Japan: The work of art in the age of digital reproduction

A cross-generational debate over the value of art, and culture in general, has arisen among users of the social bookmarking service Hatena. The debate, originated by an anonymous entry titled: ehm… Isn`t it weird the idea that we have to pay money for music?, has brought many bloggers to ask themselves questions about the necessity of paying for what is considered to be an artistic product (a song, an image, a video etc.), especially now that free services like Youtube or the Japanese Niko Niko Dōga are available.


Ehm. Isn't it weird the idea that we have to pay money for music?
After all, you only need to have a look on Niko Niko Dōga or Youtube to see that there are people who distribute original songs for free. And they are so many that I can't even understand why [they do it].
Although for many “free music” is fine, isn't it strange that convenience stores and TV programs so often push people to pay to listen to music?
Well, of course now someone will say “[if they don't get paid] musicians cannot make a living”. […]
But, on the contrary, hasn't the concept of “making a living out of music” been the exception so far?
Leaving aside the idealizations, the idea itself of making money from music is fundamentally weird.
iPod Shuffle 512MB. By flickr user purprin.

iPod Shuffle 512MB. By flickr user purprin.

These words roused the indignation of another anonymous blogger, who, apparently belonging to an older generation, still believes in the “art for art's sake” ideal.


After having read [the entry above], I asked my daughter, who is a high school student, what she thinks about it and when I heard that she completely agrees [with the blogger] I thought that things are looking really bad.



I tried to explain her that “no, that's not right!”, she seemed not to understand.
So I tried with some examples to make my counterargument easier [to understand], but nothing worked.
– “Ballet, kabuki, theatre, opera etc., what about these?–> I don't care, I don't need them”.
– “But, in this way, the arts and the cultural expressions in general will disappear… –> Where is the problem if they do?”
Those were her replies.


So I thought that, if the younger generations who represent the future think all in the same way, the end for Japan has really come.
Even if they don't actually produce any culture, they are the ones who will make it die.
The reason is [found in the belief] that “things must be useful”, that “seeing [a work of art] doesn't mean much”.
Why wouldn't they be willing to pay money for art?
There is no doubt that the recession carries its weight, but there is the risk that believing that “because of the bad economy it is obvious that culture disappears” ends up being common sense.

More optimistic viewsc ome from another commentator.


Ballet, Kabuki, theatre, opera and all these art forms cannot be understood by the mass of the people whose worries mainly concern the daily survival and their company's eventual restructuring [and their consequent lay-off].
But it is fine also if they don't understand; “culture” won't disappear regardless.
In ancient times as well as today, for free or for a small payment, it has been and will always be possible to listen to music or admire paintings, to enjoy and buy “cultural things”.
The people who really want to see quality stuff will pay for it.

Download play. By Flickr user id:ysano Download play. By Flickr user id:ysano.

Lastly, blogger he-na-he-na wonders if the worsening of economic conditions will cause a cultural gap, besides the social one, already very wide in most of the countries.


[Considering the second blogger's words] I thought that in future a new gap might arise, between those who want to raise their cultural level, even if this means paying money, and those who will choose the easiest way and not pay.



In the future, if it turns out that those who disregard their interests in buying things become leaders in politics, economics and culture — “the neo wealthy class and the neo intellectual class” — we will leave this with the comment that “this is the trend of times”. And inevitably it is those who pay who will end up being regarded as the whimsical libertines.
However, if, as has been the case in the past, the actual spiritual leaders end up being those thinking that “the wealthy persons should be the ones who pay and are active in education and culture”, on the contrary, those who don't pay may become the heretics who don't follow the trends. And I wouldn't be surprised if they were regarded with disdain, treated as though they belonged to lower levels of the intellectual class.



Either way, with the spread of internet, now that both the present state of culture and of copyright have become two important topics, I am convinced that we are getting close to a turning point where one of the two trends will prevail over the other.

1 comment

  • NDS Fan

    Having seen the screenshot of Nintendo DS above, a thought crossed my mind. Can a game title be classified as a cultural product? Most of the games I know are packed with numerous state-of-the-art music you wont find on your ordinary TV or radio. Not to mention the remarkable visual arts created by video games artists, whose names are less, or not at all, familiar to man in the street.

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