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November 14, 2013

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sapient, on the other hand so many masterpieces that we know of are lost because they went through a period where they were not considered keepworthy (not even talking about those deliberately destroyed for ideological reasons). And it's not just ancient art. Even undisputed cinematic masterpieces got lost or survive only in mutilated form, as fragments or even just still images. And many would love to strangle media executives that ordered tape recycling with those same tapes (and NASA lost, it seems, large parts of the data from the moon flights for the same reason, tapes overwritten to save money).

Hartmut, yes. Fortunately (perhaps), anything new that comes up will be preserved for eternity with the interwebs.

It's true that history is written by the winners, and there are likely many lost masterpieces. Still, no one is a prophet in their own land, so it's easy for people to dismiss the important masterpieces that happen now.

But I still don't really understand russell's attempt to distinguish between "hobby" and "cultural act".

Example: I have some chairs that are badly worn. If I took two weeks away from my job and recovered them myself, would that be "culture" or "hobby"? Or necessity? Or art? Or political preference?

I mean, I'll probably just find someone to do it who has time, knows how, and gets paid. Is that commoditization, even though my mother might have done it herself? Is it bad?

I just think a culture is healthier if people can work on their higher Maslow (sp?) needs, rather than being stuck in a rat race for the lower ones.

I also think that a culture that has leisure and a reasonable standard of living will have broad participation in all kinds of activities which stretch the imaginations, talents and intellects of the participants. I think people will find in their hearts something they love to do if they have the chance.

But they do need the chance. Most people aren't going to be starving artists. Starve, maybe, or do art. But not both at the same time.

Either that, or Russell just had some bad weed while re-reading Marcuse.

Dude, I never ever ever smoke weed - good bad or indifferent - while reading Marcuse.

Madness lies that way.

But I still don't really understand russell's attempt to distinguish between "hobby" and "cultural act".

I'm really not trying to distinguish between "hobby" and cultural act.

You stated that nobody could engage in handcrafts unless they were (a) rich enough to not have to work, or (b) didn't have any work in the first place.

Which sounded to me like you were relegated handcrafts to the world of hobbies. Or, maybe, desparation.

It was just a response to your statement.

So look, a couple of things.

First, sapient, you seem to be responding to my comments here as if they are some kind of attack on you and your friends and family, personally. That's not remotely the case.

If somebody makes a comment about American Culture writ large (note the caps) they aren't necessarily making a comment about your personal life.

Second, a lot of the back and forth here from you (sapient) and thompson seems to be in response to this (from me), specificially:

I suspect there no longer is anything recognizable as an American culture. We swapped it for an enhanced shopping experience.

Which was basically an aside, a cranky throwaway in response to NV's comments about his experience in France.

Obviously, there is a cultural life in the US, because any society of human beings creates and participates in a culture. It's kind of what we do.

My point, in full, which you are free to reject utterly if that suits you, is that in the modern US, much of our cultural life has become commodified. Because most of every aspect of our lives has become commodified.

By "commodified" I mean has been turned into something for sale. So, for lots of folks, their relationship to their own culture - the way that they participate in it - is via buying stuff.

(NOTE - THAT MAY NOT APPLY TO YOU PERSONALLY. ADJUST AS NEEDED)

Opinions about whether this is good bad or indifferent vary, but my opinion is that it's not so good.

The story about "the loneliest monk" still does crack me up, lo these many years later.

I mean, I'll probably just find someone to do it who has time, knows how, and gets paid. Is that commoditization, even though my mother might have done it herself? Is it bad?

As a one-off, no. If nearly everyone approaches most things this way, maybe.

I think you're taking this commoditization-of-culture thing as an absolute, all-or-nothing proposition, sapient. It seems to have been meant as more of a relative thing - relative to the way things once were in this country, and relative to the way things currently are or may be in some others.

And I don't see much in the way of blame or suggestions that it represents the end of the world. Though maybe there's just a touch of get-off-my-lawn in there somewhere.

how many of them have you read, before you gave up in disgust? Whose opinion are you trusting to sort out what to read?

One reason I hang out here is that folks around here actually seem to have read/listened to/watched/partaken of this stuff. It also helps that we have a nice leavening of non-USaians who are good at gently saying 'that's not always the case...' So keep it up, for what it is worth.

First, sapient, you seem to be responding to my comments here as if they are some kind of attack on you and your friends and family, personally. That's not remotely the case.

russell, I didn't mean to take your comments personally, although now I realize that I have. I've done so, based upon (as you guessed) my belief in the people I know who are so well educated, vibrant, culturally aware and interested, and who want to do good things. And who are doing good things, sometimes foregoing money to do so.

But also it's fun for me to argue. Thanks for allowing me to think out issues through this medium.

Even undisputed cinematic masterpieces got lost or survive only in mutilated form, as fragments or even just still images.

In many, if not a lot of cases, that is due to copyright laws.

Hartmut, yes. Fortunately (perhaps), anything new that comes up will be preserved for eternity with the interwebs.

In a SF novel I read, some of the 23rd century characters complained about their 20th, 21st century predecessors keeping and preserving so much damn junk and clutter.

The Pop History Dig: Exploring the History & Power of Popular Culture

In many, if not a lot of cases, that is due to copyright laws.

Also it took many years before film was recognized as an art and not just throw-away entertainment. I believe the attitude towards music has been similar in earlier times. I guess Bach would be extremly surprised that all his cantatas (especially the simple ones) are still performed centuries after his death. He had to compose about one per week to be performed on the next Sunday, so he likely did not see them (all) as eternal art. Rossini famously said that it was only necessary to watch just one of his Italian operas because in essence 'if you have seen one you have seen them all'.

Dude, I never ever ever smoke weed - good bad or indifferent - while reading Marcuse.

Aha! Then you have read Marcuse? You have my sympathy. ;)

And russell, I'm sorry if I piled onto you a little. It wasn't my intent. I think I finally understand what you're saying. I disagree and I'll close out with what I hope is an optimistic perspective, even if its not a convincing perspective.

I think a lot of great things have been said and don't bear my shoddy efforts at repeating them. But I'd like talk about the "consumer culture" for a moment.

I don't buy it (ha ha). Yeah, people line up for iphones, I suppose. But that's such a small percentage of what we do.

I am baffled by the concept of a nation that comes together to watch a cultural phenomenon (the superbowl) is a nation without shared culture.

You might not like football, and perhaps feel that its not as enriching as a good opera...but I hardly feel sporting events watched by the masses is a new phenomena.

Of course, people don't participate in the superbowl, they watch it. But people do play football. Especially on Thanksgiving, families will go out and play a few snaps. I see kids playing 2-hand touch in the street and in the park all the time. Football, love it or hate it, is a cultural aspect of the US.

I mean, didn't the president delay a speech recently for a football game?

Someone asked upthread (and I forget who) if I know any modern composers. I do, although there is question as to whether they will be known in 10, 50, 100 years. Or outside a small enclave geographically. But I imagine 200 years ago there were a host of composers who weren't good enough or lucky enough to be preserved.

Musicians in every town? I know several guitarists, a drummer, 2 bassists, 3 keyboardists...If you're decrying the ability of bands and symphonies to go on tour rather than a composer relying on local talent...well, internal combustion and jet turbines have made travel far cheaper. I'm sure even Brahms would have loved to work with a set group of people if he could.

Do we pay for entertainment? Yeah, we do. But humans always have. The musicians who played Beethoven and Brahms got paid. Shakespeare got very wealthy off of his plays. Does that make Shakespeare "not culture"? Because it was definitely commoditized.

What makes Shakespeare better than the host of movies we can watch today. Well, quality, natch...but there were a lot of playwrights from that time that didn't make it. But Plan 9 from outer space will hit the dustbin someday too.

Is there a lot of trashy magazines these days? Nothing but pulp, I say! Trashy paperbacks? Penny dreadfuls, I call 'em.

We have far more options to choose from. Even in the category of "classics". I mean, classic rock doesn't postdate Tchaikovsky by that much...maybe 60 years? Sinatra even less. That's going to increase the Balkanization of culture consumed to some extent, I'd agree.

But I don't think we are merely a nation of consumers. We are doers and makers as well. I don't think much has changed in that regard in the last 10 years, or 50 years, or 100 years.

But that's my perspective. And I understand someone who comes to a different one, and am not offended by its presence. Without the constant guardians of culture, even more would be lost.

Whoah, way too long...

I think Russell is right, but I also think that shift from doing to buying is inevitable given the shift in work.

My grandmother didn't have a job outside the house. She worked at home. She sewed, made soap, caned chairs, killed chickens, made quilts...her daily routine was bursting with homegrown handicrafts because that's what she did to keep the family clothed and fed.

Nowadays she'd be a greeter a Walmart spend her free time in line at the foodbank, pick up clothes for the kids at the second hand store, and buy the basic stud like soap that people used to make. The modern version of my grandmother might have a hobby of making specialty soaps for Christmas presents or she might crochet with yarn from the Dollar Store while watching TV.

IN other words the shift from making to buying happened because the making used to be the job and now working to earn money is the job so that the stuff that used to get made can be bought.

But, obviously, this is a shift that happened over a very long period of time.

And it is just part of the picture of the transfer from doing to buying. Take music, for example. Go back far enough and the only way to hear music is to listen to someone play an instrument. Now there's los of ways to hear music without ever touching an instrument or even knowing someone who plays one. I suppose that results in fewer people playing instruments, although that isn't necessarily the case.,

I think a lot of the disagreement has (perhaps unconsciously) to do with some of us using "culture" in one sense, and others using it in another.

First, we have "culture" in the anthropological sense: how a group of people characteristically behave. That kind of culture changes all the time, but the only way a group loses its culture is to disappear as a group.

Then we have "culture" in the sense of the way the elite, or esthetic, parts of the population behave. Once, an possibly still today in Italy, grand opera was part of the general culture in the first sense. But today, it is definite "culture in the second sense. Similarly, "pop" music is not "culture" in the second sense, but definitely is part of the culture of how people behave (they listen to it in huge numbers).

It is, as a rule, "culture" in the second sense that education tries to inculcate into our children. On which they are tested when trying to get further educational opportunities. And the loss of which gets lamented. They don't get taught about culture in the first sense because there is no point. Nobody ever had an SAT question about ABBA, for example. (Which would have missed, being not paying attention to pop music in that era.)

russell, I didn't mean to take your comments personally

No worries. Sorry for the miscommunication.

Though maybe there's just a touch of get-off-my-lawn in there somewhere.

Damned right!!

Rotten kids today, with their ding-dang gang-bang style dancing. When I was a kid we just called it "playing horsey".

Aha! Then you have read Marcuse?

Not that I can recall....

And russell, I'm sorry if I piled onto you a little.

No worries, I have big shoulders.

I am baffled by the concept of a nation that comes together to watch a cultural phenomenon (the superbowl) is a nation without shared culture.

Just to reiterate in the hope of possibly clarifying, my statement that there is "no American culture" was hyperbole.

My point is not that there is, literally, no American culture, but that the quality of American culture - more specifically, the quality of people's relationship to their own culture - has been degraded through commodification.

See, I don't need to read Marcuse, I appear to be freaking channeling him. Yipes.

In any case, it was basically a cranky aside. There is obviously a range of opinion on the subject.

See, I don't need to read Marcuse, I appear to be freaking channeling him.

Or Robert Bork. :)

Quite a few years ago at the neighborhood middle school the kids and teacher s put on an after school event that was meant to be a celebration of what each student conceived of as his or her cultural heritage. It was a very diverse school: African American, India, Native American, all kinds of Asians, all kinds of Eastern Europeans, Russians, and, of course, third or fourth or fifth generation Europeans.

I wandered around looking at the displays the kids put up. I was pleased by the fabrics and crafts and pictures of dances and jewelry and so on, with the music in the background at each booth..,except when the booth was AA or white American. The AA and white American booths were modern pop culture: rap, Hannah Montana, clothes with sports logos.

I found myself doing that Bork snob thing: rejecting everything that didn't represent what I would have decorated a booth with if my school had held such an event when I was in middle school back in the day. Except that I was much more tolerate of cultural artifacts from outside the US.

But what's the difference between a booth with a picture of a dance that's traditional to India and a booth with a picture of Micheal Jackson dancing? For a while millions of American kids tried to dance like him just as millions of Indian kids try to learn the steps of a dance in India. Those pictures represent something many kids wished they could do well and tried to do, if only when no one was watching.

But still I think I understand what Russell was getting at: somehow cultural phenomenon in the US goes from grassroots to store shelves. In the case of Haight/Ashbury it only took about a year. Then there's the icky feeling of being tricked or used somehow. As if the love beads of 1967 were authentic but the love beads of 1971 were not.

Hence the recurrent conversation in America about what is authentic and what isn't. This happens in relations to blues, rap, country, and other forms of music. In country it's the argument over what is "commercial" vs real. IN blues its the argument over the authenticity f the musician, whether the musician has the right kind of experiences to give the right feeling to the music. And so on.

And sometimes American cultural phenomena are astroturfed: the Monkees, Hannah Monatana, the Kardasians.

Or sometimes i's a perfect storm of grassroots, commercial, and astroturf: Christmas.


Or Robert Bork.

Apparently, there are many aspects of Robert Bork's life that I am not aware of.

Apparently, there are many aspects of Robert Bork's life that I am not aware of.

In his book, Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, Bork went on a long-winded rant about just about everything he doesn't like about America including popular culture.

I think a lot of the disagreement has (perhaps unconsciously) to do with some of us using "culture" in one sense, and others using it in another.

[...]

It is, as a rule, "culture" in the second sense that education tries to inculcate into our children.

Basically, to use the language of linguistics, we're looking at a descriptivist/prescriptivist divide. Which is completely natural, and the cultural version of this dichotomy has a lot in common with the linguistics one, not least because they have significant overlap.

The only explicitly normative judgement that I would cast out as a closing thought on whether there's cause to be worked up in the prescriptivist sense is that the linguistic parallel can hold, albeit broadly. The move from producer to consumer of cultural artifacts has a not-dissimilar effect on cultural diversity as e.g. the move from many patois to unified national languages, or to be more parallel still, the effect of mass media on dialects. There is a richness and diversity that will not perforce be lost entirely, but it will be reduced simply because there is less unique output to be consumed due to mass production. Which isn't bad from a purely descriptivist POV; it just is. In fact, less variety means more cultural (or linguistic) homogeneity, and that has benefits. A shift of perspective further towards prescriptivism will of course reduce your appreciation of this, however...

Bork went on a long-winded rant about just about everything he doesn't like about America including popular culture.

I suspect that there would be some daylight between what Robert Bork and I would find objectionable about modern American culture.

I've been racking my brain for years trying to figure out who russell reminded me of. I finally have my answer. Robert Bork and russell - two peas in a pod.

Okay, I take it all back. My beloved holiday, Thanksgiving, is the new, earlier "Black Friday." Apparently stores will be open, and stuff in on sale.

I mean "stuff is on sale." Apologies to all for my faith in American culture, and my bad editorial habits.

sapient, I'd be more concerned about Christmas shopping happening on Thanksgiving if it hadn't seemed this year like the shipping season got going before Halloween. By the time the decade is out, we will doubtless be starting at Labor Day.

We've more or less opted out of the mass-consumption Christmas paradigm.

We've more or less opted out of the mass-consumption Christmas paradigm.

Why do you hate America so much?

We're trying to sabotage the recovery, Hartmut. Because we're freelance right-wing terrorists.

Either that or there's something about solvency that we gradually found to be appealing enough to strive for.

In any event, hilzoy would be doubly pleased to discover that we recently paid cash for a Prius.

We've more or less opted out of the mass-consumption Christmas paradigm.

In any event, hilzoy would be doubly pleased to discover that we recently paid cash for a Prius.

This is hope and change that I can believe in.

FWIW.

And no, that's not a weird sideways swipe at Obama, I just think all of the things slarti describes here are good things.

wj, I'm all for a booming economy, or whatever. But it turns out that a lot of working people can't take Thanksgiving Day off. That's a huge hit to the idea that this is a secular American day-with-family.

I'm not a huge shopper (although, occasionally, I buy myself and others nice things). I know people who like being consumers, and good for them - I don't have time to scrutinize or judge. But c'mon. Give people a break on Thanksgiving. Who wants to try on clothes after turkey dinner? Let's not do this! (Groan.)

In the aggregate, are people going to spend more simply because they have that one additional day to shop that they previously didn't? No, but it's a race to the bottom, because no one wants to lose market share. It's a soulless thing, it is.

But I'd like talk about the "consumer culture" for a moment.

I don't buy it (ha ha). Yeah, people line up for iphones, I suppose. But that's such a small percentage of what we do.

Black Friday at WalMart.

Today, right now.

more.
One from last year.

After the DoD, the nation's largest employer.

The Walton family hold more personal wealth than the lowest 42% of people in this country combined.

People camp out, for days, to be first in line for this.

Such a small percentage of what we do, and who we are.

Yeah, people line up for iphones, I suppose. But that's such a small percentage of what we do.

Black Friday.

Such a small part of what we do.

Yes, the thread is dead dead dead, but nevertheless:

White paper from Sweden's ministry of employment regarding the effect of their reform:

Trouble in Paradise.

Money quote:

Axcel acknowledges mistakes were made

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