Monday, May 21, 2007

Michael Parenti on "The Culture Struggle"

From Democracy Now!:

MICHAEL PARENTI: I’ve found that culture is a highly contested area. There are immense and important struggles going on all over the world in regard to culture. And what we're taught is an enlightened view, that in reaction to cultural supremacism and cultural imperialism, we're taught that we shouldn't really judge cultures. And yet, every single culture, including our own, needs to be judged, because cultures are not neutral things. Some people benefit and other people can be victimized by culture.


AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the mass marketing of culture.

MICHAEL PARENTI: Yes, well, there we see that we create less and less of our culture. The little bits we do create we call “folk culture,” and even some of that is marketed.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?

MICHAEL PARENTI: Well, there's folksong, which means songs that are created by the folk, and yet a lot of that gets onto CDs and is put out there like any other music industry product. So more and more of our music, more and more of our storytelling, more and more of our experience is now media-produced, and we buy much of our culture, instead of just creating it now.

Click here to watch, read, or listen to the rest of the interview.

Yeah. Culture, which is art, music, film, stories, ritual, religion, and much more, essentially dictates how we think. Historically, culture has tended to bubble up from regular people, thus reflecting a sort of mass consciousness and reaction to human existence. To be sure, there have also been massive institutions throughout the centuries, like the Church, that have dictated culture to the people from the top down, but it is really only in the era of mass media that culture has become a product to be consumed, rather than a reflection of, and prescription for, the collective human experience. Increasingly, for most Americans, this mass product is the only kind of culture experienced.

What does it mean when culture, the way we understand ourselves, is designed, packaged, and distributed by corporate executives whose sole objective is to get people to buy things?

Short answer: as always, humans respond to their cultural environment; now that culture for most of us is about amassing trinkets, gadgets, and wealth, we have a society that is materialistic, vacuous, and sick in the soul. Fundamentalists and social conservatives become all the more adamant in their desire to bring society back to some idealized past which never really existed; liberals furrow their brows about exploitation, but do nothing. Most Americans, however, just lap it up, never even realizing that there's a problem, but deeply suffering all the same.

That's why my blog title includes the word "culture." That's why I left teaching in order to become a better actor and artist. We are in the midst of a dire crisis the likes of which humanity has never encountered. The era of mass communication mixed with corporate capitalism now threatens the very nature of who we are as human beings.

This is an extraordinarily exciting time to be an artist. I aim to fuck things up.