Thursday, February 21, 2013

Responding to the Value of Popular Culture


So there's this regular letter-to-the-editor writer for the Salem News, Malcolm Miller, who writes these 3-4 sentence quips that seem to largely disregard and condemn popular culture and society in some capacity or another.  Whether it's sports or talk shows, he is dismay with it all and with any who appear to take value in it.  Last month he wrote one called, "A Cultural Question."  Here is my response to said letter.  I originally sent it to the Salem News but they appeared to pass on it.  So here it is:

There is much to read that may not be considered "good.”  I believe Miller would appreciate the quote--though not necessarily the actual writings since they were more common--of  science-fiction writer, Theodore Sturgeon:  "Ninety percent of [science fiction] is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud."

But as one who seems to value the authority of established "cultural assets," you might look to Plato.  He would be more likely to idolize the sports figure as a representation of the ideal than to idolize a book.  As he said in Phaedrus,

"Most ingenious Theuth, one man has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their usefulness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another; and now you who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess. For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise."

We live in a time where we have many forms of meaningful storytelling.  Books absolutely have a place in that world, but they are not the sole means of transferring and developing substantial cultural artifacts.  That we have become a culture of such diverse range and taste speaks more to our cultural complexity than any uniformity to a preordained and highly limited ideal.

Lance Eaton
Watcher of television, films, and even Youtube videos.
Reader of books, comic books, blogs, and even Twitter feeds. 
Listener of old time radio, audiobooks, great speeches, and even podcasts.



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