“Dearly beloved, we gather here to say our goodbyes,” Mark Cohen croons to the audience. “Dies irae, dies illa …”
The cast of the musical “Rent” proceeds to mockingly mourn the death of Bohemia in “La Vie Bohème,” a celebration of the 1980s Bohemian lifestyle, a pursuit of art and the spirit while scorning materialism.
The ongoing conflict in the musical revolves around Benny, a roommate-turned-landlord, and his request for his tenants to, surprise surprise, pay the rent. At the end, Benny, inspired by his tenants’ Bohemianism, has a change of heart and lets the main characters live in his building for free.
It’s a great idea — the notion that a love for life and creation can overpower the woes of a hard, capitalist modern life. But it’s not only that. It’s also a lash out against the establishment, about “hating convention, hating pretension.” Not only that, in the view of the singers of “La Vie Bohème,” any symbol of a concept perceived as inauthentic, whether that be bands that “sold out to the man” or Haas snakes or Youtube channels that suddenly advertise products, has no inherent value and are outdated.
The saying goes, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” That is, “I’m not the one you should hate on! I’m merely playing the game! Society is the real evil!” Although motivated by the desire to escape accountability for one’s actions, the saying still has some truth to it. For example, someone who says English majors aren’t getting a good “bang for their buck” probably isn’t attacking English as a valid educational field, but rather saying that the system of higher education forces a lot of people to consider college as a financial investment.
The perceptions that STEM and humanities majors have for each other plays a large role in how detached the two feel. Professors teaching classes in Dwinelle treat the education happening at Soda as something completely different, as if there exists something fundamentally incompatible between the two fields. And far too often I’ve seen people at Foothill roll their eyes at a “bullshit paper” or crack jokes about humanities majors.
Because somehow, going to college to earn a degree that doesn’t necessarily lead to six figures outside of college is “wrong.” Because somehow, going to college as someone primarily motivated by career preparation is “wrong.” Because somehow, going to college to study a specific field immediately says something about what you plan to do after college, and of course, that plan is most definitely “wrong.”
To say that our current socioeconomic system is flawed doesn’t mean that people have a moral obligation to detach themselves from the system. Even if we want to advocate that the way our education system is built is awful, it’s not easy to jump out of the water that we’ve been swimming in all our lives (point to column title, cue laughter, roll credits). After all, most aquatic animals need the water to breathe. People do what they can to make a living.
In art, selling out is a concept that seems to originate in some criticism of authenticity — a concept that seems to be overly influenced by what coins are going in which hands behind the scenes. It seems to be dubious at best to claim to understand what a creator’s intention is toward their work. That is not to say that people don’t have any grounds to criticize, but if I were to claim that a creator is straying from their artistic integrity (whatever that means), I’d be implying that I know exactly what the creator had in mind when making their work: a nice yacht on the Caribbean.
Sometimes, maybe making fat stacks was exactly what the creator does have in mind, and there is validity in arguing that a “sellout movie” isn’t a shining example of art. But if someone wants to make a movie with the express intent of getting rich, who am I to accuse them of being a bad person? Calling someone a sellout is making a judgment. It’s a pejorative word, often used in a context of accusing someone of moral bankruptcy.
Does making something for money dilute the meaning compared to if they made it for free? If an artist sells paintings instead of handing them out for free on the street, that doesn’t mean that I can call these paintings a less valid expression of the artist’s thought without first knowing more about the meaning of the art. It seems like a lot of people are searching for that inauthenticity without necessarily understanding where the creator comes from.
Just like meatless balls — it tastes the same, if you close your eyes. It is what it is, and it exists such that authenticity is not necessarily linked to record labels or major choices. The existence of another motive does not necessarily detract from the merit of an action, and oftentimes we presume too much about whether or not the motive and the action come into ideological conflict.
Oh, and if you liked the hat I’m wearing on the right, you can get it at your local clothing store for only $7.99! Get it while supplies last!
Louis Lee writes the Wednesday column on what you just read. Contact them at [email protected].