Thursday, April 17, 2008

America Doesn't Know What ART Is

The millennium marked the beginning of a new age in television. Since the introduction of “Big Brother” in 2000, reality television shows have become increasingly popular, and the variety of reality shows offered has multiplied. You can now watch as average people “Survive” the outdoors, “freak” out on “Fear Factor”, get an “Extreme Makeover”, or discover that they are “America’s Next Top Model”. There are numerous other shows that solely focus on celebrities, specifically their personal lives. All of these shows have radically changed society’s perceptions on “celebrities”. Whereas this designation was previously enjoyed by music and movie stars, politicians, and the wealthy, reality shows offer average people the opportunity to become instant celebrities, idols of the American public.

Within the reality television madness exists a special category of elimination, competition based shows that rely on audience participation. Participants in these shows obtain celebrity status by simply being selected to be on the show, but they gain even greater stardom through their “performance” on the show. Dance-based reality shows are one of the top offenders of this instant celebrity status through their performances. Shows such as “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance?” give dancers the opportunity to secure jobs in the industry as a result of the fame they acquire from being chosen for the show.

The American public assumes that dancers on these shows are the best. So much emphasis is placed on the audition tour and the opportunity for dancers everywhere to perform their best. Many of the dancers selected for the show are chosen on standards not related directly to skill level, i.e. a particular style, a particular ethnicity, a particular “look”. These are all characteristics that are unable to be judged, in the traditional meaning of the word, and yet, they play an integral role in the selection process.

Because the American public is so poorly exposed to the arts, they tend to not be informed as to what is deemed good technique versus impressive tricks. Since the dancers want to gain audience approval, they often rely on their flashy tricks to secure the vote; and they are quite successful at doing so. Yes, many of these tricks are quite difficult to master, but when the intention behind them is solely to get a vote they lose their artistic grounding. Quite often, the most technically adept dancers (in particular the ballet dancers) get voted off these shows because the audience doesn’t fully appreciate the mastery of technique. Given that the point of the show is to “win” and get the most votes, it is understandable why you perform what would impress your audience the most. But, it is quite unfortunate that the American public is so poorly informed that they automatically turn to the performers with the most tricks up there sleeve.

The biggest problem with reality dance programs is that the dancing on the shows is creating a new standard for jazz dance. Audiences assume that the movement they see on television is dictionary-defined jazz, and that assumption has been socially constructed by the (possibly) technical ineptitude, individual style, and flashy moves that are produced under the heading of jazz dance. Because these dancers are assumed to be the best their movement is assumed to be the epitome of dance at its finest. Thus, competition, flashy jazz dance is perceived as being the standard for this “art,” and all of the dancers who classically train in the jazz field of dance for numerous years are not recognized.

I feel that the only way to avoid the problems of reality dance programs is to educate the American public. I am a firm believer that an appreciation of the arts begins as a young age, possibly in children as early as their elementary school years. Thus, through exposure to the classics of dance, music, and visual art, young children could develop a more educated appreciation of the arts that would differ dramatically from those views held by generations of the reality television shows. At least reality dance programs do expose the art of dance to a wider audience than would typically enjoy such experiences. However, exposure without education is not ideal because it neglects the prior establishment of dance standards. In a utopian dance world, all of the uneducated Americans who waste time watching these shows would instead use their time to attend a live performance and to patronize the development of programs focusing on the arts. However, America is lazy, and it is much easier to turn on a television and assume that you are experiencing the arts than it is to get dressed up and buy tickets for a performance. Reality dance television is not a detrimental to the “pristine” dance world, but rather, it is a guilty pleasure enjoyed by many to fulfill a void that only the arts can satisfy.

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