4 Things: It is still dark out, and still the only sources of light are the sparkling snow and the stand-offish parking lot lights. And still, the only sounds are that of my computer’s fan, the tick-tock of the clock and my sporadic frenzy of typing. Time for some more music. This time, perhaps Genesis, from the self-titled album, or whatever it was. I copied it from Stefan anyway, pretty damn near seven years ago (this month?!). What a great album–Mamma, That’s All, Home by the Sea, and Silver Rainbow. Sweet Dreams is on side B. Almost midnight.
—March 9, 1999
It’s old: Just going through and cleaning out my old e-mail—there is so much junk in there. One that made me laugh (although others will probably find it boring) is as follows:
Thought I would keep this one around—I decided to stick it here since I don’t usually archive e-mail from Joe. That’s the one thing about keeping my e-mail archives: I keep a lot of the e-mail I receive, but not all, so it’s not really an accurate reflection of my e-mail history. Then again, it’s not supposed to be; it’s merely my own little archive so that I can go back and look at things later—things that people wrote to me, or occasionally, things that I wrote to others or myself.
Of course, the other reason for creating it is so to have a platform independent archive of my documents, etc., which currently is most easily achieved through using HTML and a browser; sure, at some point customized SGML might be better, or simply a database. However, I’m not running a database at this point. Luckily, Eudora saves things as regular ol’ text, which makes archiving things rather easy. A Perl script would make things even easier, I suppose.
—March 9, 1999
Popular Culture: It is neither popular nor culture. Discuss amongst yourselves...
Why is it not popular? Let’s take a look at what Webster’s dictionary says about "popular":
Most of popular culture is not of interest to nor does it relate to the “general public.” Instead, it attracts certain demographic sub-units; the 18-24 crowd; middle-aged baby-boomer, seniors, and there seems to be little overlap for the most part This is not to say that all “pop culture” artifacts/objects are this limited—there are TV shows that appeal to a broad demographic; there are singers whose works and image transcends generational gaps. However, the majority of music, television, etc. that is collected under the term “popular culture” (which, as of yet, I haven’t defined) seems to be directed at certain groups“not at the “majority population.” Furthermore, to what extent is this “popular” culture limited to certain countries and societies? In a sense it has true popularity, in that it has spread from the U.S. (for example) to Europe, to Asia, to parts of South America. However, I am still not convinced that “it” has made its way into all levels of society—sure, teens and younger adults across the globe have latched onto certain icons, certain forms of expression, certain styles, but do we then end up defining what “popular” is based upon what a vocal minority likes?
To continue, it is not culture, and this argument is not a matter of high culture and low culture, but rather one which deals with the question of what culture is. Let’s go back to Webster’s again:
Now, I have trouble with the elitist nature of Webster’s definition, but let us use it for a bit, then critique it. How is “popular culture” not culture? First, it not developed to a great extent (1)—“culture” is related to “cultivate,” for example, and it implies a notion of organic development. Instead, much of “pop culture” is mass-produced by marketing types (see, Spice Girls, BSB, other girl groups, other boy groups, and many other cookie-cutter musicians in other genres). Along this line of thought, the same can be said of much of what Hollywood produces, much of what shows up on TV, etc. Let us take a look at “alternative” for a moment. Alternative to what? The going trend—“counter-culture.” “Underground,” etc. However, as soon as such things become main-stream, they become the result/product of mass-production and commercialization, and insofar as they do develop as “alternative,” they are not “popular” in the way defined above—instead, they are fringe. The irony then is that “alternative” is “popular”—a nice contradiction for us.
As for the elitist deinition provided by Webster’s, it seems to limit “culture” to “high culture,” which has always been—until recent centuries, if not even now—the realm of the “elite”—that is, a tiny, tiny minority of any population. Indeed, it is/was an even smaller population working for the elites that often produced this culture. Furthermore, it is questionable whether a definition of culture as we use it today had any meaning hundreds of years ago to the ruling classes; our philology and classification of ancient works as “classsics” is to a great extent a modern process, whatever modern may mean in this case.
An alternative definition forces us to look at “folk” culture, and define it as the “true” popular culture. However, the problem here is still that part about “popular”—without modern means of mass communication (for the sake of argument, going back at least to mass printing), it is difficult to speak of the “masses” (in contrast to the “elite”) as a unified group, making “a” unified popular culture a fiction. The best we can do is link such a “mass” based upon the ways in which they did share customs; either through long traditions and rituals, and/or through rites and activities passed down—in Christian Europe, then—through the Church. Insofar as this allows us to speak of a “unified mass,” it does not allow us to speak of a single culture, and insofar as we can speak of culture (rites, traditions, folk music, etc.), we cannot speak of it as “popular” and unifed across this mass.
Instead, we must look to find another locus of popular culture, and this is among a group superficially pro-culture and superficially popular; the middle class—bourgeoisie. The middle class has been historically much smaller than the lower peasant class(es) and such, and in recent times larger than the ruling class(es) in western societies. Such a class is defined to a great extent, at least traditionally, by way of its economic status, and occasionally by its political role. The myth that there is a “popular culture” is tied to the concept that the middle class represents society in some form. What exactly the middle class means varies from society to society and era to era, but that which is popular is in contrast to that which is elite, and also different than whatever “culture” the lowest classes are assumed to possess. The middle-class is only superficially pro-culture in that it is willing to consume—to spend and to market and to purchase based on marketing—but at least in the opinion of many of “the elite” as well as those others considered “fringe” it is not a great producer of “culture,” or at least that which many wish to identify with as their cultural heritage. For example, many artists are “Bohemian”—they don’t contribute substantially to the economy; they are leeches taking from the public good, they are avant garde and “out there.” At the other extreme we have producers of mass culture who are not part of the middle class, but from an economic stand point at least tower far above it (movie directors, Oprah, the big names in the computer industry, for example). In either case, much of which is “popular” is not of the social class that consumes it.
The dictionary definition of “culture” is an elitist one, but one which is in contrast with the development of that which is contained in the term “popular culture.” Furthermore, the term “popular” as applied to “popular culture” is not at all fitting. However, to judge popular culture merely on such dictionary definitions would be a mistake given that such definitions themselves are somewhat limited—at least the term “culture” must take on a broader an more inclusive role. At the same time, it is important to remember that “popular culture” is a fiction, for it is neither popular, merely mass, nor is it “developed” from a broad-based well-spring of cultural forces, but instead produced and marketed as if it were.
This rambling, though, is merely mental masturbation, for what cannot be ignored is that despite the fictional nature of popular culture, it is still there, and the powers that be (be they the consumers who purchase, or corporations that market to the consumers, or even the share-holders/consumers investing in the corporations that in turn are marketing to the consumers/themselves) believe in it. Shouldn’t we all?
—March 13, 1999