Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Good Time to be a Cynic

When I am given the opportunity to speak in front of a group of musicians, I usually conduct an exercise or two. One of my most though-provoking involves asking all the participants to write down two rational reasons (or as close to as possible) why they should have a performing career. The only things which they are no allowed to write down are "I can't imagine doing anything else," or "I love to do it." After 5 minutes or so, the participants reveal their reasons. The funny thing is, most of the time hardly anyone can think of something which they themselves believe is legitimate. It seemed that many of the people who I'd gone through this exercise with started on a path and never questioned why performing was important to them. Even years after the experiment, some have told me that they still haven't come up with anything. I've struggled with since I came to Basel four years ago.

At this time of year I often find that there is a lull in news stories which are of interest to me. Parliaments are out of session, the artistic 'season' is over, and, unless there is an election going on somewhere, I find myself barely glancing at the headlines. Not this month, however. All week I have been glued to the news as a number of different events have unfolded: 
  • The markets are shocked after continued political strife in the UK;

Today, I woke up to the story that 50,000 people have been suspended, sacked, or detained in Turkey as the crackdown on possible coup sympathizers continues. It's only been five days and so many people have already been targeted. But who are they going after? They are targeting the teachers, the deans, the judges. Today the Turkish government even banned travel abroad for academics and recalled all those already outside the country. These are extremely dangerous actions by a government which is on the brink of a greater tragedy: the use of public sentiment after the coup for the AKP, the ruling government, to consolidate power into an authoritarian state. President Erdogan has even mused about bringing back the death penalty, a statement which should frighten everyone. As I write this, President Erdogan has declared that for the next three months Turkey will be in a state of emergency.

Yet the North American news seems to prove that capitalism's fixation with celebrity trumps all, pardon the pun. A glance in the 'world' sections of numerous outlets show the Melania Trump speech story completely overshadowing the Turkish situation. Some outlets don't seem to be covering Turkey at all. While I understand that the RNC's convention feels more 'close to home' for westerners, and that Mr. Trump makes for great television, but what is there about this event that wasn't to be expected?

While so many point out the danger of a Trump presidency, the bubble effect created by social media has encouraged so much conflict on pseudo-moralistic grounds that it has managed to have completely shielded the masses to what matters. Are you worried what the dangers are? It's happening right now, just look to the east. They are targeting the teachers, the universities, the judges.

In a month of such strife, where belief seemingly has conquered over reason, I begin to wonder whether my search for a rationale to perform just got harder. No doubt it's a good time to be a cynic. One thing has become imminently clear, however: live performance is one of the few tools we have to bring communities together which would otherwise be alienated through social media. A shared experience, intellectual and emotional, can act as a basis for co-existence at a time when more and more of the anglophone world descends into tribalism.

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