Culture seems stagnant because everyone is exhausted, not “because of the Internet”

Anna Sorokin, better known as Anna Delvey, in New York State Supreme Court on April 11, 2019. (Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

Michelle Goldberg wrote last week confusing piece for me for New York Times page on the crisis of modern taste.

Goldberg is here to tell you that the culture is not good right now. He quotes literary critic Christian Lorenzen. “Hollywood movies are boring. Television is boring. Pop music is boring. The art world is boring. Broadway is boring. Books from big publishers are boring.” Goldberg can’t “think of a single recent novel or film that has sparked passionate debate.” Arguments about art have become “old and repetitive”.

As a piece of criticism, Goldberg’s essay is as eye-opening as, say, David Brooks’ famous essay. on the drop of noodle flavor. But his foray into the Culture Crisis genre also lacks Brooks’s sense of purpose. It twists and turns.

At one point, Goldberg presents this as proof of his thesis. “When I go to coffee shops where young people hang out, the music is often either the same music I listened to when I was young, or music that sounds exactly like that. “. This is like a parody of leading cultural criticism. (“When I get my morning Starbucks, they’re playing Adele – really, youth culture is dead.”)

But what bothers me about Goldberg’s essay isn’t his style, or its superficiality, or the fact that exactly what “culture” he’s talking about seems to shift throughout the essay, or that he has To raise a dime square. It’s that it’s annoyingly wrong in diagnosing the pressures on modern culture.

What is to blame for our “cultural stagnation”? Why isn’t there “more interesting indie stuff spinning?” Let’s see what Goldberg has to say.

Columnist Michelle Goldberg (right) with Margaret Atwood at the World Women’s Summit on April 13, 2018 in New York. (Photo credit: Angela Weiss/AFP Getty Images)

The stagnation hypothesis

The title of Goldberg’s piece is The Book That Explains Our Cultural Stagnation. It turns into V. A glimpse of David Marks’ upcoming work Status and culture. how our desire for social status creates taste, identity, art, fashion, and constant change“A book that is not at all boring and that subtly changed the way I see the world.”

I have no idea if this book itself is actually richer than he makes it out to be. “Marx presents cultural evolution as a kind of perpetual motion machine driven by people’s desire to move up the social hierarchy,” Goldberg writes. The idea that there’s a social disadvantage to embracing the new, different, and experimental doesn’t seem like much of a new thesis to me.

So what has changed in the relationship between cultural innovation and the desire to acquire its content that might “explain our cultural stagnation?” Here’s what Goldberg suggests.

The Internet, Marx writes in the closing section of his book, is changing this dynamic. With so much content, the chance that others will recognize the meaning of any obscure cultural cues diminishes. Challenge art is losing its authority. Besides, in the age of the Internet, taste tells less about a person. You don’t need to log into any social world to get introduced [John] Cage, or, for that matter, with underground hip-hop, weird performance art, or rare sneakers.

This is a real #TheTimesIsOnIt kind of theory. Oh my god, there have been people debate whether or not the internet was making the flavor shallower for a long time. I have written my own book which includes essays on taste, social media, and appropriation, so the space given to this analysis probably worries me more than most. But I really don’t think Goldberg knows what he’s talking about.

The idea that you “don’t have to enter the social world” to access culture in the internet age is not true. I mean, you can flip the face of a culture for a mood very easily. However, scientists have long studied how people display their identity on the Internet. the openness of Internet culture creates some barriers, but also forces users to create new kinds of esoteric cultural norms, inside jokes, and subcultural languages; try reading any forums about NFTs. without looking for a term. (As Paul Hodgkinson argued long ago in his studies chatroom cultureThe relative openness of the Internet also explains the importance of online cultural discourse; Removing newcomers becomes even more important when anyone can enter the conversation.)

There are so many recent writings on this internet subculture dynamic that are far more informative than what we get from this article by Caroline Busta. on creators navigating the “clear web” and the “dark forest.” To Josh Citarella’s work Political Identities in Social Media Legacy to Russell’s Glitch Feminism and its argument about the role that online cultural spaces play as a “club space for meetings” for queer and trans people.

There are even ways in which breaking down cultural barriers online seems to increase the remaining indicators of actually being part of a particular scene or club. “It makes more sense for Parvanu to fake a private jet ride than to fake an interest in contemporary art,” Goldberg writes, summarizing his thesis. But the archetypal Parvenu, the fake heiress Anna Delvin, actually did to project an interest in contemporary art through his Instagram as part of his own attempt to “climb the social hierarchy”. The art-themed members-only club was his whole game.

Grind’s hypothesis

Don’t get me wrong, modern mainstream culture doing feeling really bad – emaciated, exhausted, obsessed with money and popularity. But Goldberg’s “because the Internet is bad” argument misses any of the really important reasons that could be discussed.

Here is an example. Does mainstream culture seem to default to comforting familiar tropes and built for shallow, distracted consumption? Well, “serious” culture is generally difficult. it takes a level of focus and investment to reap its rewards. Aesthetic sophistication actually implies a certain measure of relaxation. So for today burn epidemic and: overwork Thrill culture probably doesn’t help build an audience for “serious” culture. Art critic Philip Kennicott argued A few years ago that the best plan to support the arts would be if people worked less.

Do it you After working 5 to 9, it’s easy to read a Toni Morrison novel (the latest title, nasty update Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” to meet modern demands). I don’t.

It is clear, however, that the Internet is not innocent, even though “the Internet” is not, in fact, what can be spoken of as one thing. It commercial internetIn particular, it has an incentive structure that is not hospitable to the kind of ongoing “passionate debate” Goldberg wants about Real Culture. for-profit online media inevitably leans toward writing about the most popular culture in the least invested way.

This is not just a Big Media problem. Freelance video essayists on YouTube complain about how the algorithm punishes them for not tapping into the latest trend or rage. When Sarah Other Green left her popular YouTube channel Art Assignment in 2020, she noted what he had learned over the years of making art videos was that, dishearteningly, viewers mostly clicked on famous artists or controversies.

“And here’s the thing,” he added, “I’m exhausted. That burn that seems to be getting to everyone on YouTube has crept up on me too.”

Most publications are somewhere in the middle, trying to blend in as these commercial incentives slowly starve the cultural brain of oxygen. The cultural hot economy, which Goldberg sees as “outdated and repetitive,” is clearly a product of these economic realities. (Another slippage in Goldberg’s argument is between artistic production and “arguments about art”“. There may be some “cool indie stuff” being made, but if you’re not actively invested in those scenes and only follow the most basic conversation, you’re mostly exposed to the most current, trending topics.)

about the last episode of of the New York Times own PopCast focused on the understated state of hip-hop journalism by writer Jerry Barrow from the site HipHopDX: explained the realities of his field. He remembered oral history he produced the debut album of the hip-hop group Camp Lo, Uptown Saturday night. That piece, he says, was

something I was very proud of, very proud, something it was time for, talking to the guys, digging deep. And it barely hit a bump in terms of traffic, I’m not even going to lie to you. But if one of those guys did something crazy, got called out for something, and we reported it, it would go through the roof. And that’s a daily struggle we have as content creators because I have to get enough traffic to generate enough revenue to pay for everything else…

Sharath, owner of HipHopDX [Cherian]— she is very sensible and methodical when it comes to her budget. Everything has to be justified, more than anywhere else. But he’s been in the game for 20 years, so he knows what he’s doing. He knows what keeps the site alive. And I, going back, saw that there were eras of HipHopDX where they were doing more in-depth, long-form pieces. And he said to me: “Jerry, I can’t justify paying a writer $800 for this piece and it’s not getting me any traffic. Even though it’s this great, well-written deep dive, this little write-up on TMZ will bring me four times the traffic and four times the money. So how can I justify paying for it?”

And that’s the reality… It’s excruciating. It hurts and pains me and I try to carve out what I can…

That pretty much sums it up. This is also why, finally, Goldberg’s writing upsets me so much.

Because if you work in any kind of cultural writing, you know how much these depressing economic dynamics seem like a constant, low-level crisis. You probably feel these pressures intimately as you try to do meaningful work while maintaining your good humor and a piece of your soul.

And then… comes this New York Times writer, at the pinnacle of establishment media, slandering aimlessly about how no one talks about good art anymore without even acknowledging that dynamic.

And it’s awesome. Because I know Goldberg knows this. I know that these pressures penetrate even as high a place as the Note Paper.

After all, what is this author’s version but a prime example of the “low and tiresome” level of cultural conversation it decries? And what’s the best explanation for why that is, but Michelle Goldberg has to take care of her clicks Times readers every week, even when he doesn’t have time to understand what needs to be said.

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