Fed By Culture

I sometimes joke that all my favorite creative heroes are dead. This isn’t strictly true (which is why it’s a joke), but I’m terrible at staying current–and, frankly, I don’t think it’s all that important.

I rarely consume (read, watch, listen, eat, think) anything first. Internet culture thrives on the same kind of immediacy as the rest of our culture, and the competition to be there, wherever there is, first generates anxiety and dissatisfaction.

Trendsetters and followers say the same things at slightly different times:

“You haven’t seen (heard, listened, eaten, been there, bought that) it? Oh my god, it’s so good.

One of my favorite lines in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man comes in the prologue, when the narrator talks about listening to jazz and slipping into the cracks of the music. Louis Armstrong’s trumpet inspires a vision of a black congregation singing together, a whole history of black cultural life and history evoked by a single lick that he takes time to really explore (granted, he’s stoned).

Jeff Wall. After Invisible Man
Jeff Wall. ‘After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue

If we slowed down to delve into the cracks ourselves, we might actually hear what’s going on.

It’s the difference between being caught up in the stream or lurking in the depths. The stream is frenetic and engaging, all of the time rushing with stories and comments, stray hurried thoughts, and the gnashing of teeth. News stories pass and they’re forgotten. Another school shooting, another roadside bombing, another, another, another, another….The stories satisfy some desire to know until the next one arises and we bite, swallowing mouthfuls of water along with the small piece of whatever it is that caught our attention, always moving down towards some unknown end.

From the depths (or from the banks if you’ve given up on being a fish in this analogy) the stream’s movement just happens. It is the difference between seeking gun control laws and questioning the basic tenets of a culture where this happens almost weekly. Or, for a radically different and much less emotionally-charged example, the difference between being caught up in the phenomenon of a television series like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, or True Detective, and coming to it later, when you can also evaluate all of the blog posts, discussions, extras, creator or actor interviews.From that vantage, you can appreciate it for what it is, and was, and you can also better determine to what extent it actually moves you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s