Now that the Ever Clear ship is cleared, we can view the Suez Canal blockage with irony, as a metaphor of our times, that culture is stuck.
The ongoing pandemic has revealed a new social reality – what appeared to be a slow decline into Late-Stage Capitalism* turned out to be humans of late-stage capitalism adapting to capitalism itself. In this era of hyper-digitization, supercharged by cynical reason, our entire culture-producing machinery has ran aground.
As another sign of our Post-Empire times, culture became stuck around the mid-00’s when the following took place:
- The World Wide Web used to be a much larger place with discussion forums, blogs, various websites and email sites, etcetera. Users bookmarked favorites in the hundreds. All now reduced to a few walled gardens.
- Wikipedia began in 2006, and has ballooned magnificently to 6 million-plus articles. In English alone. That is the equivalent of near three thousand print volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
- YouTube was established in 2005 before Google bought it in 2006; Facebook, in 2004 but limited to college students and then Gmail users for years; Twitter in 2006; Netflix launched its streaming service in 2007.
- Amazon launched Prime in 2005 and shifted its business model to cloud computing with AWS in 2006.
- The iPhone was first introduced in 2007, but all subsequent smartphone designs retain the same basic design.
- Highly aestheticized films are becoming rarer and rarer, despite the fact that technology is becoming more accessible than ever. Peak TV, death of DVD market, international market, etc.
- No true cultural shift in fashion, not since it froze in the mid-00s after athleisure became the defacto casual wear. In the previous decades fashion was temporal and authentic.
- Hip hop replaced rock and roll as pop music.
Why is culture stuck?
Monoculture has been replaced by a postmodern culture, an elastic, contradictory and inconsistent patches of niche experiences, and that created a decentralizing tool: the algorithm that curate, refine and recycle existing culture and regurgitate it back to us. This closes off potential sources of original content with disturbing ideas.
Of course, we fight back with memes, but this only reinforces the existing order with ongoing memeification that do little but leave less and less room for anything that is neither ironic, superficial, pessimistic, nor self-referential.
The only way to unstuck culture is to shift it with pockets of isolated humanity. Thanks to globalization, every pocket is already connected, in which instantaneous or independent ideas are no longer allowed the time to ferment on their own. When we cook a meal, we need to bring together ingredients that already had the time to grow, ferment or decompose separately. A tomato begins as a seed, then we mix it with rich soil and add water and give it sunlight. We can’t just bring the seed, the soil, water, and sunlight to the kitchen from the get-go.
The same logic of growth, change and evolution applies to art and fashion, because they are also organic parts of culture. Anyone in any country can invent a new way to dance, record it and post it on TikTok and go viral. Unfortunately, it’ll eventually get loss in the morass of all the other various forms of dance. Sure, that new dance will spread far and wide, but it’ll be forgotten quickly.
In the past, this new art form would have been limited locally, then nurtured, honed and then spread geographically, which creates a brand new cultural idiosyncrasy with a powerful support base. And by the time it was big enough to become a global thing, it was already a cultural phenomenon locally.
This is no longer possible because we are in a hurry to consume unripened art.
*Late-stage capitalism is where a vulture capitalist order rents out the governments in order to subordinate public health and the public interest for the sake of wealth accumulation.