February 16, 2006
Whoa is me!
(Why I should stop braking for Cultural Hallucinations . . .)
The bus came by and I got on, that's when it all began. There was Cowboy Neal at the wheel of the bus to never ever land...-- Grateful Dead
A primary reason I find the "Culture War" so endlessly annoying is that so many of the arguments involve bitter haggling over artificial constructs. Superficial things like depictions in movies and on television which are said to influence something called "the culture." But that puts the cart before the horse, as what is called "the culture" is usually defined by these depictions. People who believe Americans are hopeless victims of monkey-see-monkey-do behavior see "the culture" (film, music, TV, and to a degree, print media) as a sort of vehicle controlling how people think and how they live their lives. In their view, "winning the Culture War" means taking control of the wheel and putting their people in charge, thus making the culture (and of course, the world) a "better" place.
By stating the case this way, I don't mean to single out the people on either side. The people who are seen as being "in control" of "the culture" (and attacked by self-styled Culture Warriors) are equally irritating -- at least to me. Not for wanting to remake the world as they'd like it to be, for who doesn't want the world to be a better place? Rather, there's a certain arrogance in the assumption that there is or should be any sort of Great Steering Wheel of Culture, that they're behind it, and that they're running (or "changing") people's lives.
Yes, I hate both sides of this mentality, and I freely admit it. It's one of the tragedies of my personal life, and it is a major motivating force behind this blog.
Manipulative language, which drives me crazy, is almost everywhere I look. I can't even pick up a newspaper or a magazine without some manipulative snippet staring me in the face. Attempting to read about someone's accomplishments earlier today, "granddaughter of slaves" was the first thing I read. I suppose her daughter could be called a "great-granddaughter of slaves," and so on, as if this is something that belongs on a CV. Injecting the slavery argument into places it does not belong, while minor as these annoyances go, is just one example. (Almost makes me want to put "descendant of invaders" on mine.) There are endless similar examples, and I think I've provided more than a few in previous posts.
At the heart of the Culture War is an assumption that people can be manipulated, and that they should be. For the most part, the cultural manipulators and their "countercultural" counterparts are the ones clinging to this assumption -- as if for dear life.
I think the Internet is a dire threat to those who want to control or to seize control. It is inherently a force for individualization, and decentralization, of culture.
If you dislike turning on the TV and seeing crass attempts to steer your mind, why, you can find thousands of alternative views, left and right, right and wrong, sane, or insane, on any subject. Or contribute your own. Or not. If, like me, you think there's cleverly dissembled manipulation in a film like "Brokeback Mountain", you can say so, and you might discover that a few kindred spirits agree with you. (Likewise, you can ridicule the view that such a film means the end of Western Civilization.)
Fortunately, there is no Minister of Culture. There's no official "wheel" for anyone to seize. That's because the people who produce TV shows and make music or films have no tangible constitutional power. They're limited by market forces, and if people don't like what they crank out, they'll lose money. They have no more legal right to tell anyone what to do than even the lowliest blogger. (Or "highliest" blogger, for that matter...)
The people who want to grab "the wheel" need to understand that there's no wheel to grab, and that even if there was, they'd need an attractive product. (How do you counter a successful niche film like "Brokeback Mountain"? With another niche film showing the Marlboro Man dying of AIDS? Good luck getting people to line up.)
In light of the decentralizing cultural force of the Internet, I'm wondering . . . As the very idea of a cultural steering wheel (much less who controls it) becomes increasingly irrelevant, might there be some kind of ratio?
The more loss of the ability to control, the higher the volume of noise made by people who want to be in control?
Decentralization of control means loss of ability to control. This means more attempts to struggle to control by those imagining they're in control, and more attempts to "seize" the ever-more-dysfunctional controls by those who aren't.
The more noise that's made, the more people tire of the noise.
I'm afraid that will mean an increase in the volume of the noise.
Battle fatigue sucks. Especially in an increasingly irrelevant "war."
AFTERTHOUGHT: What worries me a lot more than the issue of "who controls" are attempts to reestablish systems of control by people who correctly perceive this overall loss of control. The reinstitution of the "Fairness Doctrine," the regulation of speech as "campaign contributions," UN controls over the Internet, and calls for government limitations on "offensive depictions" are but a few examples. The ability to impose culture by government force -- that's the Culture War people should be worried about.
posted by Eric on 02.16.06 at 08:30 AM
Search the Site
Classics To Go
See more archives here
Old (Blogspot) archives
A knee sock jihad might be premature at this time
People Are Not Rational
No Biorobots For Japan
The Thorium Solution
Radiation Detector From A Digital Camera
This war of attrition is driving me bananas!
Attacking Christianity is one thing, but must they butcher geometry?
Are there trashy distinctions in freedom of expression?
Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood