Archive for bookstores closing

The death of civilization as I know it

Posted in art, personal, political with tags , , , , , , on January 25, 2010 by barryshapiro

Went to the mall yesterday to catch a movie and buy a book. The movie (Up In The Air with George Clooney) about a guy who flies across America to fire people from their jobs is a terrific film. But the view of our society as a corporate dominated, uncaring, cold cruel world inhabited by lonely, disconnected people adrift in a sea of hopelessness. OK, it was also funny and clever but the message was clear, the country is in bad shape.

Then things got worse. Entering the mall we made a bee line for Waldenbooks. This is a customary stop for Patricia and myself. Since moving to Florida we have spent more time at the mall than I spent cumulatively my entire life. There are no book stores in Sebastian so we have to head south to Vero or north to Melbourne for a little culture and browsing a bookstore is always a pleasure. Nothing like spending an hour or two in the stacks. But this time something was tragically different. Waldenbooks was closing, all sales final.

In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal,  Waldenbooks, which is part of the Borders Group chain of bookstores, closed around 200 stores nationwide laying off over 1500 workers. The sign in the window said: “See you on the Internet!” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704013004574518023648503540.html. I am certain that Barnes & Noble will be shuttering doors around the country very soon.

We are witnessing a seismic shift in the way our consumer society functions. As corporations gain more and more control over our choices and processes, individualism will die. Some think there will be a reaction and a backlash bringing about a new spirit of entrepreneurism and individuality but I see little evidence to support that theory. I see downsizing and a people desperate to do anything to make ends meet.

Bookstores are disappearing and next it will be libraries (not profitable). Literary magazines will die off (not profitable). People and Us magazines will be considered examples of classic literature (profitable and popular in doctors offices).  More people will self publish but there will be fewer and fewer readers to buy their books. Many of these optimistic writers are one book wonders and just love the fact that they have copies to give the relatives at Christmas. As my friend Francine Worth says “The world is upside down. We are progressing in technology but we are losing ground every second in humanity, understanding and love for our fellow man, our arts and our culture.”

Art too, or at least perceptions of what constitutes art, is going through a radical shift. As art becomes more and more affected by digital media it becomes more accessible and more mass-produced. Therefore it becomes an outlet for just about anyone. Everyone is an artist! Talent, the ability to draw, paint, sculpt, becomes less important than the ability to conceive.  Masterpieces of art like the Pietà or the woodcuts of Albrecht Durer become a manufacture-able item created in a digital environment as opposed to a live environment by the artists hand. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? You don’t have to be able to draw the Mona Lisa, just be able to conceive it and a computer will do the rest. I have no doubt that artists of the future will create their art by telling a program what they want to see, feel or hear. The rest will be a digital process. “Hal, can you make her mouth a little more pouty?” “Yes Dave!”

When you combine that with the news about the Supreme Courts decision of this last week affecting political campaign contributions from corporations I can easily forsee a future where people’s opinions and tastes are completely watered down and dictated by corporate selection. We’ll  get our news from Jon Stewart and our idea of a great novel will be something culled from a movie based on a cable TV show inspired by a video game. Oh, gee, isn’t that the way it is now???

I decided to re-read Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) a book the bought on Amazon.com back in ’05 when it was first published. I thought it would be informative. Instead it’s a bummer. As the world changes faster and faster I want to believe that I have some control over my destiny, over my life. I may be kidding myself. I remembered that when I read his book the first time a had several “ah-ha!” moments of clarity. Perhaps that will happen again but after reading just the first chapter I am afraid my head is getting more muddled.

Perhaps it’s a generational thing but I want to get the technology out of my life and just read books and draw pictures all day and never have to read another blog.

A piece from the Art Basel exhibition in Miami 2009

Hot Mona