Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Will 'Get What You Want' Leave A Cultural Gap?

Hi guys, lets talk a little about culture. Fragmented hyper-modern culture.

I heard the following story on NPR this morning about the loss of a cultural commonality using the contrast between Seinfeld in 1994 and American Idol in 2009. I thought it was a fascinating idea of increasingly fragmented, hyper-individualism. What do you think?

Will 'Get What You Want' Leave A Cultural Gap?
by Laura Sydell
December 29, 2009

Get what you want, when you want it. That's the phrase that has dominated the entertainment industry over the past decade. New technologies have given us access to countless channels for music, television and film — and we can sample them whenever we find it convenient. But as the options multiply, are we losing our sense of a common culture? …

… "In history, as far as we can tell, there have never been cultures or societies in which there weren't a very large set of shared ideas — norms, values, stories" and so on, says Nass. "We've just never seen that before."

As the monoculture fragments, social-media platforms and other wired and unwired communities are creating new kinds of connections — connections that are building bridges between people in ways that watching Seinfeld never could. But Nass says they're not likely to be the kinds of connections that will hold a nation together.

5 min. Audio version


just joe said...

i found the audio story particularly interesting

Brian Emmet said...

Thanks for this, Jose--an interesting direction. Another small example: church (smaller churches as opposed to mega-)has become about the only place where people sing together in a non-performance way. There is "infinitely" more music available--but music, which in the past has served as one kind of shared social-glue experience, has now become almost entirely atomized. Maybe we're simply witnessing another phase of "tribalization," with way more tribe options than ever before, and the interesting prospect of having a large number of tribes each of which has one member!

just joe said...

well, I think a deep 'felt need' in the future will be to find a sense of belonging to a small community/posse/crew/ or band of brothers. I see this in our Tuesday night group ... they are definitely "belonging" before "believing" but the believing is coming along slowly but surely. They crave being part of their community... even if it means having to talk about God.

Last Tuesday I brought up the concept of divine incarnation using the example found in the movie Avatar ... oddly enough, some of them who do not believe Jesus was God incarnate ... once they thought about it in terms of the Avatar metaphor, decided that it could be plausible that God would become human in order to communicate with us.

Everyone wants to belong to a group, even if they find it difficult to live up to the responsability of community life.

Brian Emmet said...

I think you're right--a "community of one" is an impossibility. Fragmentation can only gp sp far before there's a swing in the opposite direction. The NPR piece we're discussing raised, but didn't seem to provide any answers to, the question, "What can hold/bind us together?" There's not much out there that's supporting any kind of social "glue." We tend to be "united" around things, primarily positive shared experiences, that don't cost much or really give that much (we're 'fans' of this movie, band, book, blog, app, etc.). Happiest of New Years!

just joe said...

well, it is not entirely impossible. One of the clinical differences between "normal" people and psychotics, is that normal people normally have a primary group of relationships of at least 10 to 12, whereas psychotic people may only have one or two relationships, if that.

I would say, citing C.S. Lewis' Great Divorce, that a 'community of one' would be a pretty good description of hell.

Brian Emmet said...

Hmmm...there is a way in which even God is not "a community of one"... that should tell us something...

Brian Emmet said...

So maybe we should ask: What is it that could bind/hold us together?

just joe said...

ok Brian, this one didn't fly ... take us onwards and upwards with another brillant topic for discussion!

John M. said...

Joseph, I think this is a good topic. People have been busy with the holiday. It took me awhile to realize that there was a new thread. I kept checking the old one.

The fragmentation and digitalizing of our culture is obvious, but so is the desire, as you pointed out, for a place to belong and a group to identify with.

The New Testament pushes back strongly against the extreme individualism of our culture and it also puts forward the vision of the church as community and a place of corporate identity.

So, perhaps it is an opportunity for the church to become relevant in people's lives again?

just joe said...

The popular social science term for what NPR radio is discussing here is “social capital.” Most studies of social capital trace the concept back to Alexis de Tocqueville, although he did not necessarily use that term. He viewed voluntary associations, especially the thriving growth of religious associations (self governing congregations not supported by the state) as primarily responsible for the moral and ethical fiber of the United States making possible the functioning of our representative democracy. Emmanuel Mounier (Catholic philosopher in the 1940s) believed that the extreme individualism of modern capitalism led directly to totalitarian collectivism of either fascism on the right or communism on the left. More recent studies on this issue of social capital have been carried out by political scientist Robert Putnam (Bowling Alone, 1995) and anthropologist Robert Bellah (Habits of the Heart, 1985).

For a critical review of Habits of the Heart:

For a description of Bowling Alone: