thoughts on the culture of commerce

information about the shenzhen bay fringe festival is now online. the dates are december 4-12, 2010. there will be events everyday at the nanshan culture center, which is in fact the string of malls that run from baoli in the east through coastal city over houhai road to nanshan book city. and yes, the conflation of “culture” with “commerce” is both strategic and unfortunate. strategic because commerce is the way shenzhen artists step around politically sensitive questions. unfortunate because most shenzhen residents do not see interesting frissions between commerce and culture.

the hopeful aspect of commerce as culture is that what starts out as a strategy to introduce shenzhen residents to a wider variety of cultural forms may pry open an alternative space within the relentless commercialism of the area. the more distressing aspect, of course, is that the commercialism is relentless and, for many, an unquestioned good precisely because of its alliance with culture, especially, education. after all, commercialized shenzhen art remains primarily a means of earning additional gaokao points, even when a student actually enjoys music or painting or the ballet. for adults, art is a hobby.

the shenzhen conflation of commerce and culture is not unlike the american confusion of freedom to purchase with human emancipation. we buy sniper dolls for our daughters and do not question the principles organizing our toy stores (why dolls? why plastic bullets? why do we differentiate between children based on what their parents can and cannot afford?) and yes, this confusion annoys me; on bad days, i end up snapping at mothers who have done nothing more than ask if their daughters can earn alot of money if they go to the right colleges. (i haven’t recently taken out my frustration on americans because i left the country. next trip home i’m sure i’ll be snapping with the best of the turtles. sigh.)

come anyway. be the fissure that cracks open our hearts.

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