The Bowie Effect: Has Nostalgia Killed Off Culture?

Want people to care about Monet's haystacks? Add a little Bowie!

When was the last time most of us were genuinely excited about going to a museum or art exhibit?

While you give that some thought, allow me to say that this writer is no museum hater. My first trip to the esteemed Art Institute as a college student required six hours of driving and an overnight stay so, trust me, we loves our museums, yo.

Even so, the last time we were genuinely psyched about going to a "large-scale cultural installation" was in 2014 when the MCA hosted the "David Bowie Is" exhibit. If you'll remember, the minute we adults of a certain age caught wind of "Bowie coming to town", BOOM, we couldn't have had our wallets out fast enough.

Our work productivity plummeted as we became consumed by the event, which was still months away, yet required one to jump through many hoops and avoid perilous obstacles, joining this club and that in order to ensure access to the earliest pre-sales. Those from out of town also had the added bonus of booking flights, hotel rooms, and planning a whole Windy City weekend around the Bowie exhibit.

David Bowie Is exhibit at MCA

To put that another way, the best way to get the modern-day lover of culture genuinely excited about "Art" is to only go so far back in time as our childhoods. Any further back than that and you run the risk of interrupting our sleepy time. Yawn.

I mean, Monet's haystacks are great and all, and its certainly obvious the man spent a lot of time out in that field, but would it have killed him to, just once, paint David Bowie hiding behind one of those haystacks?

All kidding aside, what does it say about us that, given a choice between A) a gigantic Mayan exhibit wherein an entire classic-era (250-950 AD) village is recreated to scale featuring actual surviving artifacts, or B) a room featuring blown-up reproductions of his album covers and a few outfits Bowie wore on tour, we choose B) without batting an eye?

This is either a very large David Bowie or a very small Mayan pyramid

Don't worry, you didn't actually miss the Mayan exhibit - not here in Chicago, anyway.

Some may argue that we have become too absorbed in our own cultural past to have any real appreciation for anything beyond that. Bowie, realizing this long before anyone else, would sing:

"It’s on America’s tortured brow
That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow
Now the workers have struck for fame,
’Cause Lennon’s on sale again.”

The rest of us who've spent countless days, hours, and years listening to Bowie's music, merely want the opportunity to appreciate the artistic depth behind the imagery and folklore. Filling in the blanks of Bowie's life allows us to fill in parts of our own own  and gives us the necessary appreciation to dive deeper still into the past.

The upside of this immense preoccupation with our own recent cultural past, of course, is that by archiving as much as possible now, there will be that much more for future generations to appreciate, which means that our grandchildren's grandchildren will one day be just as blown away by Bowie's life and artistic accomplishments as we are today.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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