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Here Come the Culture Critics

Here Come the Culture Critics

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Published by Lethe
In this essay, I discuss Michiko Kakutani's New York Times article, "Texts Without Context." The essay focuses on new media culture and its effect on art, specifically appropriation and mashups.
In this essay, I discuss Michiko Kakutani's New York Times article, "Texts Without Context." The essay focuses on new media culture and its effect on art, specifically appropriation and mashups.

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Published by: Lethe on Apr 12, 2010
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Here Come the Culture Critics Michiko Kakutani's New York Times article, "Texts Without Context," attempts

to pull together a number of loose strands about contemporary culture and technology. Her basic premise is that culture is feeding on its own tail; without creating anything new, we are depending heavily on the materials of the past, using new technologies to copy, paste, and mash together anything and everything for our creative or intellectual purposes. She also emphasizes that a culture based on "immediacy and realtime responses" means that people are less interested in reading entire books or articles, and more interested in "cutting to the chase." We want the summary, the anecdote, the biased review that appeals to our emotions but pays little attention to context and nuance. Personalized media feeds you the content that matters to you, but this emphasis on the subjective also contributes to the polarization of political views on the web. Everyone is reading what they want to hear. Kakutani quotes the scholar Susan Jacoby: Reading in the traditional open-ended sense is not what most of us, whatever our age and level of computer literacy, do on the Internet. What we are engaged in--like birds of prey looking for their next meal--is a process of swooping around with an eye out for certain kinds of information. If readers have become birds of prey, media outlets have become even worse by pandering to the whims of impulse-driven audiences. In an

" The vast majority of this user-created media. we face a situation in which culture is effectively eating its own seed stock." Her main attack. without the responsibilities of adulthood. websites dole out mindless cat videos to their millions of viewers. It is a culture of reaction without action . Comments about TV shows. writers. the mash-ups. collages and others forms of appropriation art. commercial music releases and video games must be responsible for almost as much bit traffic as porn. remixes. parodies. . pastiches. deals with what she sees as vapid cultural production in the form of "parodies. In essence. . homages. and artists have the benefit of mass feedback provided by interactive media. and by fandom responding to the dwindling outposts of centralized mass media. according to Kakutani. and so we face a culture of ." Cyberculture has a decidedly adolescent character in Kakutani's view." Lanier writes: Online culture is dominated by trivial mash-ups of the culture that existed before the onset of mash-ups. and are therefore more likely to give their audiences what they "want or expect. polls. calls "nostalgic malaise. and re-appropriations are more valued than the original sources. major movies. rumors and the sort of amusingentertaining-weird anecdotes. You Are Not a Gadget. and suffering from what Jaron Lanier." Editors. is lazy. and fan bulletin boards. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. variations. however.effort to get more clicks. mediocre. author of the book. or "gossip. perpetuating "a Peter Pan fantasy of being an entitled child forever. but since the Web is killing the old media.

a vast amount of that content will naively reflect trends in popular culture. and not the hour and the half hour. that the democratization of cultural production leads to a diminishment in quality. it may be argued. Similarly. unfortunately. appear superficial or juvenile. along with the many non-linear pathways to accessing content. and lack critical or artistic merit. as it once was for television. and online collectivisim over measured criticism. The mass section of the web that Kakutani criticizes is much like the majority of television programming: it appeals to the lowest common denominator. removes the notion of the passive subject in relation to culture. The superabundance of content. a sort of floating. Now we must actively forage for our reading material. and even respond to the news that is served. We are all filters to the hundreds of webpages that are put in front of our faces every day. pseudo-world. where beliefs are privileged over facts. reflects this new metric. it may be argued (as Kakutani argues). The metrics of the web are the second and the minute. The majority of content on the web. design the ways in which we want to receive our content. that where more people are creating content. I'm summarizing these viewpoints because I believe they are valid and persuasive.texts without contexts. subjective reactions over objective research. On the one hand. This is only to be expected when websites and media outlets are trying to raise advertising dollars by higher and higher numbers. I believe that Lanier and Kakutani are focused on a certain part of the . as on the web.

Here Comes Everybody. Technology also puts us in the paradoxical position of looking forward. As Clay Shirky notes in his book. While it's true that many popculture mashups re-use materials from only a decade ago. In my view. the web is driven by the very opposite. to the beginning of time. and countless websites are all actively architecting the virtual world. stretching from yesterday's news. but many versions of the past. users play different roles in online culture. and not only the past. the bigger picture is that our culture is swimming in the materials of over 2000 years of history. If they were immersed in the content production side of the web. anticipating what's next. There is not only re-action on the web.vast topography of the web. and yet others actively maintain blogs and produce content. Internet startups. Every person who creates a blog and publishes their own content is actively creating something on the web." Digital culture inundates us with what is essentially our past. online publishing hubs. some users comment on blogs but don't have blogs themselves. Some users read blog posts and don't comment on them. The cultural production that arises from this unique combination is forever at the helm of re-interpretation. In truth. while we are faced with a flood of what came before. All . they would see it from a different angle entirely. This is not merely a case of "nostalgic malaise. the proliferation of mashups and re-appropriated art is culture's response to superabundance.

and actively understand the world around us. We are not just "readers" anymore. Self-publishing heralds a culture of active culture-producers. We must act. webpages. but in our era we see something else. I'm doing something with the information on the web. In short. Everyone can produce culture. The confluence of social networking and exchange. from endless fragments. judge. makes what I learned in college look parochial. interpret. and so is nearly everyone else. I'm constantly reading articles that discuss wide-ranging aspects of art and culture. The individual is primarily relating to texts by showing ownership of them. In one month. User-generated media facilitates this process of ownership. and prepare it for a large readership.you will find now are "translations. passages from books that stimulate the . and discriminate. and then I make editorial judgments about the material. and research using search engines. Art has always relied on inter-textuality. I'm the editor of an online journal. something more extreme. I am exposed to more aspects of culture on the web than I was exposed to in four years of college. active content production. watered-down version of the original source. and that implies that each of us must interpret. or perhaps a slim. points of view. for the first time in history. and utterances. We are actively cobbling together the world now. The world is no longer a fixed place. held up by the artificial supports of newspapers and magazines. By taking images that seem beautiful or funny." without the original source.

each individual is actively working to produce his or her own cultural landscape. CRA 4/11/10 . even with all of the drawbacks associated. then I see this new culture as a boon. If the result of this kind of cultural production seems to only involve the self as it relates to the world. rather than the other way around. or holding discussions about the issues that matter to a person.mind.

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