Cultural Renaissance or Cultural Divide?

The May 19th edition of The Chronicle Review has an article entitled “Cultural Renaissance or Cultural Divide?” by Bill Ivey and Steven J. Tepper. The idea is that prior to the 20th century, culture was local. But media made it possible to centralize culture with professional actors and singers recorded and distributed to all. The effect was that local culture took a back seat to professional culture. One of the down sides of this is that the media only allow us to access a tiny minority of the work that's created. Only some songs are distributed, only some movies get released.

But now that it's possible for people to create and distribute their own media using comptuters and the internet, we are at the begining of a new era of the people creating the culture. The culture that “professional amateurs” create will compete in some ways against the mainstream media. The difference between now and the 19th century is that what is created won't be shared locally (not necessarily, anyway): The internet allows people to connect according to their interests. So Cajun or Rap musicians can connect with an audience that wants to hear them rather than relying on people in their vicinity to listen. But the authors suggest that the centralized media of the 20th century may be an abberation, between the 19th century, when people created and shared their culture and the 21st century when digital media makes it possible to share your creative works with the rest of the world without the assistance of a large media company.

All this tells me that I need to get a bit busier working with Garage Band and iMovie.

The point of their essay, though, is that it costs money to be a part of the professional amateurs who are now broadening the definition of culture. Not everyone has money to do this, and so while some of us are out there changing and challenging culture, others will continue to get their culture from Wal-Mart and Clear Channel Radio. They don't propose a solution, but I sure how we find one.

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