Column Date 2007-06-04

Culture in 5-minute doses

We Americans never seem to have enough time.

Few people these days take the time to sit through an entire Brahms symphony, for instance. Or linger over a Renoir painting. Or work their way through anybody’s 600-page book.

Thank goodness for

This new company has broken down classic literature into bite-size pieces.

Sign up for Shakespeare, for example, and a few hundred words of the Bard will show up in your computer’s mailbox every day. And the company promises it will take you no more than five minutes to read each segment!

Imagine: day after day, little pieces of “Hamlet: Prince of Denmark,” arrive in your inbox. Bit by bit, you finally finish reading the whole play, approximately 47 days later.

Or you can sign up for Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and be finished in a mere 430 days. (Now who was that Count Vronsky fellow, again? I just read about him nine months ago...)

This is either very cool or another sign of the decline of western civilization, depending on your point of view.

But if that’s the way Americans like their culture, I’m sure other companies will soon leap into the fray.

Let’s start with music.

I suspect the time is right for a new music company, probably named something like “”

“At last,” their ads will say, “you can enjoy the major themes from Beethoven’s famous Ninth Symphony, with all the boring, repetitive parts left out!”

“Hum along with Ludwig’s memorable melodies -- podcast directly to your computer every day. Hear his awesome Ninth Symphony in just 3.5 minutes! Or listen to Wagner’s entire “Ring of the Nibelung” in under 6 minutes! Into popular music? The Beatles “White Album” takes just a minute and a half!”

“And for those traditionalists, who insist on hearing all the notes, we’ve divided Dvorak’s entire “New World Symphony” into short, five-minute segments. Now you can appreciate his genius in between phone calls, on the way to the company cafeteria, or during warmups at your kid’s Little League game.”

Then there’s fine art.

How many of us can stand still in front of a Picasso, say, or a Van Gogh, and let our eyes slowly wander over every detail? We simply don’t have the time – and we have to be polite to the dozen people behind us who are waiting for the same fleeting glimpse.

So another new company – undoubtedly called – will help us appreciate art.

A graphics file with a square inch or two of a major painting will be e-mailed to you daily – allowing you time to savor a single water lily by Monet, a few square inches of Jackson Pollock, or an area of pure black from a Rauschenberg canvas.

Who says that Americans have no time for culture?

If these exciting new ideas catch on, we’ll be spending at least three or four minutes a week enjoying it.

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©2007 Peter Tannen