Global “culture” isn’t exactly nothing. It’s something. Global culture was a stack of colored paper, one distinctive color for every distinctive people and culture that existed. Then the slow shredders of imperialism and colonial capitalism got juiced up by information technology. Now, every culture has been shredded—or hole-punched—and we’re left with a mixed-up, world-sized recycle bin full of everything and everyone that ever was. And we’re supposed to throw a big party. We’re supposed to throw the confetti in the air again and again and again forever and ever. But it always comes down about the same. One big mixed up – but colorful! – mess. It’s festive, but the mess is all there is, and you can’t really separate the piles. Well, you could, but that would be inefficient and it is clear that our supervisors do not approve. Nothing will ever be allowed to become anything again, so all you have is the mess. So you keep celebrating the mess, because what else is there to do?
This Microsoft commercial is global confetti culture.
It’s isn’t anything, but it isn’t quite nothing. Just a big, exciting, flamboyant, manic, multicolored mess.
Some would say that this “global culture” is the new culture.
It is, but the problem with culture that has to appeal to everyone is that it either has to appeal to our collective experience of childlike silliness and wonder…
Spring colors! Dancing! Jumping up and down! Yummy food! We’re special! Recess! Naptime! Games! Sports! I’m better than you! Hit the kid you don’t like! I feel sad! Someone hurt my feelings! Poop! Someone got kicked in the nuts!
…or our shared “adult” desires…
Gossip! Sex! Feeling sexy! Get drunk! Buy cool stuff! High social status! I love you! I want you to love me!
These are the hooks of almost every hit pop song on the radio since WWII.
A bunch of appealing jumbled images and sounds that used to mean something, remixed and repurposed to mean…
Fun! Excitement! Party! NOW! YES!
People complain that our culture is dumbed down, but a culture for everyone has to be dumbed down. It has to be universalized. It can’t be too alien, or off-putting, or inaccessible, or specific to anyone or anything in any place at any time. Universalized culture is all-inclusive, but limited in its scope by that inclusiveness.
It is also limited in scope by the market. Marketing something to everyone, something that can’t offend or exclude anyone, has to be as safe and inane as the art in a bank. Marketing something to everyone can also cost a lot of money, so the creative process ultimately ends up in the hands of executives who report to shareholders. Eccentric patrons and noblemen have been replaced by pragmatic bean-counters.
Most people go with the flow. Most people accept and at least pretend to celebrate the big confetti culture. Blockbusters. Pop songs. The new video or movie or entertainment product that everyone is talking about. 40 million people watched the Oscars last year. 108 million watched the Superbowl Almost half the world watched the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Literally. 3.2 billion people. It was sponsored by Adidas, Sony, Visa, and Coca-Cola.
Play! Toys! Money! Sugar!
The culture that doesn’t appeal to everyone becomes more interesting. It becomes distinct, and exclusive. A music “scene,” an artistic “movement,” an obscure genre of writing…something for people in the know. These are the things people want to identify themselves with, to distinguish themselves from others. These are the things that give them a sense of identity. These are the things that make people feel like they belong somewhere, not just anywhere. That they are someone, not just anyone.
Subcultures. Tribes. Teams. Cults. Gangs. Religions.
Everybody wants to be somebody.
Global culture is for anybody.
Fun! Excitement! Party! NOW! YES!