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Culture, Cultural Studies and Cultural Politics

Section Index

  1. Concepts and Purpose
  2. High Culture and Popular Culture
  3. Direct Action

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Contemporary culture offers an almost infinite range of products and issues of interest. The lines between what is often denoted as "high" or "popular" culture have become rather vague in recent decades, although advocates of clear-cut definitions still argue in favor of "high" culture, demonizing "mass" or "popular" culture. The issue is one of intense debate - due very much to the fact that this seemingly innocent question of decision is not primarily philosophical anymore, it has become political, and even more, economic, inciting also debates in criticism, as can be seen from the controversy between the defendants of literary respectively cultural studies.

What in criticism is merely an issue of choosing a subject becomes a tug of war in economics: every media struggling for consumers and - consequently - for customers. Related to this are questions of government funding, marketing and international cultural politics. Culture wars aren’t anymore fought nation-wide but globally. As American movies, music and television continue to conquer the world, this means a challenge for other cultures as it means a responsibility - and a vehicle - for American cultural politics. With the internet, this development is even dwarfed: Culture is increasingly losing its national attributes, or rather, various national attributes from around the globe are mixing together in forming a yet hardly discernible global culture. Culture has become a player, in its scope and power exceeding politics and bureaucracy and nations.

This paper now aims at providing a general overview of the topic, at the end arriving at questions of globalization and cultural politics in an international context.

1. Concepts and Purpose

1.1. Towards a Definition

Whenever cultural issues are to be dealt with, there has to be some awareness, some definition of what is meant by the mere word of "culture". But of all more or less abstract concepts, that of culture belongs to the most difficult ones, having spawned a seemingly endless debate in scholarly surroundings as well as in the lay public. "Culture" is a word used by everybody, but it is used by everybody differently.

Starting from its mere lexical meaning[1], "culture" is a rather blurry concept, its basic aspects being agricultural cultivation and religious worship[2], extending into the way of life[3]. From the Greek perspective, hê paideía[4], culture is rather cultivation of the mind, of the soul, it is education[5], erudition[6]. Initially, culture is rather not used as a single word but mostly in combination with others to specify its range of use, like in cultura agri, agriculture. These two, the need for cultivating the earth to get nourishment, as well as the spiritual need for explaining the world, are primal before anything we today are able to claim as culture. A nation can only rise to greater cultural achievements when it has freed itself from being preoccupied mainly with the utmost basic requirements, thus the so-called cradles of civilization were cultures populating the fertile regions around the Nile, Euphrates, Tigris, Ganges, Indus, Changjiang or Huanghe. Only when the groundwork has been laid, when basic techniques have been developed, civilization and culture can commence to prosper in the less life-supporting areas. In the beginning, culture basically means civilization, so that both terms have often been used as synonyms. But while both terms may share their basic preconditions, "culture" then goes further.

"Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other as conditioning elements of further action."[7]

How to approach a concept like that of culture? One way might be to try to establish a clear-cut definition like the one shown above, which is a difficult but not impossible task, the difficulty stemming from the outright ambiguity and all-encompassing scope of the initial concept, dating back precisely to the primal roots of civilization. To arrive not at a definition but at an understanding of the scope of culture, several aspects of the term "culture" will be looked at in the following. The first aspect has already been mentioned: Culture as a synonym for civilization[8], describing a rather peaceful, settled, "cultured" way of living as opposed to savagery; meaning cultivation[9], the application of control mechanisms:

"[Firstly] culture is best seen not as complexes of concrete behavior patterns - customs, usages, traditions, habit clusters - as has, by and large, been the case up to now, but as a set of control mechanisms - plans, recipes, rules, instructions (what computer engineers call ‘programs’) - for the governing of behavior. The second idea is that man is precisely the animal most desperately dependent upon such extragenetic, outside-the-skin control mechanisms, such cultural programs, for ordering his behavior."[10]

Into this, all aspects of life can be drawn: Amongst them manners of eating, drinking, clothing, walking, socializing. Now the subjectivity of the concept and the problem of deriving a definition become a bit clearer: What exactly are the criteria for a cultured lifestyle? Who is savage? The chief example here can be the process of "civilization" the "cultured" Europeans brought to the Native American "savages", to these "barbarians" who "were friendly at first but usually alienated in short order by slaving, murder, torture, and extortion"[11]. At the end of the day, the surviving or militarily superior power can always lay claim on possessing a superior grade of civilization. In this use, "culture", as well as "civilization" can serve as synonyms for empires, nations or tribes, allowing for a more euphemistic application. But sometimes when a culture disappears, either through destruction or assimilation, this also means the disappearance of the specific tribe or band or nation[12], as it happened in Gaul under Roman rule or in America during colonization.

A second, more specific use of the term "culture" is an even more subjective one: as a synonym for "art" or special artistic endeavor and quality. "Art", however, is again a hard word, originally meaning something artificial[13], only in the context of culture it becomes something outstanding - as well as something outstandingly subjective. It is also from this perspective that the original opposition of high and low culture seems to have arisen.

Such oppositions are another way of approaching culture, or rather the scope assigned to culture. High-low oppositions; national, foreign or global culture; individual culture etc. So there has grown to be a difference between the original lexical meanings and today’s understanding and context-dependent connotations or re-definitions, with the old idea still dimly visible in the background. To differentiate between subjective and objective properties of the term will again be a subjective viewpoint, as even objectivity can mean different things from the subjective standpoint each individual has. An objective approach thus may only be possible in dialog and cooperation, in subsuming different approaches.

Culture can be influenced by many factors, amongst them politics and the philosophy behind. So talking about culture without the historical setting in mind would rather impede understanding than promote it. Today’s Western culture has largely been altered by the democratization of the polity, by processes of liberalization, freedom movements and economic betterment, the grade of prosperity rising on a general level. These changes still have to fight against what we inherited from the past - past concepts and masterworks challenging today’s achievements, creating also lobbyist agenda as in the high-low propaganda war[14].

An aspect usually not that often reflected upon is the question of who is in possession of culture. Usually, our anthropological fixation is not really questioned. But in search for a wider perspective, for the scope of culture, the question has to be asked if there can be other cultures than just human cultures, the perspective for now restricted to Earth. What about animal culture and animals producing art? Cats paint[15], and so do elephants:

"A non-human species creating art. Some refer to the new movement as Dumboism."[16]

So what are the prerequisites of culture? Self-awareness, consciousness, a soul? Elephants have death rituals[17], Japanese macaques have been seen imitating behavior and integrating it into their activities[18]. Animals can learn and adapt themselves to situations which could never have been integrated into their instincts nor their genetic code. Watching and studying animals can thus tell a lot about human nature, about what is animal and what is human within us, but equally, what can be assigned to be human within animals.

It cannot be enough to state examples for culture - culture has a reason, it is also the manifestation of a need, of necessity, also of commodity. So it is the use of culture which will be addressed in the following.

1.2. Towards Use

Culture can manifest itself in various ways, visibly and invisibly. Even the culture of the mind, of the soul, the civilized or cultured attitude, will appear in words and actions of the respective individual. Such manifestations may occur in lifestyle and private life, work and art, if these areas were to be divided. Lifestyle and private life would for instance be clothing, eating and drinking, living space, learning, entertainment and societal life; work in a conventional sense would mean any paid activity, art anything without a clear purpose. But can the latter two points be upheld in light of the entertainment industry, in which art is produced for profit? What would work be for those making a living from their entertainment and educational interests? Can watching a movie be a productive activity? Clearly, the use derived from each activity is a highly subjective category, and a very individual one as well. That makes matters not less intermingled - on the contrary, clear-cut definitions like the Benedictine "ora et labora" have become increasingly dubious, the Roman differentiation between otium and negotium, leisure and business, whereas leisure would also contain private education, is becoming even more fluid since the era of e-commerce also allows for people to be paid for surfing the web[19].

As people are increasingly freed from working for their subsistence, as working weeks tend to contain less hours, others through technology being allowed to work at home, less time falls victim to obligatory work, the remains of the day being freed for cultural activities like socializing, reading, tv, movies, arts or sports. The concept of spare time, formerly only known to the very rich, has entered the homes of virtually everybody not only in Western culture but everywhere where technology allows for a more effective work schedule. To fill the time, cultural activities other than basic human interaction and labor have to set in.

But what are the uses of such killing time, what can count as cultural activity?

"What counts as culture is a matter of degree; broadly, culture ought to broaden our horizons and help us see the world in a new way. Culture stands above the concept of entertainment, although broadening our horizons is often entertaining."[20]

Thus culture can be used as diversion[21], as entertainment. Today a rather normal and accepted activity, in societies much more depending on labor force so-called idleness could be a case for capital punishment, like illustrated by the Draconian laws. The functions and benefits of playing and entertainment have in recent times been subject of intense research and reflection. The observation of animals can illustrate the need for playing as being necessary for training and strengthening mind and body, and apart from sports, also computer games which some would usually regard as a waste of time can actually help improving hand-eye-coordination or to relieve stress[22].

"Computer games afford some of the most interesting and complex behavior and cognition that can be studied in the laboratory. They can be used to generate complex stimuli, to elicit complex responses, and to provide complex reinforcement of behavior."[23]

Seeking mutual entertainment can be an important factor in social life, fostering contacts and friendship; as seems American business culture to be dependent on the game of golf.

"Today’s science fiction is often tomorrow’s science fact. [..] To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit."[24]

Culture can be a promoter of improvement. A first step for such improvement could be self-reflection, one of the functions of both fiction and history. In learning about society and humanity, mistakes can be recognized and solutions be found. The enlargement of the horizon may seem a very noble task today, almost a prerequisite for each citizen, but this is largely due to the benefits of democracy. In past ages, the acquisition of knowledge in general was strongly limited to one’s profession. In suppressive societies, collecting information is almost an act of rebellion. But improvement cannot be planned in advance. An Einstein cannot be planned, neither can a Shakespeare nor a Martin Luther King. Apart from the utmost basic crime prevention and ethical considerations, any kind of restriction laid upon society thus has to lead to a restriction and retardation of progress. The culturally most active and productive eras have been those promoting freedom[25], sometimes creativity had to happen in niches allowing for it, like it happened even in the most restrictive times through private sponsorship and patronage[26]. While cultural works may find a way to emerge anyway, a restrictive contemporary society would be at the losing side when it doesn’t allow for a wide variety of culture and art. Through reflection and diversion, popular culture and technology encourage diversity - which would be the nature of "diversion".

"... culture provides the link between what man are intrinsically capable of becoming and what they actually, one by one, in fact become. Becoming human is individual, and we become individual under the guidance of cultural patterns, historically created systems of meaning in terms of which we give form, order, point, and direction to our lives. And the cultural patterns involved are not general but specific."[27]

Studying culture in its increasing variety still seems to be considered a novelty. Cultural Studies are a relatively new movement, overshadowed by the long tradition of literary studies. Literature, however, does belong to culture, being an integral part of it. Thus the division between literature and culture, rather than the division between literature and music, is an utmost artificial and also very dangerous one, standing in the way of obtaining a more complete view of culture. Literature cannot exist in a vacuum, it needs a background as does it need readers. Both are situated within the cultural framework - and cross-references in literature towards the rest of culture are not only uncommon but necessary. The medium of literature is the written word, the book usually, whereas media like film, television, music and painting would manifest themselves in other ways. All these, however, are equally original (or equally non-original) manifestations of creativity, belonging to the realm of cultural elements.

Literary Studies, with a long tradition and a well-established (although not the less criticized) canon of works and methods, can claim an area of research which mightn’t be small, but which at least is more or less comprehensible in its scope. Cultural Studies, on the other hand, defies any easy definitions and limitations. To a not so small part this is due to the arrival or refinement of newer media during the past decades; developments in television, cinema, arts, music and - more recently - the internet continue to cast their shadows over the well-established market of literature. Criticism often tends to ignore these trends in their starting phase, distrusting the humble beginnings, later it is shaped by this initial prejudice. The sheer amount of material also lets individual quality be buried under quantity, the medium becomes a collective term pre-defining its general quality, basing the judgement not on the individual work but on the medium it is produced for.

Since its beginnings the American Studies movement has had the intention of utilizing a more general view of culture, of being an interdisciplinary form of cultural studies[28], but still the impact of literature seems to be larger; literature is still considered more high-brow and more primal than other forms of art. Possibly there’s also a fear of superficiality[29]: Literature can be said to be more reliable. With restricting the range mostly to literature as a medium, the scope can still be contained. But opening up to all forms of culture would need to deal with various art forms and media for which specialists would be needed, thus the treatment of contemporary music, painting, photography, architecture, television, movies is rather the exception than the rule. This may be due to the still present critique of cultural studies, but such criticism cannot be upheld in the future. If the American Studies movement intends to fulfill its promise, the separation of literary versus cultural studies makes no sense anymore. Such a separation is also a strange cut: Literary studies should belong to cultural studies, should be a part of it rather than an opponent[30].

"Art is an important agent then in the transmission of culture. It is one of the ways in which the roles by which men and women are expected to pattern their lives are communicated and passed from generation to generation."[31]

Culture doesn’t only portray the life of human beings, in return it can very strongly influence it and enlarge perception. With the arrival of television, the outside world suddenly was given a face. Without leaving their homes, people can actually see other cultures and countries which otherwise would have been inaccessible to them. With the internet, borders between individual countries have become transparent. With each piece of fiction, our own imagination can be spurred to reach new heights. But before such developments are talked about, there’s need to turn to the criticism of culture first.

2. High Culture and Popular Culture

2.1. Criticizing "Mass" Culture

One obstacle in the way of talking about culture is its contemporary form, which is usually vast and accused of being deteriorating and inferior in quality with regard to past achievements. Culture is said to have become a mass culture, thus having become cheap, appealing to lower instincts rather than aiming for higher aims, a function attributed to past and high culture. But even the premise is problematic: There is no mass[32]. The audience of a certain tv show, for instance, is no homogenous group. Just the mere size of the group, which would be larger than that of a theater performance, is no sole indicator for missing quality. Neither are the people consuming popular culture necessarily unfit for real life. They still remain within their social boundaries and communities.

"... there is no evidence that the vast number of Americans exposed to popular culture can be described as atomized, narcotized, brutalized, escapist, or unable to cope with reality. [..] The evidence from a generation of studies of the effects of various mass media suggests, however, that the media do not have the simple Pavlovian impact attributed to them, and that the critics’ practice of inferring effects from content is not valid."[33]

Today’s main target point against television, cinema and music is that of portraying violence[34], either in pictures or through explicit lyrics. This is an easily made observation, but critics usually don’t go any further to look closer at the content at hand. Violence isn’t just violence. Usually, violence on tv or in a movie has a purpose, and the lines between right and wrong application of it are made clear, especially in action and horror movies. Showing violence is something different than glorifying it. To criticize the mere presence of violence on the screen by actually counting acts of violence[35] is clearly not the right method, nor can claims like "The impact of TV violence may be immediately evident in the child's behaviour or may surface years later"[36] be considered of having any scientific worth. Wild accusations are often the most convenient way to deal with problems originating from social surroundings[37] or from a lack of care by the parents. People’s actions are a matter of various influences[38], but the media surely doesn’t deserve that much of a credit. The connection established between fictional and real violence has become an urban legend fostered with an hysterical activism[39] promoting censorship[40], a conventionally accepted deception conveniently moving attention away from issues of drug addiction, poverty, easily available firearms, poor education or broken-up families.

"Everyone now knows that ‘studies show’ that media violence causes the real thing. Studies show no such thing. As human beings, we live in symbolic universes where words and images stimulate our thoughts and arouse our feelings. We don’t need ‘studies’ to show that speech has power. If it hadn’t, we wouldn’t bother talking to one another. [..] But to mislabel the influence of speech as causation is to misuse recklessly a word that real scientists treat with great respect."[41]

The issue of sex on tv and in cinema is another cornerstone of the critique of popular culture[42], although the Media can still be said to be rather Puritan, even today[43]. Whenever the critique of culture succeeded in its banning or caging, this resulted in a loss for society, not in a gain. Banning the media would mean banning society[44], censorship could be a first step towards questioning the First Amendment. Maybe the attacks are also due to a prevailing dislike of popular culture in general[45], nurtured by the distortion created by applying a selective historical perspective[46]. If contemporary culture is attacked for its violence, Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet wouldn’t serve as non-violent counter-examples either. If sexual explicitness or radical forms of expressions are the starting point, art museums and theater could very well be added to the list[47].

The fear of media demagogues[48] and an omnipresent cultural diktat are another common point of criticism, especially in the light of political campaigning. But culture shouldn’t be seen as necessarily subjected to an ominous mass-enslaving political agenda, culture can also be used against the state, or rather against bureaucracy and corruption, thus forcing politics to stay connected to the people[49]. Furthermore, there is a rather general inability of the mass media to influence voting behavior[50], people being much more concerned with their actual problems than with propaganda. Fiendish orators may very well profit from the media, but this has been true for all time. There have been demagogues long before the invention of radio and tv. Today, stakes may be higher, but as long as the opposition still has the possibility to get heard, the media can actually help the case of those who would otherwise be without lobby or voice. The danger of media control through big money seems to be more real at first, but that’s only true when there is no competition. As long as there is more than one contestant in the market, the rules of the game are subject to change, the media being generally freer under commercial than governmental control[51]. However, critical voices don’t cease to speak up.

"The country seems to be going through another period of blaming the media, perhaps because no equally satisfactory nationwide scapegoat is available at the moment."[52]

It might seem quite fancy even to see in popular culture the root of perhaps not all but some evil - but neither is the statistical basis for such accusations of any help[53], nor can this contrived non-solution account for violence in the less wired past. Culture is an easy target.

"Twentieth-century Marxist and socialist philosophies, in all their manifestations, faced the question of why the masses were not fighting for the rule of the proletariat. The Italians and Germans even turned to fascism, which succeeded as a European mass movement where communism had not. Later, after the Second World War, the European working class embraced television and American popular culture. Clearly something had gone wrong, and the mass culture of capitalism became the new villain."[54]

The Marxist critique of mass culture claims that the consumption of culture would hinder the people from trying to escape their surroundings, that it would prevent them from pushing forward the "revolution", instead they’d be indulging in fantasy and entertainment, being deluded by comfort and commodity, that they would join a mass culture which Marxists accuse of trapping the free mind[55]. While neither of these points can truly hold on a factual basis[56], the Marxist critique errs also fundamentally in its approach. Isn’t a Marxist revolution per se a mass phenomenon? Why then criticizing mass culture? Furthermore, what is the point of attacking a state which provides people with what they need? What is the aim of revolution? Why attack the system for giving to the majority of the people material security, for even improving the situation of the so-called working class? Would a post-revolutionary world have to do without culture? Finally, the tolerance and freedom of today’s liberal Western societies allow for any kind of criticism, even the Marxist one, to exist. A forum is given also to those not in favor of the system. But even this is considered a deliberate move to drown the Marxist critique in a mass of other arguments to make it invisible. The Marxist critique is a circular argument, its model neither conclusive nor its assumptions true anymore - being founded on the base of past conditions. Perhaps it is the realization of a lot of socialist claims, the mixture of capitalist and socialist ideas, the disappearance even of the conventional understanding of class structure which incite Marxist activism to turn to culture as a target.

"Both public moralists and philosophers from Plato onwards have criticized theater and poetry for their corrupting influence. Books became a popular target after the onset of publishing. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries additional targets included novels, epistolary romances, newspapers, opera, the music hall, photography, and the instrumental virtuoso, such as Liszt or Paganini. The twentieth century brought the scapegoats of radio, movies, modern art, professional sports, the automobile, television, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, comic books, MTV music videos, rap music, and electronic video games. Each new art form has been accused of corrupting our nation’s youth, and promoting excessive sensuality, political subversion, and moral relativism."[57]

Cultural pessimism from all political and non-political wings and factions has contributed to the division of culture into high- or low-brow sections, mixing subjective aesthetics with notions of decline and elitism.

2.2. The Myth of Decline

"Outside [the] technical usage, the term ‘culture’ is usually reserved for habits, customs and attitudes that are specific to leisure. In this usage it is common to distinguish ‘high’ from ‘low’ culture, the first requiring educational attainments for its exercise and understanding, the second requiring no more than membership of society. To the first belong all activities in which true aesthetic interest is exercised, and aesthetic values pursued; to the second belong dancing entertainment, and sport, in which relaxation and social contact are the principal aims. The distinction between the two is neither sharp nor obviously significant. Some regard the attempt to make it more precise as a form of élitism, on the supposition that the culture called ‘high’ will inevitably be put forward as preferable, despite the knowledge that it is inaccessible to the majority."[58]

Since Greek philosophy there have been deliberations on greatness, aesthetics and beauty[59]. Plato was rather hostile towards the arts, this critique founded in his cultural pessimism[60] and restrictive and static model of the state, as well as the lack of originality in art, which would be an imitation of a perception, the perception already being a false image of the original form. Later, thoughts on defining beauty, sublimity and aesthetics have been carried on by philosophers like Burke, Kant or Winckelmann. Enlightenment demanded for explanations for all phenomena, amongst them beauty. Such efforts, however, would mean to fixate one person’s or one school’s subjective sense of beauty, thus being naturally skeptical towards anything new, towards anything not already included in the established canon.

"Cultural pessimism, insofar as it tries to provide an embracing account of modernity’s failures, serves as a competitor to myth and magic. It helps us make sense of the inevitable evils and disappointments of our world. [..] The ultimate test - whether total cultural collapse arrives - always can be postponed."[61]

Through processes of canonization, high-ranking and assumedly important works of the past are supposed to be selected for guiding an audience’s choice of cultural activity. If such a canon were to include - rightfully - the works of Shakespeare, Goethe, Hugo, Tolstoy or Emerson, it would neglect all the authors who failed to reach greatness. Thus the selection derived in the canon is already a (highly subjective) best-of to which modern culture is constantly being compared. The method thus is flawed, especially if a news program is being compared with Shakespeare. Such a comparison naturally had to be in favor of the latter, but no news program is even supposed to be Shakespeare. Nevertheless, the method is working.

"Consequently, the critique is largely a statement of aesthetic dissatisfaction with popular culture content, justified by an incorrect estimate of negative effects and based on a false conception of the uses and functions of popular culture."[62]

The result is a notion of "dumbing down"[63] and decline. The division between high- and low-brow, between high and popular, between elitist and mass culture, is in its basics a division of taste, of assigned quality. But the subjectivity not only lies in taste but also in temporal distance. Homer and Shakespeare were popular writers[64], and so was Goethe[65] - today, both are acknowledged icons of high culture. The music of Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini, Rossini, Verdi and especially Wagner[66] was highly popular at their time (amongst those having access to it), making the composers rich men. Yet nowadays, they belong to high art[67].

"The split of ‘high’ literature and ‘low’, or popular, literature occurred only when the growth of the market supported high levels of diversity. Before the advent of printing, only the very wealthy or politically connected could afford to hire book copyists or could benefit from their services. Popular taste in books simply did not exist: reading was the province of the wealthy and the clergy. As printing and economic progress have lowered the costs of reading, the novel that appealed to the crowd became possible. Reproducibility, by lowering costs of production and reproduction, fostered diversity of many kinds, including the trashy best-seller."[68]

The more convincing and less subjective division of culture would be the one based upon economic considerations. High culture is accessible only to few, as it is expensive, low culture would be the rest, everything affordable by the common man. Expense can also be a non-monetary category: one of the basic elements being the luxury of time - not everybody is in a position to spend time for cultural activities. As already mentioned before, less working hours and the benefits of technology have made it possible for the bulk of people, for the "mass", to consume culture. This, however, can also be a threat for established - "high" - culture:

"Some individuals, both on the right and the left, support cultural pessimism as a justification for elitist attitudes. Elitists need to feel that they belong to a privileged minority. Contemporary culture, which is massive in size, diverse in scope, and widely disseminated, has to be bankrupt to sustain the elitist self-image. Insofar as we celebrate the dynamism of modern creations, we are ascribing aesthetic virtues and insights to a very large class of artistic producers and consumers, contra elitism."[69]

Former popular art forms are replaced by new, usually cheaper ones, letting the old form, once low-brow, transcend into the sphere of high art:

"Theater has moved from being a common cultural event for all classes (as with the Greeks or in Shakespeare’s England) to being a relatively elitist form of entertainment. Movies, with their greater ease of reproducibility and more flexible technical possibilities, captured the bulk of the former theatergoers and left live performance to the relatively wealthy."[70]

With the financial aspect, however, the connotations of quality are still carried on. "High" culture does mean "superior in quality", such a categorization does intent to diminish popular culture as something possessing less depth, less aesthetic dimension and a less - if any - philosophic approach.

"As a matter of fact, at times I have even caught myself viewing the word ‘culture’ with suspicion. It seemed to have an un-American look to me, sort of snobbish and affected, as if it thought it was better than the next fellow. Actually, as I understand it, culture isn’t that kind of snooty word at all. As I see it, a person’s culture represents his appraisal of the things that make up his life. And a fellow becomes cultured, I believe, by selecting that which is fine and beautiful in life and throwing aside that which is mediocre and phoney."[71]

The common notion is that Hollywood, for instance, would be all about money, that past culture was all about improving humanity. While the latter is simply not true, as also Beethoven and Mozart and Wagner and Shakespeare were primarily motivated by pecuniary rewards[72], neither does the first point of accusation hold for all of popular culture, as much of popular culture has a philosophic and social and critical dimension.[73]

"By using science fiction yarns on far-off planets, [Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek] was certain he could disguise the fact that he was actually talking about politics, sex, economics, the stupidity of war, and half a hundred other vital subjects usually prohibited on television."[74]

If past "low" culture has become the "high" culture of the present, it would only be logical to assume that present popular culture could become the high culture of the future. Of the vast amount of today’s culture will remain only what can stand the test of time either through quality, relevance or promotion. Shows like Star Trek, Twin Peaks and The X-Files, movies like Star Wars and Eyes Wide Shut and the music of Michael Jackson and the Beatles, may -like Jazz already today - very well belong to the established canon of high art, defending themselves against the assumedly deteriorated popular culture of future generations.

"In short, that critique is partly an ideology of defense, constructed to protect the cultural and political privileges of high culture. Like all such ideologies, it exaggerates the power of its opposition and the harmful consequences that would follow from permitting this opposition to exist. [...] This portion of the ideology [..] seeks to protect high culture and its creators at the expense of the rest of culture and society. In this process it conjures up false dangers and spurious social problems, making it impossible to understand the popular arts or to evaluate them properly."[75]

In defending its privileges, high culture attacks popular culture for its alleged inferiority, claiming to perceive a general decline in the quality of culture since the "good old days"[76]. This myth of decline is just as flawed as that of the existence of a Golden Age[77] of culture:

"Western culture has been on a general upswing since at least the year 1000, a fact neglected by many cultural pessimists. We should view the twenty-first century with anticipation, not dread. [..] The parade of successful and diverse cultural products is not about to grind to a sudden halt."[78]

Much more correct seems the notion of a general smartening up[79] taking place in the media, a motion towards greater sophistication not only in technology and effects, but also in storytelling, in portraying other cultures and minorities, even more in portraying women. While in past decades the role of women was rather portrayed as weak and serving males[80], the eighties and nineties increasingly saw women becoming a player rather than a stereotypical bystander[81]. Also, the amount of cultural products and activities has been rising decade by decade since the beginning of the Twentieth Century, and so have its scope and distribution and diversity. There’s nowhere to much culture, there can only be too little of it.[82]

But culture is not only a function of art, as these theoretic deliberations translate into direct action on the stage of politics.

3. Direct Action

3.1. Democratic Culture

"Elitists wish to see themselves as rising above the crassness of the common man and the leveling tendencies of liberal democracy."[83]

The term "popular" culture describes a culture of the populus, of the dêmos - of the people. A culture which is popular is a culture shared by a great number of people, usually also a great number of people from different classes and sub-cultures. Popular culture is not anymore elitist, it no longer presupposes a narrow financial margin, it may even be a forum to portray ethnic diversity, as well as it - for the first time - can create a feeling of national unity, a unity in diversity, e pluribus unum:

"He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world... The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas, and form new opinions."[84]

What Crèvecœur so fittingly had written in 1782 was still rather a promise back then, to be fulfilled through the frontier experience[85], to be furthermore executed through the abolishment of slavery, through Black and women movements, as it is in the process to be fulfilled even further by Gay and Lesbian movements. Ethnic minorities are increasingly being drawn into the rest of society, as for instance in the case of Hispanics. A truly democratic society knows neither stable states nor discrimination, a truly democratic society has to be a society of the entire population, with regard also to individual cultures and heritage.

"A new order of society has taken form since the end of World War I in the United States ... This new order of society, despite all its internal conflicts, discloses in the individual a greater sense of attachment to the society as a whole, and of affinity with his fellows ... The new society is a mass society precisely in the sense that the mass of the population has become incorporated into society. The center of society - the central institutions and the central value systems which guide and legitimate these institutions - has extended its boundaries. Most of the population (the ‘mass’) now stands in a closer relationship to the center than has been the case either in premodern societies or in the earlier phases of modern society. In previous societies, a substantial proportion, often the majority, were born and forever remained ‘outsiders’."[86]

Popular culture has done a great deal to serve as a vehicle for minorities, although it can be said to be promoting a middle-class society as a role model. Nevertheless, so-called minorities aren’t any more widely excluded from popular culture. But still, there remains a racial categorization of society into a color-coded race scheme of black, white, yellow etc., only that the old descriptions are replaced by not less discriminating euphemisms like African-American, Caucasian, Asian-American - categorizations which fail to describe accurately the cultural background, without even having the intention of doing so[87]. Even more revealing is the outright invention of the Hispanic race[88] - demonstrating the artificiality of the concept of race.

"Being classified as Euro-American, white, or Caucasian has rarely been a basis for being denied adequate employment, housing, education, or protection from violence."[89]

However, progress has been made, the awareness of the problem slowly setting in. In the long run, an open and democratic society will be more able to overcome even prejudices and artificial constructions than a more restrictive one. But today, there cannot any more be separate national agendas, the scope of culture extending into global dimensions.

3.2. National & International Culture

What started rather halfheartedly with the League of Nations in 1918, and a bit more seriously after 1945 with the United Nations, began to develop into something entirely different with the end of the cold war and the onsets of a true global economy. Today’s world community is more interested in permanence than ever, aiming for a global culture and unity and regional stability - to set the perimeters for a working global economy. The UN since its beginnings have been watchers of world peace, but what seemed a relatively transparent task during the days of bipolar oppositions between East and West has become increasingly difficult today. The status quo which is to be sustained is rather a status quo nunc, a state not interested in historic developments.

History, however, defies stable states. History is about change, frequently about very brutal change. There should be no surprised reactions towards the upsurge in regional conflicts - conflicts and quarrels long suppressed, originating partly from colonial times, but running much deeper in the majority of cases. Non- or pseudo-democratic regimes are usually much more interested in the status quo ante if that would mean greater power and greater influence. The renaissance of a "dynamic" view of history, of expansionist and nationalist thinking[90] in the cases of former Yugoslavia, Iraq or Chechnya are founded in a more national scope, based upon and biased by national history, by the history of the nation state. Ethnic pride and nationalist zeal may be strange concepts for multinational and multicultural states like the US and the still forming European Union, but these phenomena have to be dealt with. Apart from short-term military intervention, there have to be sincere efforts to understand the situation. The ongoing popularity of dictators like Castro, Milosevic and Saddam Hussein, of demagogues like Haider, of other backwards-bound movements like those opposing appeasement in regions like Northern Ireland and the Middle East can often become less of a mystery when the concrete issues behind are dealt with and ideology is set aside. The Golan Heights problem, for instance, is about two very basic elements: Security and access to water. Nationalist and chauvinist issues usually appear as a reaction to a threat - may such a threat be real or imaginary. Behind phrases like "Überfremdung", "foreign infiltration", usually stands a very concrete angst of losing one’s cultural identity. Excluding such issues from the debate by enacting embargoes or blockades usually does nothing else but to foster such extremist and fundamentalist thinking.

"There is no escaping the fact that as we change the world, the world changes us."[91]

History is about change, not stability. Such a change usually is multidirectional: A Europe consisting of different nations has been influencing and shaping the world for more than five hundred years. First European, later also American and Japanese businessmen helped creating a world market, an economy transcending national boundaries, an economy supported by the democratic political systems of the respective states. Isolationism cannot be paired with globalization. No country partaking in the global economy can sincerely hope to avoid the necessary consequences: the introduction, not intrusion, of foreign culture. How could foreign culture be called an infiltrator - hasn’t it been invited for five hundred years? Of course, from the European perspective such an invitation was never formally announced, and even today, recent debates talk about importing foreigners like importing merchandize. In the light of a global economy, national boundaries have to become transparent in both ways, otherwise the project will have to fail.

What exactly is German or English or American about culture? In the age of television, of movies, of tourism, of global trade, of the internet, a lot of national attributes will either disappear or fuse together with others to form something entirely new. When Crèvecœur deliberated on the definition of the American character in the very beginning of the United States, a new country was in the process of being formed, a country with a premise not unlike that of the ancient Roman Empire, a country with a certain national base, consisting primarily of English colonies, but in its process assimilating immigrants, natives and foreign colonies, in turn also being assimilated - the result, as Crèvecœur pointed out so clearly, being something new, something different than before. Has the US become a nation state, or hasn’t it rather become just a state? Racial and hereditary traits cannot any more be considered of importance for US immigration. All problems for now set aside, everybody in theory can become an American. Can everybody become a German? Or a French? Or a Russian? If European countries still hope to maintain their "cultural identity" while at the same time aiming to form a union of states and investing in a global culture, such a behavior can only be said to be schizophrenic.

What is culture? What is national culture? While there may be no definite answers to these questions, the questions themselves will keep recurring even more frequently and vehemently in the age of globalization.

3.3. Globalization

In the beginning, globalization is a function of the market. Globalization can mean dining on a table made in Sweden, standing on a carpet made in Tibet, French paintings on the wall, a television set made in Japan standing in one corner, surrounded by American Hi-Fi equipment, on the table bananas from the Bahamas, strawberries from Italy, perhaps even some British beef, the computer next door configured by an Indian computer specialist and connected to the internet, downloading stuff from an unspecified geographical location, a German car parked outside, on the tv screen CNN or BBC World. Thus globalization can mean access to non-local products and cultures.

Perhaps it is true that in the global future, a country can only claim cultural relevance if it has military and economic relevance[92]. But if the fall of the Soviet Block has shown anything at all, it is that a successful economy cannot be a planned or coerced economy, that a true market economy is not only about "capitalism" but even more about democracy. Now more than ever, a system has to prevail in the global contest, otherwise it would be like the model of "socialism in one country"[93]. A democratic system is already used to legitimizing itself against others; a strong democracy can concentrate more on global issues because it already uses its internal opposition in a constructive way. A house united in dialog will be able to stand global competition. And with democracy, as it was shown in the case of Popular Culture, even those which would usually be forgotten will have a chance to get heard.

Globalization has been incredibly sped up through the internet and through e-commerce[94], the new e-conomy having also intensified competition. Before the age of cars and railways and food conservation, business was usually local. With greater range of movement and more transporting ability, economies could become national. But even the age of shopping malls may be nearing an end with the consumer being able to shop from his home. Technology and inventiveness are prerequisites, of course. But e-commerce can indeed mean the beginning of something new. Global shopping sites like, internet portals like Yahoo! and Netscape’s Netcenter are changing the rules of the game. Internet companies can become even less regionally bound than "conventional" enterprises, this being a chance also for developing countries. This development will not cease to proceed, it means a chance for those who have the confidence to dare mighty things[95] and a loss for those who like to sit and wait.

"As the distance between producers large and small and customers near and far becomes less relevant, developing countries will have opportunities not only to succeed, but to lead in lifting more people out of poverty more quickly than at any time in human history. In the old economy, location was everything. In the new economy, information, education and motivation are everything"[96]

But e-commerce doesn’t change the primal foundation of the game. The new e-conomy and cyberspace are still rooted in the real world, internet businesses are still subject to laws. Thus e-commerce is depending on politics to create the surroundings[97]. Routine worrying[98] and technophobia[99] set aside, globalization will create new opportunities, if paired with innovation and deregulation[100], it may also be a tool to fight unemployment.

The internet can promote democracy through furthering participation[101] by spreading information and knowledge. But globalization cannot be undertaken without the people[102] - as well as it needs a truly global scope, including all cultures. The stakes have risen, but so have the opportunities. There have already been steps towards an "international community" and global thinking. In security deliberations, there cannot any more be a "national" Missile Defense[103]. The fates of the world’s countries have become too intertwined already.

The "digital divide" still lays bare a division between high-tech and low-tech countries. There is still a long way to go towards global unity and towards global culture and identity, globalization is still in its infancy. But if we take it seriously that all of humanity resides on one planet, the creation of a global community is not an option but a logical consequence. The responsibility of the technologically advanced democracies has to be to provide for equal chances, and to understand other cultures first before trying to assimilate them.


Throughout this paper, the scope of culture has been looked at from its lexical, pragmatic, artistic, political and economic aspects; in this approach using a rather wide and more or less unspecified definition of culture. If the question of a definition were to be asked, the answer probably had to be such a synthesis of various aspects. Culture is neither a truly abstract nor transcendental concept. It is a state of being, a combination of diverse activities and states, a unity of differences, a collection of ideas, manners, codes of conduct, hopes and fears, activities and social bonds. Culture can be a property of an individual, as well as it can be the property of a group, a nation, an alliance, as well as a unity of various cultures in a global context, with each level of abstraction becoming more diverse and less specific.

Culture can be a conservative and even a traditionalist concept, both in a positive and negative sense, in conserving cultural achievements from ages past and in confronting past culture with contemporary culture. Culture can be a progressive and dismantling and deconstructing concept in that it constantly is subject to change, to progression, thus also creating unease amongst those used to stability and hostile to change. Contemporary culture will probably always be compared to past achievements, but this is also a chance for improvement and betterment.

Culture defies easy definitions and restrictions, and - like art - it has always to be reinvented. Through technology, democracy and a strong market economy, today’s culture can bind even more people together than it was possible in the past. Through modern media, even formerly secluded and suppressed cultures can get heard, the epitome today being the internet, which is able to offer anyone with access to it the possibility to address a global audience.

Culture is also about access, about participation, about cooperation. While there can very well be individual cultures and individual cultural preferences, culture perhaps becomes only visible in interaction, in communication, in dialog. From this exchange of thoughts, ideas and solutions to problems, new cultures and new perspectives can be created. In today’s world, economy has become increasingly global, politics being on its way towards a larger scope as well. A global culture will have to be a unity of diversity if it is to succeed in promoting democracy and peace. If the global community manages to bind together all the various and diverse individual cultures in a productive and enriching way, this would be a step towards a better future for all, and towards new traditions of culture.

Selected Bibliography / Works Cited

Quoted Books

  • William Brandon. Indians. NY: American Heritage 1961/1987.
  • Timothy Brennan. "Race, Color ... and Creed". Klaus J. Milich, Jeffrey M. Peck (eds.). Multiculturalism in Transit. A German-American Exchange. NY: Berghahn Books, 1998. 13-35.
  • Heather Busch, Burton Silver. Why Cats Paint: A Theory of Feline Aesthetics. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1994.
  • Tyler Cowen. In Praise of Commercial Culture. Cambridge/London: Harvard University Press, 1998.
  • J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur. "What is an American?" Letters from an American Farmer (1782). Nina Baym et al, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 4th ed., shorter. N.Y.: Norton 1995, 309-324.
  • Russel Davies. "Dreams are always in bad taste". The Listener. 16 Feb 1984.
  • Herbert J. Gans. Popular Culture & High Culture. An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste. (Rev. and updated ed.) NY: BasicBooks, 1999.
  • Clifford Geertz. The Interpretation of Cultures. NY: Basic Books, 1973.
  • Stephen Greenblatt. "Culture". Frank Lentricchia/Thomas McLaughlin, eds. Critical Terms for Literary Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
  • Stephen Hawking. "Foreword". Lawrence M. Krauss. The Physics of Star Trek. NY: BasicBooks, 1995.
  • David A. Hollinger. Postethnic America. New York: BasicBooks 1995.
  • Robert D. Kaplan. An Empire Wilderness. Travels into America’s Future. NY: Random House 1998.
  • A.L. Kroeber/Clyde Kluckhohn. Culture. A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions. Cambridge: Harvard University Peabody Museum of American Archeology and Ethnology Papers 47, 1952.
  • Jerry Mander. In the Absence of the Sacred. The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books 1991.
  • Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. The Disuniting of America. Reflections on a Multicultural Society. NY: W.W. Norton 1991/1998.
  • Roger Scruton. Dictionary of Political Thought. London: Macmillan, 1982.
  • Edward Shils. "Mass Society and Its Culture." Norman Jacobs (ed.). Culture for the Millions? Mass Media in Modern Society. Princeton: D. Van Nostrand, 1959.
  • Ann Simon. The Real Science Behind The X-Files. Microbes, Meteorites, and Mutants. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1999.
  • Frederick Jackson Turner. "The Significance of the Frontier in American History". C. Merton Babcock. The American Frontier. A social and literary record. NY: Holt, Rinehart&Winston, 1965. 29-42.
  • Gisela Welz. "The Uses of Comparison". Klaus J. Milich, Jeffrey M. Peck (eds.). Multiculturalism in Transit. A German-American Exchange. NY: Berghahn Books, 1998. 3-12.
  • Stephen E. Whitfield, Gene Roddenberry. The Making of Star Trek. NY: Ballantine Books 1968.
  • R. Williams. Keywords. London: Fontana, 1981.

Mentioned Literary Works

  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Faust; Die Leiden des jungen Werther.
  • Longinus. Peri Hupsous (On the Sublime / On Great Writing).
  • Ovid. Metamorphoses.
  • Plato. Gorgias; Symposium.
  • William Shakespeare. Hamlet; Romeo and Juliet.

(all internet links last checked and accessed April 6th 2000, some may not be available in the future)

Internet Resources
(all internet links last checked and accessed April 6th 2000, some may not be available in the future)

Television Shows

  • Ally McBeal. Executive Produced by David E. Kelley. Perf. Calista Flockhart, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Greg Germann, Gil Bellows, Peter MacNicol. 20th Century Fox Television / David E. Kelley Productions 1997-....
  • Babylon 5. Executive Produced by J. Michael Straczynski. Perf. Bruce Boxleitner, Chlaudia Christian, Michael O’Hare, Jerry Doyle, Mira Furlan, Tracy Scoggins, Peter Jurasik, Andreas Katsulas. Babylonian Productions / Warner Television / TNT 1994-1998.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Executive Produced by Joss Whedon, Fran Rubel Kuzui, Kaz Kuzui, Gail Berman, Sandy Gallin, David Greenwalt. Perf. Sarah Michelle Gellar, David Boreanaz, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan, Antony Stewart Head, James Marsters. Sandollar Television, 20th Century Fox Television, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises 1997-....
  • Star Trek. Executive Produced by Gene Roddenberry. Perf. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan. Desilu/Norway Corp. 1966-1967 / Paramount Pictures 1967-1969.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Executive Produced by Rick Berman, Michael Piller, Ira Steven Behr. Perf. Avery Brooks, Rene Auberjonois, Nana Visitior, Michael Dorn, Armin Shimerman. Paramount Television 1993-1999.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. Executive Produced by Rick Berman, Jeri Taylor. Perf. Kate Mulgrew, Jeri Ryan, Roxann Dawson, Tim Russ, Robert Picardo. Paramount Television 1995-....
  • Twin Peaks. Executive Produced by Mark Frost, David Lynch. Perf. Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Michael Horse. Lynch/Frost Productions / Spelling Entertainment / Twin Peaks Productions 1990-1991.
  • The X-Files. Executive Produced by Chris Carter. Perf. David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi. Ten Thirteen Productions / Twentieth Century Fox 1993-....


  • Alien. Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon. Directed by Ridley Scott. Perf. Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt. Brandywine Productions / 20th Century Fox 1979.
  • American Beauty. Written by Alan Ball. Directed by Sam Mendes. Perf. Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, Chris Cooper. DreamWorks SKG / Jinks/Cohen Company 1999.
  • Eyes Wide Shut. Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Frederick Raphael, inspired by "Traumnovelle" by Arthur Schnitzler. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Perf. Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack. Hobby Films / Pole Star / Warner Brothers 1999.
  • Edtv. Written by Émile Gaudreault, Sylvie Bouchard, Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel. Directed by Ron Howard. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Jenna Elfman, Woody Harrelson, Ellen DeGeneres, Dennis Hopper. Brian Grazier Prod. / Universal Pictures / Imagine Entertainment 1999.
  • Halloween. Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill. Directed by John Carpenter. Perf. Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, Nancy Loomis. Falcon Films 1978.
  • Interview with the Vampire. Screenplay by Anne Rice based on her novel. Directed by Neil Jordan. Perf. Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas, Stephen Rea, Christian Slater, Kirsten Dunst. Geffen Pictures / Warner Brothers 1994.
  • JFK. Written by Jim Garrison (book On the Trail of the Assassins), Jim Marrs (book Crossfire: The Plot to Kill Kennedy), Oliver Stone, Zachary Sklar. Directed by Oliver Stone. Perf. Kevin Costner, Sissy Spacek, Gary Oldman, Jack Lemmon, Wayne Knight, Joe Pesci, Walter Matthau, Tommy Lee Jones. Le Studio Canal+ / Alcor Films / Camelot / Ixtlan Corporation / Regency Enterprises / Warner Bros. 1991.
  • The Peacemaker. Written by Andrew & Leslie Cockburn (article), Michael Schiffer. Directed by Mimi Leder. Perf. George Clooney, Nicole Kidman, Armin Mueller-Stahl. Dreamworks SKG 1997.
  • Pleasantville. Written and Directed by Gary Ross. Perf. Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, J.T. Walsh. Larger Than Life / New Line Productions 1998.
  • Shakespeare in Love. Written by Marc Norman, Tom Stoppard, William Shakespeare (plays). Directed by John Madden. Perf. Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Judi Dench, Rupert Everett. Bedford Falls Productions / Universal Pictures / Miramax Films 1998.
  • Star Wars. Written and Directed by George Lucas. Perf. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher. Lucasfilm Ltd. / 20th Century Fox 1977.
  • South Park. Bigger, Longer and Uncut. Written by Trey Parker & Matt Stone and Pam Brady. Directed by Trey Parker. Music and Lyrics by Trey Parker. Comedy Partners / Celluloid Studios / Comedy Central / Warner Bros. / Paramount Pictures 1999.
  • Three Kings. Written by John Ridley, David O. Russell. Directed by David O. Russell. Perf. George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube. Village Roadshow Productions / Coast Ridge / Atlas Entertainment / Warner Bros. 1999.
  • Tomorrow Never Dies. Written by Bruce Feirstein. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode. Perf. Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher, Joe Don Baker, Judi Dench. Danjaq Productions / Eon / MGM / United Artists 1997.
  • The Truman Show. Written by Andrew Niccol. Directed by Peter Weir. Perf. Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Ed Harris. Scott Rudin Productions / Paramount Pictures 1998.


[1] "Culture" may now be an English word, but it is of Latin origin. Thus these roots need to be explored in order to understand the English concept. Another reason for the ensuing excursion into Latin/Greek etymology and word use is the continuing influence Roman language and culture had had on Europe and especially on the English language. The influence of Greek in Roman thinking cannot be underestimated, especially when it comes to philosophy and religion, both may be said to have been mostly shaped precisely by Greek philosophy. There is almost no genuine Roman philosophy which has no traces at all in Greek culture. Throughout the Middle Ages, direct access to the Greek language and writings wasn’t possible in Western Europe, but with the Moors the knowledge of Aristotle came to Europe again, and consequently Greek culture was to be rediscovered, influencing European thinking till today. Thus a detour to these ancient sources seems justified.
[2] Latin cultura from cultus, participle perfect passive of colere, to cultivate (agr.), to work; to live in; to cherish, protect, adorn; to worship (leading to "cult"); to honor, court.
[3] Including clothing, attire, manners of doing something
[4] Greek pais, the child; as in pedagogue, pedagogy etc.
[5] Latin e-ducere, to lead sbd. out of a certain (uncultured) state
[6] Latin e-rudire, to get out of a rough, untaught state
[7] Kroeber/Kluckhohn. Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions. 52
[8] Williams. Keywords. 87-89
[9] Williams. Keywords. 87-89
[10] Geertz. The Interpretation of Cultures. 44
[11] Brandon. Indians. 94
[12] Schlesinger. The Disuniting of America. 95f
[13] Schlesinger. The Disuniting of America. 95f
[14] Schlesinger. The Disuniting of America. 95f
[15] Heather Bush, Burton Silver. Warum Katzen malen. Köln: Taschen 1995
[16] "CNN Earth Matters". February 27, 2000. Transcript at
[18] Patricia Chargot. "The Japanese Macaque".
[19] in services as offered by sites like
[20] Cowen. In Praise of Commercial Culture. 5
[21] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 61
[22] "PC Fun Flourishes in the Workplace"
[23] "Psychological Research with Computer Games"
[24] Hawking. "Foreword". Krauss. The Physics of Star Trek. xiii
[25] Athens still is a shining example for antiquity, while Sparta's achievements are rather obscure. With the loss of freedom in the later Roman empire, culture became restricted to those having the financial freedom to do what they want.
[26] as with Tchaikovsky or Bach, cf. also Cowen. In Praise of Commercial Culture. 132f
[27] Geertz. The Interpretation of Cultures. 52
[28] Lenz. "Amerikanistik als interdisziplinäre Kulturwissenschaft."
[29] John Carlos Rowe. "The Resistance to Cultural Studies", keynote address at "The Changing Role of the Intellectual. Criticism as Oppositional Practice". Berlin, February 3rd, 2000
[30] Efforts at Humboldt Universität and the John F. Kennedy-Institute in Berlin show that such a larger scope can indeed lead to a greater understanding of American culture, that a more all-encompassing approach enriches the subject rather than diminishing it.
[31] Greenblatt. "Culture". 228
[32] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 43
[33] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 42f
[34] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 44
[35] as it is meticulously done at the Center for Media and Public Affairs, Washington DC: S. Robert Lichter, Linda S. Lichter, Dan Amundson. "Merchandizing Mayhem. Violence in Popular Culture". September 1999. Another such study was performed by UCLA Center for Communications Policy:
[36] Good News Family Care. "Children and TV Violence".
[37] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 45
[38] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 53
[39] as brilliantly portrayed by the Oscar-nominated song "Blame Canada" featured in the South Park movie, South Park itself frequently being attacked for its "subversiveness"
[40] One of the "victories" of this activism was the postponement of the finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's third season, "Graduation Day Part II", for nearly two months. The episode culminated in the students' concerted attacking and consequently killing the town's Mayor who had just transformed into a giant demon serpent threatening to devour them. Critics assumed that in the context of the Littletown massacre such a scene wouldn't have been appropriate, that it could justify shootings at schools.
[41] Bob Chatelle. "Let's Not Panic Over TV Violence".
[42] with censorship not even stopping for the acknowledged geniuses of modern culture, so that the late Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut had to be altered from its original form
[43] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 46
[44] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 51f
[45] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 54
[46] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 57
[47] as in the controversy surrounding Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, cf. Cowen. In Praise of Commercial Culture. 199;"A take on Piss Christ".
[48] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 58, cf. also Tomorrow Never Dies
[49] as through journalism (Watergate) or various conspiracy theories like featured on The X-Files, JFK etc.
[50] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 59
[51] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 60
[52] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 79
[53] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 44
[54] Cowen. In Praise of Commercial Culture. 200
[55] cf. Herbert Marcuse, as dealt with in Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 56, 60-62
[56] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 60-62
[57] Cowen. In Praise of Commercial Culture. 196
[58] Scruton. Dictionary of Political Thought. 109-110 (my italics)
[59] cf. Peri Hupsous (On the Sublime / On Great Writing) by (Pseudo-)Longinus, or various passages by Plato, e.g. in Gorgias and the Symposion
[60] Cowen. In Praise of Commercial Culture. 195
[61] Cowen. In Praise of Commercial Culture. 195
[62] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 64
[63] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 80
[64] as poignantly portrayed in Shakespeare in Love
[65] his success with Die Leiden des jungen Werther would thrust him into popular culture, the ongoing popularity of his Faust as well
[66] cf. Nietsche's criticizing his popularity and populism
[67]Some of the more experimental pieces were already more high-brow at their time: "The split between high and low musical culture starts with the late works of Beethoven, such as the late string quartets and piano sonatas. Although Beethoven usually kept close to his melodic roots, his later works made daring forays into musical modernism. These works (such as the string quartet op. 132) are now considered Beethoven's most significant achievements, but at the time they baffled most listeners. Beethoven's accumulated wealth had allowed him to pursue his own vision and to neglect market demand." (Cowen. In Praise of Commercial Culture. 143)
[68] Cowen. In Praise of Commercial Culture. 56
[69] Cowen. In Praise of Commercial Culture. 204
[70] Cowen. In Praise of Commercial Culture. 57
[71] Walt Disney, as quoted in: Russel Davies. "Dreams are always in bad taste". The Listener. 16 Feb 1984.
[72] cf. Cowen. In Praise of Commercial Culture. 18
[73] as in American Beauty, The Truman Show, Star Trek or The X-Files
[74] Whitfield, Roddenberry. The Making of Star Trek. 21f
[75] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 77
[76] "We [blacks] are not people who can sit back and say what happened a hundred years ago was great, because what was happening a hundred years ago was shit: slavery" Max Roach, quoted in Cowen. In Praise ... 29
[77] cf. Ovid. Metamorphoses 1, 89-110
[78] Cowen. In Praise of Commercial Culture. 181
[79] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 81
[80] as it is shown very poignantly in 1998's Pleasantville
[81] With John Carpenter's Halloween, the Alien series and Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the horror genre, which used to portray women as screaming and fainting victims, was infused with the concept of a much stronger woman. Same is true for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5, which featured women in command positions, and especially Star Trek: Voyager, in which a woman captain, a female Borg and a female chief engineer head the cast. Stereotypes, however, continue to exist, as may be seen from David E. Kelley's Ally McBeal, a show featuring strong female supporting characters but a lead which seems to repeat every single female stereotype from delusions to hysteria to irrationality. Ironically, the show is rather received as feminist.
[82] Michel Friedman at "New Traditions. A Biennial Conference". Berlin, March 18th, 2000
[83] Cowen. In Praise of Commercial Culture. 204
[84] Crèvecœur. "Letter III: What Is an American". Letters from an American Farmer. 311
[85] cf. Turner. "The Significance of the Frontier in American History"
[86] Edward Shils. "Mass Society and Its Culture". 1
[87] The category "Asian American" e.g. outrageously subsumes Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian etc. under one roof, thus ignoring the national cultures in an utmost chauvinist manner. Equally nonsensical is the description "African American", as the African roots of Blacks are of no great importance anymore. Why aren't Black people born in America simply called Americans? There could be a category of European Americans as well - but this could be an act of discrimination against the various European national traits such as Irish, French, English, Scottish, German, Russian, Italian etc., "Caucasian" being conveniently obscure
[88] Hollinger. Postethnic America. 29-34
[89] Hollinger. Postethnic America. 22
[90] cf. also The Peacemaker and Three Kings
[91] Kaplan. An Empire Wilderness. 352
[92] Margarita Mathiopoulos at "New Traditions. A Biennial Conference". Berlin, March 18th, 2000
[93] Karsten Voigt at "New Traditions. A Biennial Conference". Berlin, March 18th, 2000
[94] Karsten Voigt at "New Traditions. A Biennial Conference". Berlin, March 18th, 2000
[95] Frederick Kempe at "New Traditions. A Biennial Conference". Berlin, March 18th, 2000
[96] President Clinton. "Remarks by the President to the Indian Joint Session of Parliament". March 22, 2000.
[97] Michel Friedman at "New Traditions. A Biennial Conference". Berlin, March 18th, 2000
[98] Erwin Staut at "New Traditions. A Biennial Conference". Berlin, March 18th, 2000
[99] Gans. Popular Culture and High Culture. 56, cf. also Mander. In the Absence of the Sacred.
[100] Norbert Walter at "New Traditions. A Biennial Conference". Berlin, March 18th, 2000
[101] Wolfgang Fürniß at "New Traditions. A Biennial Conference". Berlin, March 18th, 2000
[102] Wolfgang Fürniß at "New Traditions. A Biennial Conference". Berlin, March 18th, 2000
[103] Walther Stützle at "New Traditions. A Biennial Conference". Berlin, March 18th, 2000

April 7th / May 1st, 2000 [HTML Version]

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