right. Forty years on, those who sneered at him as sniffy and anti-revolutionary
are still wiping the egg from their chins. Mass culture and its billionaire
backers undermine what good the billions-of-pounds-a-year education system can
do. it is as if we let our infants learn to walk only to break their legs.
offers a counterfeit individualism. Millions discover in mass culture tokens of
their self hood which they share with millions. As if this is a real selfhood.
Mass culture despises and destroys the very basis of selfhood: distinction. What
we consume as an undifferentiated mass can't feed our individuality. It never
admits the distantiation which is the very ground of maturity. Mass culture is
baby culture. The grown-ups have been put to bed by the infants.
Go to the
bookshop or the library. Select a title; it may be one that not a thousand
people in the entire land have read. But turn on the T.V and you know that tens,
and world-wide maybe hundreds, of millions are watching the same images. Mass
media demand conformity They are, as currently used, the sworn enemies of
embraces a neurosis of exorbitant expectation: it peddles dreams of luscious
wealth, extravagant fame, exotic habits to keep alive the unconscious wish for
absolute satisfaction, a wish which transmogrified into political thinking
engenders the monstrous deception that if the few can live like gods, each of us
may, by some fantastic chance, become one of them.
impose a consciousness never previously known: that of living in a permanent
present. Reality is what can be transmitted to your front-room. Hence the
terrifying prevalence of homes with more T.V. sets than serious books.
continuous present of modern media destroys the mind in its capacity for
breadth. When the meaning of your life derives from myths too old to be dated,
the mind expands. When it inheres in T.V. programmes outdated before they are
transmitted, it shrinks to the size of a pap.
That fear of
real aloneness, which is the offspring of the profound emotional isolation our
culture imposes, is the source of our glib gregariousness, our culture of shared
superficiality, which is itself a form of isolation. Popular culture is so
cheap, shallow, disposable, ephemeral, precisely because it is produced to make
money. Remove the huge financial rewards from popular culture and its
practitioners themselves would be sickened by it.
is the revenge of the rich on democracy. Once stern and forbidding, as soon as
the majority gained political power, the fear that they might use it to secure
economic power turned sternness into soppiness and the forbidding brow of
Victorian capitalism was, at length, replaced by the empty smile of the T.V
personality. Mass culture is the sugariness of the car salesman elevated to a
philosophy. The dull stars, idealess personalities, idiot commentators, the
entire circus is exploitation disguised as friendliness. Mass culture exploits
its audience's needfulness - hence its appeal to the young. Mass culture is ipso
facto youth culture. It acknowledges no past and it has no memory. The Victorian
capitalist has been replaced by the game-show host. Capitalism has colonized
those arenas where once a culture arose spontaneously amongst the people and was
therefore tinged with subversion. Herculean effort has been exerted to turn
pleasure into profit. But much further, for what is sold is not merely a product
to be consumed, but an identity that must be lived. Capitalism's most important
modern product is dreams and this because material production has become so
efficient. The mass are now kept in their place not by the workhouse, the
overseer, the subsistence wage and the denial of suffrage, but by a soppy
identification with narcissistic stars, who join the capitalists, accrue wealth
to make Croesus blush and are dupes themselves of the dream they have been
bribed to peddle.
subsists on flattery and flatterers are two-faced and cowardly. Those who
protest that an attack on mass culture is an attack on the mass themselves and
therefore anti-democratic have missed the point that mass culture aims at the
destruction of democracy. It plies that widespread confusion of realms so
disastrous for our times. Democracy (which in its common usage means merely
suffrage) is a political not a cultural concept. Cultural suffrage is a confused
idea.. Votes will not determine quality. Mass culture proposes exactly this:
what the mass buy is good, what they ignore is irrelevant. But suffrage doesn't
impose value. People must have the right to determine who holds power, but they
won't always choose sensibly. Politicians hold power because of a question of
numbers, not a question of value. Thatcher was a bigot, Blair is pusillanimous.
Suffrage implies only that what the majority will, shall prevail, it doesn't
imply that this shall be good.
is a culture of loudness. By its nature, whatever is not raucous may fail to
attract a crowd. Mass culture embraces the mentality of a street brawl -
everyone is either participating, watching or caught up in spite of themselves.
Mass culture is the imposture of culture. Those we should celebrate for the
depth, seriousness, wit, truth, beauty, humanity or subversivness of their
creations are known to a minority. In their place come the self-seeking
charlatans and the result is a weakening of idealism, a turning from strenuous
but fulfilling effort, a veneration of the glib and shallow, a lack of a sense
of past and tradition. Culture is supposed to last but pop culture has built-in
obsolescence. What endures is not the accomplished form but the attendant
exploits the good nature of the majority Just as people are conscientiously
committed to their jobs out of combination of decency and pusillanimity, so they
accept trashy mass culture out of misplaced liberalism and thoughtless
tolerance. Conscientiousness and liberalism are virtues with which wealth and
power plays fast and loose. The majority in their innocence and gullibility are
slow to recognize their exploitation Paradoxically, they need to cultivate the
vices of suspicion, cussedness, recalcitrance and ultimately the greater virtue
postures as democratic. In truth it believes the majority are morons unworthy of
anything but infantile entertainment. But behind its blandness is viciousness.
If you showed Oedipus Rex at peak viewing time, the self-appointed moral
guardians would be apoplectic.
There is a
panic about seriousness in mass culture. Neurotic and infantile, its nightmare
is the incursion of the truth. Hence the proliferation of programmes about the
police with their crude message of them and us. Without the forces of order, all
the worst in our nature would break through The slightly more difficult idea
that the forces of order help to keep the worst in ascendance is ruled out.
Everywhere in mass culture you find this division between the worthy and the
unworthy: the goodies wear white hats, the baddies black. Along with this
idealized version of ourselves comes the idealization of power and the
demonization of those who challenge or mock it. The respectable middle-classes
wear the white hats, the respectable working-class a shade of grey, beyond that
you're definitely a baddy.
worthy of anything better than a game show that would bore an intelligent
eight-year-old goes hand-in-hand with not being worth more than a job that would
send an imaginative six-year-old crazy. Doing dull, poorly-paid work to buy a
television whose message is that dull, poorly-paid work is all you're good for
is one of the many heartless ironies of our time.