Welcome to The Lens

And here we are. After a too-long two-month absence from The Minnesota Daily, arts journalism is back.
But wait! This isn’t the same section as the paper’s old A&E. It has a new handle, a new daily spot in the paper, a new outlook on arts and entertainment coverage and what I would imagine is a new group of enemies — those being A&E diehards who, after the demise of the old section, have given up on arts coverage in this paper. And then there are those of you who never even opened the old A&E section and would just as soon piss on this page as read it.
But, before you throw this paper down in disgust or indifference, please give me a chance to explain myself and the page that surrounds me.
Contrary to what some of you might think, critical arts journalism at this paper is not dead. And contrary to what even more of you might think, critical arts journalism at this paper does matter, especially right now.
The problem with arts journalism in recent years has been the increasingly divergent paths of cultural coverage. Either arts journalists simply provide list-like information (concert dates, top ten albums of the year) or, on the other side, they appeal to a relatively small arts community, excluding fans of popular culture by using complex words and obscure references.
The goal of this page is to bridge the gap between these two types of arts journalism; the idea being that if we apply cultural criticism to mainstream media, and present it in a more universal language, more University students will be better able to question what they view as entertainment with a critical eye, or lens.
And so, with that, I present to you The Lens Manifesto:

What happened to the old A&E section was, and still is, a bad thing. The old section presented those involved and interested in the arts community a place to learn more about the community they love and provided students devoted to the arts a venue through which they could exercise and hone their knowledge of film, music, theater, dance and cultural studies.
But, sadly, the fact is that the arts community A&E appealed to is quickly shrinking, giving way to a worldwide arts and entertainment complex that markets itself to as many consumers as it can.
That’s OK, right. It’s capitalism at work. Sell, sell, sell. The problem, though, is that art and the kind of unchecked capitalism at work in the United States don’t work together. What ends up happening is a handful of corporate entities control most of the entertainment we ingest.
And when this happens, healthy commercial competition disappears, and is replaced by an entertainment industry using its power to manipulate their audience; not only selling entertainment to their audiences, but selling this captive audience to other corporate entities like cola companies, deodorant companies and other entertainment providers through advertising and sponsorship.
“So what,” you might be saying, “MTV, Ted Turner and Disney give me what I want and what I like to see at the multiplex and hear on the radio.”
The problem is that much of the time, these entertainment conglomerates aren’t giving you what you want, they are telling you what you want through sophisticated marketing. They then sell it to you, and most of us, including myself, buy it without thinking. And that’s the problem.
Art is meant not only to entertain the eye or the ear, but to also stimulate the mind, to challenge the way we look at the world, and in some cases to actively change the way the world works politically and socially. Something that rarely happens with a concentrated industry currently obsessed with the status quo.
Take a look at Elvis or Bob Dylan or Pablo Picasso. They were not revered artists because they sold millions of copies of their music or art, they were great artists because they challenged people to think differently about the world. Picasso challenged the idea of beauty, Elvis challenged authority and Dylan challenged just about everything that was wrong with the 1960s.
And now The Lens will challenge the idea that arts and entertainment as it now stands on both the national and local levels is OK.
We will not tell you that it is OK to like Limp Bizkit or Creed since they sell millions of albums and “there must be some reason so many people buy the music.” And we won’t tell you that First Avenue is the best local music venue just because of its history. And we won’t tell you that it’s OK when the University cuts arts funding, just because most other universities are doing the same thing.
But what we will tell you is where you can experience good music, film, theater and anything else that comes under the guise of arts and entertainment.

And all of those determined to hate this page, and me for that matter, no matter what, should quickly close the paper, fold it in half and deposit it in the nearest trash receptacle.
But for those willing to give it a chance, read on. It is going to take some time to work the kinks out, but I am confident that this will soon be an invaluable resource to the entire University community.

Mark Baumgarten urges you to comment at [email protected]