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April 4, 2012

Culture of Hope

Forum d’Avignon is an annual get-together in France to talk about culture, by which most of the attendees (and especially President Sarkozy who came to give a speech) mean how they can squash the Internet and retain their stranglehold on culture. A little harsh? Maybe, but not entirely unfair. I went last year, and both Jamie Boyle and I felt so oppressed by the relentless Internet Fear exhibited by the other presenters that we felt obliged to say, “You know, there are some good things about the Internet also.” We also both found a cadre of fellow travelers among the attendees and a handful of the other presenters, including many of the conference organizers. (Here’s a set of my posts from the Forum.)

The Forum today invited a set of people to respond to four questions. The first question is: “1. Does culture / creative imagination give you a reason to hope?” With the above as context, here is my response:

 


Of course! If not culture, then what would give us reason to hope?

There are a few elements coming together that make this an especially hopeful time…and a few elements that I take as cold water being thrown in the face of hope.

The elements of hope include: (a) the scale of content, (b) the intense inter-linking of that content, (c) the growing open access to that linked content, and (d) the new forms of collaborative sociality that are emerging that (e) value difference and disagreement.

(a) The scale means that we now have works that can matter to us in any way we can imagine, rather than relying upon centralized authorities to decide what counts. Of course, from those centralized sources we have gotten great works of art, but we have gotten far more gross, coarsening, commercial crap. (b) The fact that these elements are linked means that we can now explore ideas all the way to the ends of our curiosity. It also means we can continuously derive new meaning from this interlacing of ideas. (c) Open access – the growth of outlets that may or may not be peer-reviewed and edited, accessible to the world for free – means that our best ideas are not locked up where only the privileged can view them. (d) The availability of these works on the very same medium that enables us to form social networks around them – the fact that the Net is equally good as a means of distributing content and as a social medium is unprecedented – has spurred innovative new ways of working and being together. Some of these new social forms have tremendous power, and are tremendously engaging; we can do things together that we never before thought possible. (E) Finally, the Internet only has value insofar as it contains and embraces differences and disagreements. A culture that does so is far more robust and far less oppressive than a culture homogenized by a timid sameness – the sort of lack of adventure characteristic of mainstream media.

Against this we have old industries that benefited from the scarcity of works and the difficulty of distributing them. They view culture as the set of cultural objects, and believe that they are entitled to continue to restrict and control access to them. They say they are doing this in order to support the artists, but they in fact are pocketing most of the artists’ wages in the name of services we no longer need these industries to provide. Culture flourishes when it is open, abundant, connected, engaged, and diverse. Such a culture supports artists of every sort. The culture of hope is just such a culture.

 


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January 18, 2009

Heavens, I’m a flutter

Obama’s letter to his daughters in Parade Magazine this morning wasn’t particularly well done. But I choked up. I’m watching Bruce Springsteen at the concert right now. I’ve never particularly liked him, and I’m not knocked out by this. But I’m on the verge of tears again. Jon goddamn Bonjovi just made me cry.

I’m in a bad way.

I don’t need any reminders about the troubles we face or Obama’s flaws and weaknesses. I know he’s just a guy with two legs and an empty pair of pants when he wakes up. Really I do.

But for months I’ve felt, well, a surge. I can’t even tell you what the feeling is. All I know for sure is that it makes my throat tight and my cheeks wet. And it’s too much to be attributed to one skinny young guy. And certainly it’s not all directed at him.

But don’t you feel it too? It’s as if we’ve been given permission, let go, released. Let’s not say from what. Not today.

Into what? Not sure. But it’s been there all along, waiting.

At least, that’s what it feels like to me.

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December 26, 2008

The Lincoln Memorial rededication

Like every New Yorker reader, I am perpetually behind. But I’ve been greatly enjoying reading issues from before the election. Knowing how it turns out relieves all the stress.

It also deepens the joy. Thomas Mallon has a terrific article (book review, actually) in the Oct. 13 issue, about how our view of Lincoln has changed over the years. For example, when the Lincoln Memorial was first opened, in 1922, Lincoln was celebrated as the Great Unifier, not the Great Emancipator. Here’s how the article concludes:

In 1909, the Reverend L. H. Magee, the pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Springfield, Illinois, voiced his disgust at the exclusion of blacks from the town’s centennial dinner, but he imagined that by the time of the bicentennial, in 2009, racial prejudice would be “relegated to the dark days of ‘Salem witchcraft.’ ” Next year’s Lincoln commemorations in Washington will include the reopening of Ford’s Theatre, restored for performances for the second time since 1893, when its interior collapsed, killing twenty-two people. Congress will convene in a joint session on February 12th, and on May 30th the still new President will rededicate the Lincoln Memorial. The look and the emphasis of the occasion will have changed—measurably, for certain; astoundingly, perhaps—in the fourscore and seven years since 1922.

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November 3, 2008

Hope hurts

From Martin Varsavsky:

On November 5th Americans will discover that the world did not hate them. That they just hated Bush.

(Knocking wood.) And (knocking entire old-growth forests) maybe we’ll discover that we don’t have to hate ourselves. May the war between the Red and the Blue begin to end.

It will not be a love-in. In particular, the culture warriors on the left will discover that they didn’t elect a tribal leader. They elected (feverish wood-knocking) a person with liberal values who will continue to repudiate the touchstone liberal issues precisely as touchstones, just as he has done throughout this campaign: Drill, baby, drill, if you can find places where drilling truly wouldn’t hurt the environment. Merit pay for teachers, baby, so long as all teachers are paid respectful wages. Obama’s hope is that we can get past the kneejerk positions that are used to test the loyalty of the faithful, that is, that are used to drive our country apart.

It’s not compromising, in which each side grudgingly gives up a little. It’s certainly not triangulating, by which cowards flee to the least dangerous position. It’s called listening — finding what’s best in what’s being said. It is the only way we heal. It’s what Obama has been about throughout his life.

So, get ready for some hope. It’s going to sting at first.

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