Just Giving it Away: Excellent Free/Cheap Cultural Opportunities

In response to Slate article: “The El Cheapo Guide to Culture” .

Disregard the socially insensitive slightly racial slur in the title of the “culturally economical” article by Matthew Malady, posted September 21 on Slate.com. Let’s focus, instead, on his bargain-basement version of “consuming culture”: poor social choices made with moral ambiguity and a blatant lack of creativity or research.

Spurred by the fiscally fatal decision of attending the Super Bowl and racking up a debt of almost $7000, Malady discusses ways to save money on cultural experiences. The many flaws in this article riled my ire.  In his “eight-step approach” he encourages readers to steal, lie and cheat, hardly partaking of this “culture” in the first place. Other “hints”: sit alone in a darkened living room watching endless movies on trial subscriptions (devoid of human experience, bad for your vision), reading magazines at the bookstore (illegal, tacky), going to see multiple movies with one ticket (it’s not an entry fee, it’s a movie ticket, and it’s illegal, too), sit outside the fence at outdoor music festival (unethical), attending shows at college campuses and hoping that they won’t ask you for a student ID (creepster alert!).  Even his advice of volunteering is tainted with the attitude of stinginess, of getting “something for nothing.”

First of all, let’s clear up the myth that art and music and other elements of culture aren’t worth good money. Everything costs in this world. Fortunately, we live in a community that also includes passion and philanthropy, so opportunities exist to experience many different aspects of cultural with very little damage to the pocketbook.

Malady does offer a few of the obvious choices – museums, libraries – but these are so little explored as to be merely footnotes.  The vulgarity of the article barks of a lack of understanding of what culture is – and where to find it. He makes it seem as though movies and pop music and sporting events are the only things worth paying for and then only if you get caught. Though claiming to have “done some research” it seems to me that his list is compiled from a fairly inept Google search.

The follow up article on as well as the readers’ comments offered a few more choices, but here in Kansas City there is such a plethora of free and cheap cultural options that finding the time to do all of it would strain the limits of organization. I’ll examine each of the “steps” suggested by Malady and offer practical and ethical alternatives. As blog posts go this is fairly lengthy, so I’ve broken up my response over the course of the week in
a series of rebuttals.

Be detailed-oriented, and look for loopholes: Here, Malady suggests that one should sign up for a free trial of services and then cancel before you pay. First of all, how culturally involved are you if you sit around and watch movies of other people’s drama all the time? And as examples go this one isn’t that great. A streaming Netflix subscription is only $7.99 on month, not even $100 for a year. You can’t get much cheaper than that. (Though the public library – remember the public library, you’ll be hearing a lot about them – also loans music and videos for very cheap, as well as art prints.

Or visit NPRMusic.org. They host Tiny Desk Concerts in their offices, have streaming archives for concerts and offer First Listens for new albums, along with interviews of musicians and sample tracks from all genres.

How about instead of trying to scam various companies you could determine what culture institutes or organizations present a cause that you support and ask how you can help them. There are more than just volunteer options, though ushering at concert halls and museums is a tried and true way of getting access to shows and exhibits. If you can commit to a 2 year period, you can get a pretty thorough art history education as you train
as a docent at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Check back tomorrow for the next part of the series.

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One Response to Just Giving it Away: Excellent Free/Cheap Cultural Opportunities

  1. Adrianne R. says:

    I read that article and was annoyed by the title and the suggestion that you have to “game” the system or commit a crime in order to participate in cultural events. I look forward to reading the rest of your series!

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