Thursday, July 22, 2010

The democratization of culture

Back in the day, before the age of the Internet, culture was something that was given to us. Back before the age of the TV, culture was participatory: you made music, you played music. TV ruined that all, people were stuck to the television set, and discussions revolved around what everyone watched at home. When I was growing up, we didn't have TV for our formative years, and it was annoying that I couldn't discuss television shows with my peers. TV used to create culture: when someone you knew appeared on TV, it was a big thing!

Fast forward fifteen years, and TV has lost much of its culture-making powers. For one, there are too many channels, thinning out what people watch. For another, most of TV is a colossal waste of time: ten minutes of good programming inside a forty minute show, with twenty minutes of advertising: for a total of one mind-numbing hour. Even news shows have sunk to pointless blabbery: I was watching a show one day and they were reading messages that people sent to them via Twitter!

A lot of popular culture now is created by people. Some wonderful, down-to-earth videos have hit it big on online video sites. This wedding entrance won the attention of many people. Watch the video: it is simple, beautiful, and has 53 Million hits. It made Chris Brown's song famous. Or Russell Peters, the brilliant comedian. I first heard about him through friends. His videos became massively popular on youtube: college kids were mailing each other the video. Long before TV was aware of him, he was a celebrity. And when he toured, people showed up because they had seen him earlier. Or this kid, playing Paschelbel on his guitar, became insanely popular. A news reporter went to find him, and write an article on the mysterious funtwo. Culture was created by someone that mainstream media was unaware of.

This is just the way it should be: creation is an essential human activity: we want to make, to create, rather than just be passive consumers.