Monday, April 6, 2009

But wasn't the Intertube supposed to bring down the Globe?

Yesterday's Globe brought a front-page story about how no one in the region could imagine Boston without, yes, the Boston Globe. At the same time, however, it seems no one in the region can imagine paying more for it, either (only the article left that part out). And today, in his Exhibitionist blog (itself an extension of the Globe), Geoff Edgers recounts the reactions of several arts leaders to the threatened closing (and Joel Brown, as his wont, echoes him). The funny thing, though, is that the arts leaders Edgers interviews are the ones whom the Globe - and Edgers himself - have most aggresively promoted over the last few years. There's a neat little circularity there. Not to put too fine a point on it, if the Globe goes under, then suddenly the ICA, the ART, the BSO, and the MFA will have lost their primary local megaphone, and indeed something integral to the cementation of their cultural status.

In a way, of course, this reveals what's really at stake for the arts community - not actually the means of publicity (there are more means of publicity than ever), but the destruction of the local hierarchy of publicity. Which is precisely what the Internet was always supposed to do: break up hierarchies, level the playing field, give voice to the voiceless and shoes to the shoeless, etc. The Globe never offered much attention to smaller groups - and even that modicum had been shrinking more and more of late - so its demise doesn't mean all that much to them. But the pretensions of the ART, James Levine's salary, the next blockbuster by the next no-talent - all these are much, much harder to float without Edgers and the Globe arts section.

Some may fear they'll prove impossible to float, but I personally don't think so. I'm not so naïve as to imagine that the actual power structure of this provincial burg will crack apart because the Globe disappears. The Herald will expand and morph into a scrappier, ruder version of its rival. Or WBUR will again take up its arts mantle, or will emerge as "the web Globe." Harvard and the BSO and the MFA will find a new way, via advertising dollars or the power of political connection, to impose their primacy to some degree on whatever emerges as the next publicity paradigm. But their grip may not be quite as secure as it was at the old Globe. And would that be entirely a bad thing?

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