Zeitgeisty NY Times columnist David Brooks has compiled a brief history of modern cultural pretentiousness in an Op-Ed last week, from which he launches into a tirade about the corrosive effect of rapid-cycling Internet media on intellectual rigor and genuine engagement in ideas.
Some of his points are a little awkward (“MySpace is the new leisure suit”? The iPhone is solely responsible for the media’s displacement of culture?), but this kind of cultural commentary is compelling in our current age of Facebooks and blogs and things, during our intellectually formative college years:
You must remember that there have been three epochs of intellectual affectation. The first, lasting from approximately 1400 to 1965, was the great age of snobbery... In 1960, for example, he merely had to follow the code of high modernism… A successful date might consist of going to a reading of “The Waste Land,” contemplating the hollowness of the human condition and then going home to drink Russian vodka and suck on the gas pipe.
This code died sometime in the late 1960s and was replaced by the code of the Higher Eclectica. The old hierarchy of the arts was dismissed as hopelessly reactionary. Instead, any cultural artifact produced by a member of a colonially oppressed out-group was deemed artistically and intellectually superior…
During this period, status rewards went to the ostentatious cultural omnivores — those who could publicly savor an infinite range of historically hegemonized cultural products. It was necessary to have a record collection that contained “a little bit of everything” (except heavy metal): bluegrass, rap, world music, salsa and Gregorian chant. It was useful to decorate one’s living room with African or Thai religious totems — any religion so long as it was one you could not conceivably believe in.
…Now the global thought-leader is defined less by what culture he enjoys than by the smartphone, social bookmarking site, social network and e-mail provider he uses to store and transmit it...This transition has produced some new status rules. In the first place, prestige has shifted from the producer of art to the aggregator and the appraiser… Maximum status goes to the Gladwellian heroes who occupy the convergence points of the Internet infosystem… These tastemakers surf the obscure niches of the culture market bringing back fashion-forward nuggets of coolness for their throngs of grateful disciples.
Second, in order to cement your status in the cultural elite, you want to be already sick of everything no one else has even heard of. When you first come across some obscure cultural artifact — an unknown indie band, organic skate sneakers or wireless headphones from Finland — you will want to erupt with ecstatic enthusiasm…
Then, a few weeks later, after the object is slightly better known, you will dismiss all the hype with a gesture of putrid disgust. This will demonstrate your lofty superiority to the sluggish masses. It will show how far ahead of the crowd you are and how distantly you have already ventured into the future.
If you can do this, becoming not only an early adopter, but an early discarder, you will realize greater status rewards than you ever imagined. Remember, cultural epochs come and go, but one-upsmanship is forever.
Ok commenters, no asking what the Wesleyan student body might gain from this.
NYTimes: Lord of the Memes