How success kills the goose

July 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

How success kills the goose.  Kto słucha nie błądzi was for many months my favorite program on Polish Radio, proof that it is possible to talk intelligently about quality in art (in this case, recordings of classical music).  The format was brilliant:  three musicologists discussed recordings of a single work of music “blind” — i. e. not knowing who the performers were — and choose the best.  (Unsurprisingly, they usually chose my favorites.  The revelation of the performers at the end of the program also rarely surprised:  some performers really are predictably head-and-shoulders above the rest).

For an aesthetictist, the program was also a goldmine of observations in the matter of taste:  it illustrated that the opinions of those in the business (all participants are musicians and musicologists) are far less divergent than those of the clueless general population (whose preferences being random mean nothing), but even they face the barrier of personal taste.

The public probably just liked to hear what kinds of small details, undetectable to their untrained ears, they heard in the recordings and why they liked them (or not).  But the public liking was the program’s undoing:  the organizers decided to make it a program with live audience in the studio — and killed it.  The participants began to play to the galleries — unnecessarily showing off their erudition, making pointless jokes and, when they had nothing to say, making things up — lying — as if debates of art and music needed any more lies and fabrication.

This — the perversion of the performer is one way in which success kills a good program; the uncalled-for broadening of the audience is another.  A Japanese stand-up comedian whose program I once sponsored on Japanese TV told me he stopped producing it the moment his ratings went over 5%.  “Suddenly, he said, I discovered that my audience didn’t get my jokes”.  His jokes were intelligent and required both wit and lots of erudition to get — the qualified audience size was naturally limited.  As the show became more popular, it began to struggle to reach its new audience, dumbed down, and eventually the host asked us to take it off air.

Dear KSNB:  for your own good, today I won’t be tuning in.


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