Beyond Modern Culture

Daily Prompt: NASA is building a new Voyager spacecraft that will carry the best of modern human culture. What belongs onboard?

My son and I had a conversation about his generation’s culture versus ours just yesterday. I believe it began with me dissing Miley Cyrus.

He very rightly pointed out that just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s bad. Or actually, I said she was talentless and he said just because I didn’t like her music didn’t mean she was talentless.

After some thought, I agreed. Although I actually do think she’s talentless, but that may be a separate issue. My son, in fact, said he didn’t like her much either but didn’t really appreciate me saying that everything that is currently being produced is rubbish.

Fair enough. I like a well-argued point, especially in an 8 year old.

I admitted that each generation thinks their music, art, culture is better than what is produced by the next generation. And that for the most part, parents wonder what on earth their kids are listening to and mourn their lack of appreciation for “decent” music, movies, etc.

Of course our grandparents were shocked when our parents lost all semblance of sanity listenting to Elvis and the Beatles. And then there was the hippie movement. Glam rock. Hard rock. Grunge.

The list goes on. Right up to Bieber and Miley.

So what did I tell my son in the end? Did I agree with him or did I hold onto my square, old fashioned views?

I must say, the fact that I have introduced him to music by the Beastie Boys and Nirvana, and that my husband has introduced him to AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, not to mention jazz, makes it hard for me to accept that I/we are some old stuffed shirts, stuck in an idealized past, unable to accept our son’s newfangled, “out there” taste in music. And thankfully, for the most part he really enjoys – almost obsessively – the music we continue to play for him.

So what I said was this:

I am not saying that the music and movies and other aspects of culture which are currently being produced are of poor quality and lacking in talent because I am from a different generation and therefore feel the things my generation produced are better.

I feel I am being objective when I say that the music (especially) that is being produced now is being manipulated by production engineers and producers and big companies. It sounds overproduced and sanitized and even if some of the artists are truly talented, all that is hidden by the big production sound. It’s like anything that is mass-produced – it becomes common and uniform, like all the perfect apples in a big chain grocery store.

There is little that feels original or creative anymore. And that is the source of my discomfort with today’s culture. That is why I feel today’s young talents are, well, not talented.

But this is not the end of the story.

Mass-produced, mass-marketed music is not all that there is to modern human culture. There are novels and poems and short stories and movies and paintings and photographs and plays and even music that are being created all the time outside conventional, popular culture. They are beautiful, meaningful and speak from the soul of humanity. These should not be overlooked just because they are not mainstream.

In fact, it is precisely because they are not mainstream that they should not be overlooked.

And it is so narrow and ethnocentric to consider only American, or even Western, culture when considering this question. However inevitable this way of thinking might be.

Modern human culture doens’t stop at the Western divide.

“Modern” refers to what is happening now, and there is much happening now, outside our own cultural sphere.

Arts and culture throughout Africa, Asia, South and Central America, and the Middle East are creative, stunning in their ability to reflect the human condition in a way that is often untainted by the West. Even when you find music influenced by Western pop culture, it remains so utterly different because it has been interpreted through the understanding of the culture that created it, that it could never (thankfully) be Westernized.

Tempted though I am to provide a list of what I think deserves to be mentioned, I am not going to. There are others, more knowledgeable, more able to source and argue their selections.

What I will say is that any of these fertile and innovative creations, whether from the West and flying under the pop culture radar, or from other societies, should be lauded, conserved and held up as examples of the best that modern culture has to offer.

Thankfully there is more to modern culture than Miley and Bieber.


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6 thoughts on “Beyond Modern Culture

  1. While native Alaskans may have 100 words for snow, unfortunately we have only one word for music. This obviously limits what distinctions we can bring to a discussion. There is a fundamental distinction which needs to be made. It is the distinction between entertainment and music as, what in the West call ‘art’.

    For every generation, entertainment will serve its purpose; to occupy the mind without threats. [This is why horror films work, they occupy the parts of the mind usually concerned with threats, while the whole ‘self’ knows there really is none.] For every generation, this occupation will also serve to forge identity through the use of alternative styles. In these endeavors talent, while helpful, is not essential.

    For every generation art will also serve its purpose, to alter perspectives and paradigms. To do this, there must and will be actual threats to the social status quo, the individual observers’ (perceived) identity, and often the artists own well-being.

    While there may appear to be some overlap of the two in the social sphere, there can be no actual overlap in function. Even if a particular artist, David Bowie for example, manages to make a living through the entertainment industry, this is only a vector, the theater where the action takes place. In this activity, talent is not an accessory, it is an essential tool of success or failure.

    It matters little to talk about whether the old entertainers were better than the new ones. It doesn’t matter because it’s all rubbish anyway.

    • Thank you for this thorough analysis. I found myself as I read through your comment asking about the overlap, and was happy to see you had addressed that too. I like your comparison of entertainment vs art.

      Interesting, too, to learn that there is but 1 Alaskan word for music.

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