Redefining the task of culture in Puerto Rico implies thinking of new representation policies with more visibility of diverse groups, and something for all tastes, likes, and dislikes. Culture should abandon its pharmacological function of avoiding all pain and should become a place for critical thought, while maintaining its character of leisure.
Present mass culture is characterized by hedonism, an effortless modality of consumerism and immediate gratification. Mass media responds to the market criteria of the “culture industry” and to the interests and agendas of special sectors or political groups. Culture today rhymes with market and nationalism. There is no great pretense to “elevate the human spirit”. Reference to ethics usually responds to old fashioned, formal morality. Yet culture has nothing to do with morality. We cannot return to classical culture because it is laden with cultural practices marked by class struggles and racism.
In many countries, private philanthropy and State subsidizing of culture do not respond to the interests of the market. This speaks highly of the countries that do so because culture should be supported without conditions, without consideration of particular economic interests. Should the institutions of the State be defended against the market? Yes, but what kind of sponsorship should that entail? Cultural patronage is not common among Puerto Rico`s most privileged sectors. The privileged classes go to New York to consume high culture while the middle classes dream of going to Disney. Neither favors subsidizing culture
It is clear that institutions that support cultural expressions that are not intended for private enrichment are necessary. Only in countries with diverse forms of support, public and private, is it possible for a cultural sector to thrive. This allows for other forms of cultural enrichment, not limited to going to the mall, to see a commercial movie, or hanging out at the clichéd “Social Friday” locations. This type of trivial leisure excludes a vast majority of the population, since they are usually intended for teenagers; as if there weren`t ample sectors of the population in need of a more diverse cultural production.
Some cultural institutions persevere with great difficulty, such as the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture and the Ateneo Puertorriqueño. It is time to separate the priorities of education, public housing policies and community organizations from economic criteria. They should not be used to buy the good conscience of the wealthy classes. Subsidizing of culture should be a public policy priority if we seek social change and a better quality of life in Puerto Rico in the 21st century.
Cultural Critics and Professor
University of Puerto Rico- Río Piedras
Author: Proyectos FPH
Published: January 16, 2008.
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