Monday, 11 December 2006

The Omniculture


I like the concept of the Omniculture (written about by the blogging heavyweight S. T. Karnick over at The Reform Club), where everything that can be produced is, and is then made available for us all to consume.

Conservative commentators inevitably use this concept to argue that it's causing some sort of moral decline in our society.

So, take my teenage obsession - indie music, which has now been popularised and sanitised by MTV2. It's become mainstream. In response to this, the 'true' indie counter-culture became more extreme and rebellious. Until the mainstream re-integrated it and sanitised it some more. And so the cycle repeats itself.

So, "the boundary of strangeness and perversity must always move outward, as today's "sophisticates" attempt to prove themselves more adventurous and authentic than their predecessors".

The net result, our conservative critics would argue, is that that mainstream art and culture has become extreme, ugly and banal. We've become desensitised to violence and ugliness and perceive them now to be beautiful.

Which is the at root of our moral and intellectual decline, apparently.

I can see where they're coming from. The Panoptican of our internet is full of stuff that bemuses, bores and disgusts me. The TV even more so.

Big Brother for example. Each year I bleat on to Miche, like a smug pseudo-intellectual, about how bleak and depressing it is and how it represents the nadir of our culture. Its on in the background while I read and grumble, but like a moth to a bulb I can't resist watching it. Within 15 minutes of giving in to it I'm hooked, gossiping about it the next day at work.

I guess that the Omniculture then, both improves and inhibits our cultural growth, depending on which way you look at it.

However, I'm not sure that S. T. Karnick's Omniculture is anything new. Now, I'm no cultural historian, but I imagine that during the renaissance there were plenty of conservatives baying that these new thinkers and artists were pedaling chaos and ugliness. This is a gut feeling, truthiness even.

The pace of this Omnicultural arms race has of course increased exponentially through technologies like the Print press, Telegraph, Radio, TV and latterly the Internet.

I guess that's what Karnick is getting at. If a celeb squeaks out a fart nowadays someone will be there with their mobile phone ready to post it to youtube.

Everything, both 'high' and 'low' is available now to be consumed. So, we continually need to push at the boundaries of acceptability to be noticed amongst this clamour.

Perhaps a flaw in the Omniculture idea is that in the middle of all this pushing of boundaries, somewhere between anal porn and Rossini, we still have more and more of the Planets Funniest Animals.

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