Consumers of Culture
It is only through difference that progress has been made. What threatens us right now is probably what we may call overcommunication—that is, the tendency to know exactly in one point of the world what is going on in all other parts of the world. In order for a culture to be really itself and to produce something, the culture and its members must be convinced of their originality and even, to some extent, of their superiority over the others; it is only under conditions of undercommunication that it can produce anything. We are now threatened with the prospect of our being only consumers, able to consume anything from any point in the world and from every culture, but of losing all originality.
(2003.45, p. 15)
If culture, then, is something of a construct, should it come as any surprise that its consumers wish to follow the latest fashion? All my life I wore a raincoat, until I saw an umbrella—I cannot say the one is better than the other (for everything there’s a pro and a con), yet I’ve given up my customary coat (admittedly an eyesore with its blueberry color and red trimmings) to endanger the eyes of others with the spokes of a brolly. Should I therefore lament? When there are no raincoats left in the world, or but one or two, or if the purveyors of parasols prevent persons preferring alternative protection from the elements from pursuing that choice—why then yes, I shall be sore vexed, wax wroth, etc., etc. But excuse me, I am spluttering, nor is the comparison of culture and raingear particularly apt, though perfectly arbitrary; more suitable, perhaps, is this query:
…have not the wisest of men in all ages, not excepting Solomon himself,—have they not had their Hobby-Horses;—their running horses,—their coins and their cockle-shells, their drums and their trumpets, their fiddles, their pallets,—their maggots and their butterflies?—and so long as a man rides his Hobby-Horse peaceably and quietly along the King’s highway, and neither compels you or me to get up behind him,—pray, Sir, what have either you or I to do with it?
But culture is not a hobby-horse—or is it? One talks so much about it, compares it with so many other things, becomes defensive, sensitive, irate, one forgets in the end what it is. And what is it? I’m sure I don’t know.