Western Culture
Trash and Popular Culture, Elitism and Multiculturalism

By Vexen Crabtree 2006 Aug 27

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.


1. Popular Culture

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.

"An Introductory Guide to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture" by John Storey (1993)1

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 other depth. 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 affects of populism are exasperated if the elements of popular culture are themselves mind-dumbing rather than educational. They frequently are.

2. Trash Culture

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.

"UK Trash Culture: 1. Introduction" by Vexen Crabtree (2004)

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.

3. Comparison Chart

TrashPopularElite
NewsPopular Press The Sun, the Star, etc, sensationalist approachMass media, cheap tabloids, easy to readQuality broadsheets, quality news, documentary approach
FilmCheap thrills, shock, brainless action, explosionsAction, Thrillers, RomanceIntelligent, Issues, Adult, requiring concentration & maturity
Attention SpansNone - slapstick humour, instant thrills, no concentration or depth requiredShort attention spans, 30-mins1hr-2hr concentration spans, classical concerts, in-depth news
Moral CultureIgnorant, hateful, aggressive, ad hocAttempted multiculturalism and compassionIntellectual tolerance, activism, moral relativism
Voting & PoliticsNo voting, ignorant & shallow concerns, BNPSome voting, some protesting, some knowledge of issues & of limited history. Any party.Protest literature, voting, academic criticism, involved politics. Any party.

The mass media, including news outlets and newspapers, are a powerful influence on most people2. Their impressions influence public opinion and democracy itself, so their reach is not to be taken lightly. Aside from the biases that are to be expected from corporations and editors, tabloids in particular portray the world in an unrealistic way. Studies have shown that education, and reading 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. 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. The sorry state of populist media in the West is effecting democracy and politics and degrading society. 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. Read on.

"Modern Mass Media: The Bane of Human Cultural Evolution" by Vexen Crabtree (2009)

4. Attention Spans: Classical Versus Pop and Adverts

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.

5. Thought-Provoking Films, Popular Films and Trash

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 "Modern Mass Media: The Bane of Human Cultural Evolution" 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.

6. Multiculturalism

Book CoverMulticulturalism: 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.

"Political Ideologies"
Andrew Heywood (2003)

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 world3. 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.

Links:

7. Cultural Differences and Prejudice

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.

"Social Psychology" by David Myers (1999)4

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)"

"Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour" by Richard Gross (1996)5

8. Consideracy and Empathy

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 living away from your own 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.

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.

Self ascension
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)

The Internet

I believe the Internet is our saviour. I believe computers are rapidly increasing our ability to think in abstract ways. I believe that the Internet is a melting pot of culture and belief, that 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!

"Abstract Mankind: What the Internet Says About Humankind, God and Love" by Vexen Crabtree (2002)

9. Multiple Languages: Methods of Thought

Confusion
Different languages lend themselves to different trains of thought. The sentence structures, sayings and quirks of a language endow on its speakers certain stereotypes and concepts, and these are different for each language and also in many circumstances within different regions of that language too.

All these languages can serve to confuse people, create miscommunication between cultures who do not understand each other, and within different dialects of the same language, where the confusion is often more subtle and more easily overlooked. Differences in assumed meanings of sayings and phrases between regions causes confrontation and difficulty between people.

Standardisation of language
There seems to be much advantage in standardizing language. This means two things:

All languages contain illogical and inconsistent structures; odd spellings, counter intuitive sayings and old, antiquated subtexts. Some countries and governments (i.e., Japan) have tried to artificially modernize their language by removing these and creating more logical replacements.

Creating a universal language would have immense advantages; improving communication, making social interactions much easier in every country, making business communication more efficient and less costly, speeding up the development of computers' own verbal skills and understanding (as only one language needs to be accounted for). Seemingly infinite advantages!

The rest of this essay is points out the disadvantages of language standardisation, and the advantages of a multiple language world.

Warning
In George Orwell's 1984, the government's attempt to control the thoughts of the populace through language. They made language purely logical and removing all quirks, and one by one, all concepts and "theory" from the language.

By creating a purely practical, muttered and instinctive language the populace became increasingly subdued, unable to think or communicate ideas or thoughts. In short, the populace suffered from a complete lack of art, imagination or ideals.

The advantages of illogical language
Poetry thrives on the quirks of language. Although poetry in itself is not important, the creative process is. Having a language that allows mental acrobatics, and even promotes it, is going to be good for people. It makes people think. The more you can abuse and play with a language, the more artistic and flexible you can be with the way you think about the concepts and ideas that the words portray.

Being able to phrase things in lots of different ways allows a much better search for answers and new ideas than trying to work it all out with abstract science. The processes involved in creating sentences and communicating information create many more ideas and thoughts if the process is convoluted and indirect than it would if language permitted you to instantly state what you wanted to say with no mental meandering or thought.

New ideas through misunderstanding
A problem is that words always mean different things to different people. What may appear to be a perfectly coherent and sensible paragraph of information is going to be read slightly different by every person who reads it. They're each time going to misread it, and will be very unlikely to think the exact thing you wish to convey. There will always be a subjective element when people read other people's text.

But this is good! Out of all the variable interpretations of text, some of them will be more intelligent and inspired than the original. Some misreading will create secondary thought processes that are invaluable in themselves.

It is possible to say something to someone, and have them suddenly realize something completely different. To inspire seemingly unrelated revelations. These are essential to development. It is the same in evolution. If the reproductive system was 100% perfect, advances would be made very slowly. But with variation and random mutations comes the possibility for rapid advances and sudden vital leaps that could not otherwise be made.

The more ordered and efficient a language is, the less inspiring and creative the side-effects.

The advantages of multiple languages
Not only do a languages own variations and regional differences lend themselves to creativity and healthy random thoughts, but the differences between languages starts off with different basic assumptions to start with. A different language will approach communication from a different starting position, different basic building blocks of thought.

The ordering or words and the methods one goes about constructing words with your inner voice varies from one language to the next. Whilst learning a second language, the more different it is from your own the more profoundly this is true, you discover that the very way in which words are used is different. This means, no doubt, that some languages are better at tackling certain subjects and theories than others. Some languages are more poetic, some are more abstract, they are all biased towards different types of internal thought.

Eliminating a language is a blasphemy of creativity. It is like removing a particular type of person from our genetic stock. It limits our chances. The more variation the human race has a whole in its approach to problems, the better. The more languages, the more chances we have of finding understanding of all concepts. To limit us to a single universal language that chokes out others is to close doors and make a fascist step towards thought control. The more diverse our thoughts are, as a species, the quicker we will develop and mature.

For the individual the same holds true... learning a language is more than just learning the technicalities. There are concepts, ideas and abstractions that will cause you to rise above both those languages when their power is combined.

Read / Write Comments

By Vexen Crabtree 2006 Aug 27
Originally published 2001 Sep 09
http://www.humantruth.info/culture.html

References: (What's this?)

Allport, G.W.
Becoming - basic considerations for a psychology of personality (1954). New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. Via Gross (1996).

Deinsen, Rev. R.. Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA).

Gross, Richard
Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour (1996). 3rd edition. Published by Hodder & Stoughton, London UK.

Held, David
A Globalizing World? Culture, Economics, Politics (2004, Ed.). 2nd edition. Originally 2000. Published by Routledge for The Open University.

Heywood, Andrew
Political Ideologies (2003). 3rd edition. First edition 1992. Published by Palgrave MacMillan.

McDougall, Julian
Media Studies: The Basics (2012). Published by Routledge, New York, USA

Myers, David
Social Psychology (1999). 6th 'international' edition. First edition 1983. Published by McGraw Hill.

Storey, John
An Introductory Guide to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture (1993). Published by Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Footnotes

  1. Storey (1993) p6,10.^
  2. McDougall (2012) p9.^
  3. Held (2004) p14.^
  4. Myers (1999) p444.^
  5. Gross (1996) p468.^
  6. 2006 Aug 25: Added quote from "Social Psychology" by David Myers (1999) and notes from "A Globalizing World? Culture, Economics, Politics" by David Held (2004).

© 2013 Vexen Crabtree. All rights reserved.

Google Ads: