Today’s Cultural Engineers: The arbiters of taste loath their audiences.  By Joel Kotkin

If the recent events in Washington, DC with regards to the students Covington Catholic High School have revealed anything is the reality that a large segment of the producers of popular media and culture harbor a deep hatred towards anyone who does not agree with them. Whether you don’t agree politically, or are generally uninterested in joining the fray, or you simply choose to live your life to your private values, these self-anointed “cultural engineers” are more than happy to express contempt for people like you.

Their eagerness to indict these Covington teens without waiting to evaluate the evidence should be no surprise to observers of our cultural industries, in which politics has overtaken all aspects of artistic expression.  Naturally, it not only alienates potential customers for their product it also diminishes its artistic quality.

Los Angeles resident Joel Kotkin describes the transformation of his hometown movie industry from being a place that sought to simply entertain and promote relatable stars to one where animosity towards their audience is all too palpable in their movies and in the verbal venom spewing from their stars. The bond between content creators and their consumers is broken, and this new era of antagonism between the two bodes poorly for the future of our shared national culture.

Whose Civilization? Which Clash? By Daniel McCarthy

The aftermath of the cold war was a hopeful but uncertain time for a young political science student such as myself.  The collapse of the Soviet Union was seen by many as an important moment in human history, in which a new era of universal liberal democracy would reign supreme (e.g. Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History”) or the explosion of ethnic and class strife that was gently simmering under the surface of places that had been briefly pacified by brutal dictatorships (e.g. Yugoslavia).

Around this time Samuel P. Huntington put forth the idea that the future would consist of a clash of civilizations, which was seen as rather pessimistic and reactionary given optimistic developments in free trade, the world wide web, and the rise of multinational institutions such as the E.U. and the W.T.O. Huntington believed that the political fault lines in the world were not to be found between liberal democracy and socialism, but between spheres of influence defined by prominent ancient and relatively modern cultures.  History seemed to be alive and well in Huntington’s scenario, which countered the one-world consensus many of his peers believed to be at hand.

Twenty-five years later Daniel McCarthy revisits “The Clash of Civilizations” and finds it very useful, not only understanding the ensuing period following the “holiday from history” of the 1990’s, but also as a kind of roadmap for the future of the United States and the West in general.  The insights on the contemporary East Asian, Orthodox, and Islamic civilizations are worth a read as well.

The Avant-Garde’s Slide into Irrelevance by Michael J Pearce

Any creative professional will tell you that a large part of their formation consisted of being exposed to and then internalizing the idea of seeking what is new.  One needed to idolize those heroic individuals who broke form existing rules and conventions of their art form and in turn transformed the way we perceive and experience the world around us.  

And yet when all rules have been abandoned, does an era of ultimate creative freedom arrive, or do yesterday’s radicals become the current status quo holding fast to rules to help maintain their status as anointed gatekeepers of approved taste?

According to Pearce, the last few decades has seen the avant-garde of the art world lose their status thanks to developments beyond their control. Video games, computer animation and social media have broken the academies’ stranglehold on artistic discourse and its bias towards abstraction and high concept. Figurative drawing and painting have become more important than ever, as lucrative careers in commercial art, illustration and animation await those who harness those skills.

This article provides a great summary of how the art had been evolving since the middle of last-century, as well as useful references to a number of contemporary artists doing extraordinary work that are worth getting to know.

The Great Forgetting by Kyle Smith

One of the most telling clues that you’re getting old is when someone does not get your seemingly obvious cultural reference because they’re too young to have been aware of it. We would like to think that what we remember and experienced in the past had a kind of timeless quality that would be part of a growing cannon of great songs, films or books that future generations would learn and appreciate.

Given the tools of the information age, such as Youtube and Spotify, this has never been easier. Despite this abundance of access, a constant process of cultural amnesia nevertheless occurs.  As Kyle Smith points out, highly praised and influential artists seem to enjoy a fairly limited lifespan of relevancy in the collective consciousness before being completely forgotten.

Those that do survive beyond this lifespan often aren’t necessarily the best either.  Part of this is by design, as commerce demands that markets must make way for new ideas and products, while a loyalty to the old ways inhibits this necessary churn.  But a shared sense of history, even in things such as cultural references for pop music or tv shows helps keep society cohesive.  The more we forget, the less we can connect with each other over time.  We become more susceptible bad art, demeaning forms of expression, and even destructive ideas.    

The lesson to be learned is that everyone us is in charge one’s own cultural development, that we should not wait for cues from the contemporary mainstream, but rather consciously immerse ourselves into a rich past, both recent and distant.  Doing so allows us to better understand the present by placing it in context.  Best of all, it ensures that we will never be bored.