Capitalism must not destroy culture

By Chung Chiao 鍾喬  / 

Sat, Feb 02, 2013 - Page 8

The Paper Windmill Theater Troupe’s (紙風車劇團) The Taiwan Fantasia recently premiered at Liberty Square at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Center to an audience of 6,500 people. This is why thought must be given to the close relationship between the demand for modern theater and the marketing of culture.

The marketing of cultural products is closely linked to brand image and presentation.

In the 1980s, the chewing-gum brand Stimorol ran a highly successful marketing campaign by basing its advertising on ideology.

Consumers were captivated by Stimorol’s advertisements, but soon realized that they were attracted to the brand because it appealed to their own inner cravings, fragmented memories and troubled unconscious minds.

As capitalism progressed, the age of mass consumerism was born. In Taiwan it is hard to criticize this from a moral standpoint because it is hard to understand how consumer behavior alienates the individual. An alternative way to view this is to say that the consumerist desires of the virtual world have been internalized into every aspect of our daily lives.

This is not a new concept, but it is worthy of consideration.

A few days ago, Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) said in a speech that the Chinese government’s plans for cultural and creative industries contained in its 12th Five-Year Plan, which are top-down in nature, cannot come close to matching the achievements of the Taiwanese government with its bottom-up approach.

For two decades now, these industries have helped spur community development, revitalized small communities around the nation, and have assisted the tourism industry. This has given value to the creative industries.

However, when looking at the benefits that this has brought to local communities, it must not be forgotten that they were achieved by sacrificing land, the environment, agriculture and labor to promote society that is primarily based on science and technology, tourism and development.

This is not dogmatic criticism of the commercialization of cultural products, it is advocating a form of interventional concern.

Those familiar with the conflicts that exist in Taiwan’s current cultural and creative industries know that when government officials dealing with economic affairs come into contact with issues concerning such industries, their biggest problem is cultural aphasia — and that when government officials dealing with cultural affairs come across the same problem, they are faced with challenges at various levels posed by having to try and balance culture and creativity in an industrial world based on the concept of “output value.”

Cultural events like the Paper Windmill Theater Troupe’s Taiwan Fantasia must be differentiated from products like Stimorol because the product-oriented views about modern cultural output value are no longer simply confined to private enterprise, but are reflected in the government’s cultural policies.

When a consumer-based society matures and becomes significant in our lives, instead of complaining about how consumerism has damaged culture, we should look at the web of consumerist desire and attempt to find out what the link is between “value” and “output value” in regards to culture.

In 2011, the output value of Taiwan’s cultural and creative industries reached NT$600 billion (US$20.24 billion). These industries cannot be ignored, but the cultural economic concerns that have developed as an extension of the nation’s market economy teaches us that we must reformulate the cultural values that lie hidden in the Paper Windmill Theater Troupe’s production.

If not, we will be committing the same mistake we would have if we were claiming the superiority of a bottom-up approach, while still getting lost in the illusion of production value and losing sight of the true cultural values.

If that happens, the cultural and creative industries will ultimately become mere “industries,” devoid of any culture and creativity.

Chung Chiao is the artistic director of the Assignment Theatre.

Translated by Drew Cameron