By Vexen Crabtree 2006
About the various advantages of existing in a developed multicultural world. Arguments are given against a single-language world, against racism and against race elitism.
“There are various ways to define popular culture. Williams suggests four current meanings: 'well-liked by many people'; 'inferior kinds of work'; 'work deliberately setting out to win favour with the people'; 'culture actually made by the people for themselves'. Popular culture carries within our society connotations of inferiority, a second-best culture for those unable to understand, let alone appreciate, real culture. [Critics say that] the culture itself is formulaic, manipulative [...], with brain-numbed and brain-numbing passivity.”
Popular culture is frequently the reference culture for most people because what is popular is frequently given much time on the mass media and is commented on a lot by word of mouth. "Popularist" is something that is purely designed for the masses with no depth of thought. Popularism is most dangerous in politics, where shallow causes are used for marketing because they are popular, not because they are good ideas. Popular culture therefore has potential to be disastrous, and at the least it is necessary that the government resists popularism, or if it does so, that the general populace are intelligent and well educated. The negative effects of populism are exasperated if the elements of popular culture are themselves mind-dumbing rather than educational. They frequently are.
“Trash Culture is specifically British. It has become the mainstream culture across the United Kingdom. It is characterized by binge drinking, smoking, stupidity, the active hatred of intelligence & responsible behaviour, fashion-conscious youths, ignorant uneducated adults, misbehaviour at school, petty crime, organized crime, violence, homophobia, racism and xenophobia. Its greatest social monuments are pub culture and football, and its main facilitators are peer pressure, trashy tabloids such as The Daily Mail and The Sun, and uneducated, irresponsible parenting.”
There is a distinct difference between popular and trash culture. In many countries, the things that are massively popular are not intrinsically trashy. It is not essential that the most liked music has to be the most shallow music, nor that the most bought newspapers have to be the most absurd. The UK in particular has a popular culture that is very dumbed-down, but it has not always been like that.
“The mass media, including news outlets and newspapers, are a powerful influence on most people2,3. News media and journalism outlets influence public opinion and therefore democracy itself so their reach and power is not to be taken lightly4. The press has "responsibilities to the public interest: to respect the truth, to obey the law and to uphold the rights and liberties of individuals"5. Good journalism is good for democracy6,5, but, unfortunately the most popular news feeds in most Western countries have degraded into poor-quality sensationalism, which is effecting democracy and degrading society7. Aside from the biases that are to be expected from corporations and editors, tabloids in particular portray the world in an unrealistic way. The warnings of academics about the institutional biases of Murdoch's news outlets are longstanding and the bias is so great that it has a statistically detectable effect. In the USA, a University study from 2011 found that those who watched Murdoch's Fox News channel were less knowledgeable about current events even than those who watched no news at all - in other words, Fox News spreads misinformation8. Studies have shown that education, and consuming respectable news instead of trash, results in a more sensible view of the world in all matters, including views on the economy and crime rates. This is also about the tendency for people to accept overly negative and foreboding forecasts of societies' declining moral worth. Research reveals that excessive television dulls the mind, causes stupidity, causes failure at school and perpetuates ridiculous and simplistic stereotypes. Social commentator Robert Todd Carroll9 warns that "a critical reader must not assume that stories we read in the press or hear on TV are true" even when similar stories are repeated by multiple outlets10. Educating people that TV is fiction, and that violence is wrong, can reduce some of these effects and break the link between TV violence and criminal aggression. Media studies lecturers teach students that by understanding the power and influence of the news and the mass media, and by understanding its failures, "people are better able to resist the power of 'the media'"2.”
Tasks that require concentration improve peoples' attention spans. Classical music requires time and attention if it is to be appreciated and understood; the cycles of repetition and complex developments of the notes are only understood during prolonged listening. It takes time to enjoy, whereas pop music is simple and quick to understand, requiring no concentration of attention.
Many who like classical also like pop and vica-versa. You don't have to be "intelligent" to like classical, you just need to have the time to spend listening to it, and not to be discouraged by your peers. Likewise you don't have to have a short attention span or be stupid to like pop music. The familiarity of pop combined with some genuine emotionalizing and talent makes it a genre enjoyed easily by all kinds of people. The point isn't that "intelligent" people automatically listen to classical or that stupid people automatically listen to popular music, but that classical music will increase a persons' attention span, ability to concentrate and patience.
Some will dislike classical because it's not the "thing" that they consider their peer group to listen to, and some will dislike popular music for defensive and negative reasons: They will criticize pop music in order to maintain or achieve social status. Both genres have fans who are cliquey. Both also have fans who simply like the material and are intelligent people. Those who exist inside trash culture are ensnared by pop music as their attention spans remain low due to the lack of practice, and little peer pressure exists to make them want to take to the time to listen to classical.
Trash films are those with no content requiring thought. Many teenage films are nothing but ninety minutes of one-liners, matcho confrontations, choreographed action, violence, etc, with a minimal plot that does not engage anyone's minds. It is brainless entertainment. Research has shown that such films reduce the intelligence of children in the short-term, but research on long-term effects has proven difficult to undertake. The same is true of violent movies: Children, teenagers and even adults are more likely to react violently and aggressively after watching violent films, and those who watch more violent films are more likely to commit crimes in the future [See "The Worst of the Modern Mass Media" by Vexen Crabtree (2009)].
Popular films can be successful for lots of reasons, and not all popular films are trashy. For example films like The Matrix, I Robot and The Truman Show contain explorations of deep philosophical questions about the nature of life, experience and epistemology. You are prompted to ask big questions, but the films are also feel-good, exciting and good-looking.
High Culture films are those that tend to dwell on intellectual matters. Older people, if you don't mind this stereotype, tend to watch higher culture films. They are more engaging and deeper. The films themselves educate people, improve people, force people to use their concentration and minds in order to understand the film, and may include detailed science.
I have not cited many examples above because it is not sensible to try and fit all films into these three loose categories. They serve only as a guide to the differences between trash culture, popular culture and high culture.
“Multiculturalism: As a descriptive term it refers to cultural diversity arising from the existence within a society of two or more groups whose beliefs and practices generate a distinctive sense of collective identity. Multiculturalism is invariably reserved for communal diversity that arises from racial, ethnic or language differences. As a normative term, multiculturalism implies a positive endorsement of communal diversity, based upon the right of different cultural groups to recognition and respect. In this sense, it acknowledges the importance of beliefs, values and ways of life in establishing a sense of self-worth for individuals and groups alike.”
The Western world has become highly globalized. All Western countries' cultures intermingle at an increasing rate. Euro-area migration is at its highest level, all capital cities contain dozens of sub-cultures hailing from all other major populated countries. Also, in the West, most worldwide cultures are represented. Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Asian cultures of various kinds and sometimes South American cultures are present in many major cities in all Western countries. The West is a gigantic kaleidoscope, more diverse than any previous civilisation in the history of mankind. This diversity is reflected in the availability of music, fashion, food, television channels, mass media such as newspapers and religions from dozens of worldwide cultures.
Globalisation is the key to understanding modern variety and cultural diversity. Prof. Cochrane and Pain point out that a positive look at globalisation shows us that "living in a more global world is exciting as it opens up new opportunities and choices wherever we are. [...] We can eat Thai food in a British city and get a taste of Australian life by turning on the TV set". Increasingly diverse cultural options are available to people in the industrialized world12. These 'options' result from the exposure of all cultures to a global audience, aided by technological advance.
Globalisation leads to multiculturalism. This may not always be true, but is in general true. The rich and developed countries become multiculturalized as a result of their successes in a globalized world. Travel, trade and technology are the three main facilitators of international migration in people, ideas and goods.
In the West, you do not find only "the West", but you find the world and the future.
“We have a bias - the false consensus bias - toward assuming that others share our attitudes. When we discover that someone does not, we may dislike the person. The extent to which people perceive those of another race as similar or dissimilar therefore helps determine racial attitudes. Wherever one group of people regards another as [people] who speak differently, live differently, think differently - the potential for oppression is high. [...] "Cultural racism" persists, argues James Jones (1988), because cultural differences are a matter of fact. [...] Rather than trying to eliminate such differences, says Jones, we might better appreciate what they "contribute to the cultural fabric of a multicultural society." [...] Each culture has much to learn from the other. In countries such as Canada, Britain and the United States, where migration and different birthrates make for growing diversity, educating people to respect and enjoy those who differ is a major challenge.”
This results in a prejudice that effects the way one culture interacts with another, and can affect thinking about immigration, welfare, crime and relations. Another leading psychologist describes one way to reduce this prejudice:
“Probably the first formal proposal of a set of social-psychological principles for reducing prejudice was Allport's (1954) contact hypothesis (as it has come to be called), which is summarized in a very famous quote:”
"Prejudice (unless deeply rooted in the character structure of the individual) may be reduced by equal status contact between majority and minority groups in the pursuit of common goals. The effect is greatly enhanced if this contact is sanctioned by institutional supports (i.e. by law, custom or local atmosphere)"
“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each person's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1819~1892)
Being seen as a considerate and empathic human being is one of the most dominant traits among people who are liked, and seen as nice. This consideracy and humanity is not altruism, the ego and deep down sense of satisfaction achieved though simply being generally liked is better than any consolation drug.
One of the best ways to study and learn about the basic human psyche is to experience life in a different culture. To see just how different people can behave. Experiencing this gives you much more power and understanding.
Every culture and race has shortcomings, failings and weak spots. By studying people across the world and living away from your own culture you become free to be more critical of it, to see it from the outside amongst people who owe it no respect. There are bad points of an entire nation's lifestyle that are overlooked through complacency and assumption. With increased experience of alien cultures you will see more and more the subtle (and not so-subtle) abhorrence of your own. Learning the downfalls of your own culture allows you to become a greater person.
Accepting other cultures and moving peacefully within them gives you an opportunity you would otherwise not get: to learn from your experience of them. You will learn and gain a large amount of confidence if you can rise above your own culture, and embrace the experience of multiple lifestyles. To be able to move as one or the other, and combine the positive aspects of both, is a magical source of personal development and a practical talent.
To be able to only understand one culture is like limiting yourself to one set of clothes, or one way of thinking. It is stupid. Living in a strange country for a year or two will teach you more than any academic achievement, give you more confidence than any counsellor, and give you subtle social engineering skills that cannot be found elsewhere. You will be expanded in mind and talent.
With experience of diverse people you will find you have much empathy for people, more understanding of the basic way that people work. An understanding of how to avoid unnecessary and unproductive conflict between people from different cultures (due to simple things like body language and language) is a skill that will also enable you to control and understand people who are not like yourself. You will be able to see the dynamics that operate between different groups of people, and use them.
Nietzsche taught that any person can become a powerful superman, but he needs to rise above the people around him. He taught that your own culture will limit you and hold you back, but natural leaders are born who will break free, become greater and ascend above his own past and previous self.
You cannot know yourself if you can't break the mould that you are set it, if you are limited to one rigid culture then there are entire trains of thought closed to you. The more cultures you perceive, the more imperfections you can see in your own. This happens during war; it becomes essential for the governments to convince its citizens that the enemy are inhuman, house-burning, wife-raping hordes. Once people discover that the enemy are just ordinary people, they can't fight! Cross-culture makes it harder to hate people.
“People can learn a lot from mixing with people who are not like themselves. I mean, if you just hang around with a group of people who are the same as you are you can't really learn new things.”
Kim Lee 2001-May (conversation)
“You may be on to something here. I think the less we mix with our current society, the more free we are from its unhealthy burdens, definitions and standards.”
Rev. D. R. Deinsen 2001 Jun (email)
Computers have massively increased our ability to think in abstract ways. The Internet is a melting pot of culture and belief, and over time we will all come to understand each other better and more fully through empathy and abstract, projected emotions. The Internet allows people to communicate, miscommunicate and learn how different and amazingly diverse we all are. Our ability for abstract thought combined with this ultimate communication medium that connects all people in all cultures can create empathy and tolerance like never before!
All #tags used on this page - click for more:
The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See vexen.co.uk/references.html#Economist for some commentary on this source. A newspaper.
Becoming - basic considerations for a psychology of personality (1954). New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. Via Gross (1996).
Carroll, Robert Todd. (1945-2016). Taught philosophy at Sacramento City College from 1977 until retirement in 2007. Created The Skeptic's Dictionary in 1994.
(2011) Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed!. Amazon Kindle digital edition. Published by the James Randi Educational Foundation. An e-book.
ESRC. The Economic and Social Research Council
(2009) Britain in 2010. Annual Magazine of the Economic and Social Research Council.
Leveson, Lord Justice
(2012) The Leveson Inquiry. Subtitled: "An Inquiry Into the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press". Published by The Stationary Office, UK. Dated 2012 Nov. Official UK government document. Available for download from www.official-documents.gov.uk . The full report is spreadh across 4 volumes, totalling 2000 pages. I've used the 48-page Executive Summary which contains numbered paragraphs and these as referenced directly. Accessed 2016 Nov 09.
(1993) An Introductory Guide to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. Published by Harvester Wheatsheaf.