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Part 4

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.

  1. I can’t imagine living my life from a schedule. Several friends and relatives, most notably Leena and Mike, live by way of day-runners. These not-so-little black faux-leather tomes they carry around with them, tomes that contain names and addresses, information from receipts, goals, planned meetings, and other miscellaneous notes. Often a black ink pen is tucked away as well, never far from reach. Others, such as a few professors I know—at least one of whom is not a technophile—prefer to carry around their Palm Pilots. PDAs, PIMs, etc. Neat little devices. If I had a few extra hundred to blow, I’d be tempted. The kid let loose in a candy store. Or, a toy store. A computer store. There are clones, and there are other brands. Sharp, for example. There are larger types, such as “handheld” PCs and other devices running WinCE, or Geos. Or, those that are even a little larger, or even a little more—finally, the portable. The laptop. Oh how I would love to have a neat little laptop—small enough to carry around but at the same time a large screen and all the features of a workstation!—but at the same time I would hate the tiny keyboard that makes typing with my hands difficult. To be able to play with Linux while listening to a not-too-exciting lecture. However, as much as I love computers, and despite how how much I think day-runners are spiffy things to carry around, I just don’t want to run my life by way of such a schedule. Or, more precisely, I don’t want a life that I perceive through the pages of a book or the screen of a computer. There is a fine line between using such a device to organize and keep track of events and letting the events recorded in the device become one’s life. At the same time, I am not averse to regiment and organization. I want to get up at 6:15 every morning. I want to be able to make myself go jogging for an hour each morning before sunrise. And so on. But I don’t want a list on the wall with dates and times. I keep calendars on the wall(s), but only to keep track of the current date; to help me determing the date or a particular day, or a the day of a partiular date; and to provide with my walls with aesthetically pleasing decoration. I don’t list all my scheduled appointments, meetings, etc. on them. And even when I do record such things, it is usually only after the fact as a process of memory and remembering.
  2. I don’t have an obsession. I see many really bad webpages out there (this one not exempt) and many just really turn me off. How could the author have such little design-sense? How could the author have so little to say? Sometimes I find well-organized and pleasing pages, and occasionally those are original and have some worthwhile content. More often than not they are mere clones of some other site I’ve already seen elsewhere. Angst-ridden teens and 20-somethingers are rather prone to this it seems. I’m not exempt. I’m 24. And then sometimes I find a page about something. A hobby, an interest, something to which the author of the site has dedicated considerable interest, time and resources. Usually these pages suck, too. But they suck in a good way, because as ugly or hard to navigate as they are, their content—even when it’s not everything I could desire—pulls me in to look around. The people who make these sites aren’t only obsessed. They have an obsession; something which demands their time and energy. I don’t have an obsession. I have a course of study, plans for research, and a few—nay, many—minor hobbies. Computers, drawing, writing, reading, math, music, browsing the web, writing pages, camping & fishing, traveling, etc. I almost feel to jaded to make any of my hobbies and obsession, as if to do so would be a naive act. Or perhaps such obsessions are reactions to/against an intense life; the academic puts so much into his/her research that he/she gets away through Balkan dance. Then is my life simply too boring and flat to warrant such devotion/obsession to a particular interest?
  3. I have another writing project underway. There is a purpose for it, which is not too important at the moment. I only have a few weeks to complete it, and I’m not sure I can in that time. I should have started earlier. Then again, I doubt it’s worth pursuring. Anyway, it already has a structure, semblance of a plot, a definite purpose, shadows of characters and the mere hint of atmosphere. Bah.
  4. I really need a lower-back massage. I took another shower, this one nice and hot. Sitting in this chair too much really isn’t good for my back, and since I don’t have any pain killers (and don’t wish to buy any) and a massage is out of the question, changing my work habits seems to be the only option. How nice it would be to be sitting in the baths at the Gellert Hotel right now! (For those who scoff and say The Gellert! why that place is nothing but a tourist trap. There are better baths in the city, I agree with you. However, the Gellert is central, it is not too expensive. It is pretty) Hot pools, a sauna, a cold pool of water, and massages. I wouldn’t want to go their right now given how fat I am, but still, if I make it back to Budapest, the Gellert or some other baths would be worth the visit. I can’t believe that I didn’t even go their until meeing Shami and the two Italians (whom I showed around Budapest). My last day in Budapest. Ironic or lame?

—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:

Date Tue, 2 Mar 1999 072357 -0600
To “Steven P. Krause” <spkraus1@students.wisc.edu>
From “Joseph C. Salmons” <jsalmons@facstaff.wisc.edu>
Subject Re tasteless but funny...

You’ll burn in hell, Steve Krause. I’ll save you a good seat.

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":

Main Entry: pop-u-lar
Pronunciation: ’pä-py&-l&r
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin popularis, from populus the people, a people
Date: 1548
1 : of or relating to the general public
2 : suitable to the majority: as a : adapted to or indicative of the understanding and taste of the majority <a popularhistory of the war> b : suited to the means of the majority : INEXPENSIVE <sold at popular prices>
3 : frequently encountered or widely accepted
4 : commonly liked or approved <a very popular girl>
synonym see COMMON
- pop-u-lar-ly adverb

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:

Main Entry: cul-ture
Pronunciation: ’k&l-ch&r
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French, from Latin cultura, from cultus, past participle
Date: 15th century
2 : the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education
3 : expert care and training <beauty culture>
4 a : enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training b : acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills
5 a : the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon man’s capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations b : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group c : the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes a company orcorporation
6 : cultivation of living material in prepared nutrient media; also : a product of such cultivation
a doodle

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

[ Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 ]