Will Blogging Kill our Common Culture?
Instapundit linked to an article in Commentary today by art critic Terry Teachout. Teachout's theory is that blogging, along with other forms of alternative media, is accelerating the demise of a common American culture:
the common culture of widely shared values and knowledge that once helped to unite Americans of all creeds, colors, and classes no longer exists. In its place, we now have a “balkanized” group of subcultures whose members pursue their separate, unshared interests in an unprecedented variety of ways.
While Teachout's article is certainly well written and interesting, I have to disagree with its premise. One of the first pieces of evidence he uses to prove this balkanization of America is the very existence of red states and blue states:
Not only had the party affiliation of American voters become closely linked to their cultural views, but people of differing views were choosing to live in different geographical places. Democratic voters were most often opting for large cities, older suburbs, and college towns, while Republicans (as I put it in an essay written immediately after the election) were to be found in a confluence of “rural and small-town America . . . with the fast-growing group of Americans who live in ‘exurbia,’ the new middle-class communities that are springing up beyond the rim of the older suburbs.”
At the time, political commentators at various points on the political spectrum expressed skepticism about the brightness of the line dividing what we now call “Blue America” and “Red America.” Today, though, few doubts are voiced about the disaggregation of these two “nations.” A mountain of polling data—not to mention the results of a second presidential election—has shown us that they are real places with sharply differing cultural priorities.
The idea of "red states" and "blue states" is so seductive because it makes political analysis so very easy. But the truth is seldom so simple. It's funny that those who sneer at President Bush because he insists on seeing some things in black and white are so willing to see America as red and blue. While some places are pretty damn blue (and I'm sure there's a ward as conservative as mine is liberal somewhere deep in the heart of Texas), America is, for the most part, varying shades of purple. Did you know that 600,000 voters in New York City voted for Bush in the last election and that 2.8 million Texans voted for John Kerry? We're all still in this together.
Teachout has some good points about how the rise of alternative media may make people more partisan because they'll seek the news from like-minded outlets. Right now the blogosphere acts as a balance to the liberal mainstream media, but as the influence of the MSM wanes, the balance is gone. But here's the thing, yes, to a certain extent people want their beliefs reinforced. But, even more importantly, people want to find out the truth. The rise of the conservative blogosphere can be directly tied to the perception that the MSM is slanting the facts rather than telling the truth.
Does this mean that America has no common culture? I don't think so. A common culture doesn't require Americans to have similiar political or religious beliefs. This country has, with a few exceptions in times of crisis, always been divided politically. I think it's a mistake to define our commonality through our beliefs. America was founded on an idea that men and women could be free regardless of their political or religious beliefs. Teachout, in fact, doesn't even agree with himself:
One thing of which I am sure is that the common culture of my youth is gone for good. It was hollowed out by the rise of ethnic “identity politics,” then splintered beyond hope of repair by the emergence of the web-based technologies that so maximized and facilitated cultural choice as to make the broad-based offerings of the old mass media look bland and unchallenging by comparison. For all the nostalgia with which I look back on the days of the Top 40, the Book-of-the-Month Club, and The Ed Sullivan Show, I prefer to make my own cultural decisions, and I welcome the ease with which the new media permit me to do so.
Notice that this definition has nothing to do with political or religious beliefs. But also notice that it has so much to do with common popular culture. While it's true that pop culture has become more splintered, does pop culture truly define our culture? I contend that America isn't what it is because of Life Magazine or The Book of the Month Club. American culture is best defined by the concept of the American Dream, which is, of course, derived from the simple concept of "Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness". What binds us together isn't what we read, watch or listen to, it's our common goal to live the American Dream. People don't (and never did) risk their lives to come to America to drink Coca-Cola or watch MTV. They come here for freedom and opportunity. They want to speak their minds without fear of a knock on the door in the middle of the night. They want to enjoy a sunny day with a brat and a beer. They want their children to have a chance at a better life than they themselves had. That is what makes us Americans.
Posted by at June 2, 2005 08:28 PM
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|# June 2nd, 2005 8:48 PM james|
The idea of "red states" and "blue states" is so seductive because it makes political analysis so very easy. But the truth is seldom so simple. It's funny that those who sneer at President Bush because he insists on seeing some things in black and white are so willing to see America as red and blue.
good line, kris.
|# June 2nd, 2005 8:52 PM kris|
|Of course, it's not just the Left that's fond of Red State/Blue State. Conservatives are just as quick to bitch about Blue States. |
|# June 2nd, 2005 8:54 PM Laura|
|That's because Blue States are full of @$$holes. |
|# June 2nd, 2005 8:55 PM Laura|
|couldn't resist... |
|# June 2nd, 2005 9:38 PM james|
|you think the blue states are full of @$$holes, you should see the blue districts!
|# June 2nd, 2005 10:00 PM Laura|
|Honestly, I can't criticize too much... don't tell anyone, but... my own brother voted for Kerry. We asked him, "Can't you just be gay instead? Or maybe molest children? Start using crack?" but he could not be swayed. Luckily, he lives in Texas so it didn't matter. (not a swing state) |
|# June 2nd, 2005 10:12 PM BVBigBro|
|Well, this article is truly foolish. What does Teachout think people did before TV and radio, and when a good part of the country had no access to newspapers or couldn't read?
What we are seeing is a fairly predictable reaction to last years election by people who don't get around much. People like like Teachout, unable to conceive of a place where Bush could pull a majority, now finally concede that such places exist, but must be alien civilizations. Because our common culture is now based on a single election result, no such culture now exists.
Take a blue state like California. If you took a sample of 100 adults you would find, on average, 31 people who voted for Kerry, 26 people who voted for Bush, and 43 people who didn't vote. So if 3 people in 100 in California change their votes from Kerry to Bush, Bush takes the state. Sorry, but 3 in 100 doesn't constitute a cultural destruction.
The country is all pretty much the same, and if anything, blogging increases the common culture. The people who read and write blogs are from all over the country and world, not from a single geographical area like the MSM. A person can now access ideas from all sorts of people from all over the world. People may comment at a place where they share common ideas, but they are exposed to much wider array of opinions now than ever before. That dissemination of ideas only brings the country closer.
|# June 3rd, 2005 6:17 AM jonts|
|"They come here for freedom and opportunity. They want to speak their minds without fear of a knock on the door in the middle of the night."
Quite right, except americans who happen to be islamic, who are -lets face it -sometimes picked up in the middle of the night and imprisoned without charge or access to lawyers.
But for MOST americans, it is still a land of freedom and opportunity.
|# June 3rd, 2005 8:46 AM james|
|i'd support picking jonts up and imprisoning him in much the same way. maybe put him in "troll prison." |
|# June 3rd, 2005 9:06 AM Laura|
|James, the troll prison should have guards who issue the prisoners daily print outs from DU, and the library would include the works of Marx, Lenin, and Mao. The sign above the door would read, "Abandon all logic, ye who enter here."
Hmmm... there's a rather nifty photoshop idea in there... I'll try to get to it this weekend.
|# June 3rd, 2005 1:52 PM no2lefties|
yeah, I keep hearing all these stories about how Muslims are being rounded up in the middle of the night, and being herded off to ghettos, and being made to wear special patches, and then put on trains and sent to camp....
Oops, sorry. That didn't happen!
If you're going to lie, at least make it believable.
P.S. I can't help the fact that the people who are carrying out terrorist attacks, including 9/11 and the USS Cole, are Muslims. Put that in your bong and smoke it.