are difficult.
Without the privileged sectors collectively taking a stand for cultural work, without those artists using their stature to dismantle the systems that silence, disenfranchise, oppress workers and perpetuates ideologies of un-freedom, change for arts and culture just won’t come, and all protest will be empty.
As with the state of the nation, the ones who refuse to speak the truths about this system, are the ones who continue to gain with this silence.