What if culture froze and had to be recycled?

Robert Wiblin, a loyal MR reader, asks:

Thought experiment for MR: what if the law said we couldn't make any new art (movies, novels, music etc). And perhaps said we ought to rerelease each year the art that first appeared 50 or 30 years ago. How would people's leisure activity and society's cultural evolution change?

I pose a similar question in my book Good and Plenty: The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding. After the adjustment process, I believe that matters would settle in an orderly fashion, although whether we pick the art from 30 or 50 years ago would make a big difference in terms of the required rejiggling of our aesthetic sensibilities.  We would pick out bestsellers from 30 or 50 years ago and some of them would be in demand, if only because people wish to share common cultural experiences.  Overall it is the more obscure books from that era that would likely rise to be the bestsellers today.

1979 is barely an aesthetic leap; could not The Clash be a hit today?  How about Madonna?  Is it so ridiculous to think that people still might go hear The Rolling Stones or Paul McCartney in concert?  How about buying a Stephen King book?  Here are the top songs from 1959 (yikes!), but recall that same year brought many excellent jazz albums.

The entire process would work better if the material from the past were temporarily unavailable prior to its rerelease.

It's an interesting idea to relive the release of the culture of the past but with today's sensibilities.  What we would like to think we would like is probably not what we would like at all.  And maybe some works we like only because they are in our past.

Finally, everyone is so ga-ga over arts subsidies, but it is remarkable how many models with microfoundations instead imply that we should tax the arts.


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