Titans of Cultural Industry

I was reading this reddit thread about the creator of Spongebob Squarepants passing away. A lot of the commenters were mentioning the culture in the USA regarding shared cultural references that the show provided, as millions of children in the US grew up watching the series. It reminded me of something I wanted to write about: the change in default culture in America.

Think about founding fathers America: what was the default culture? Probably the Church. It makes sense back when everyone was either a white farmer or a black slave, because the slaves were also basically pressed into spiritual chains along with literal chains. As everyone attended church and were mostly NOT Catholic, I’d guess the system of power in the culture was decentralized – sure, the churches all wielded power in their own communities, but they didn’t have to report back to the Archdiocese and the Pope. So each community would practice their own forms of Christianity with their little sprinkles thrown in to make them snowflakes. What does this mean? In the broad strokes, people in America could hold assumptions about their neighbors that would be broadly true: They believe in a hell. They believe our lord and Savior Jesus Christ died on the cross to save us all from eternal damnation and so forth, for the major tenets of Christianity. But because each church is left to their own devices, they can come up with weird, separate interpretations of the core tenets. Think of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons: radically different flavors of Christianity, but still beholden to Christianity nonetheless.  However, in modern times, this is no longer true.

Modern Americans are moving away from religion. Christianity, as the default religion in America, is also going into a decline in terms of membership rates. The Church is no longer the pillar of the community. Being Christian is no longer the default for America as a whole, though it is in many pockets of America. What does this mean? Churches don’t have as much sway in controlling culture in America. Instead of people hanging out and bonding in Church, they moved on to different things. For a period, it was watching TV. Which brings me to my starting point: people on the internet talking about Spongebob. TV was also a centralizing force: sure, there were tons of different channels, but in reality there was only a pocket full of channels aimed at specific demographics. If you were a 10 year old kid, you probably weren’t going to be watching Fox News – you’d generally watch Disney Channel, Nickolodeon, or Cartoon Network. (In my case, I also watched a lot of Iron Chef on Food Network. To this day, I believe the dub for IC remains one of the best localizations done for a show period. Super Canadian though.) If you were a kid in America during this certain period, you would therefore expect your fellow kids to watch television as well. Of course, the era of TV peaked a while ago, and now we’ve moved on to the next phase: The Internet.

Internet is different from the two previous eras in that watering holes are much more balkanized in comparison. There’s still an oligopoly – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, etc all control large swathes of the internet. But what’s different about the internet is there is no arbitrary restrictions on where people can go: there’s way more niches that exist inside and outside of these watering holes. Reddit, while being a centralizing force, also decentralizes interest groups into thousands of smaller subcommunities that pursue their own interests, while still being in unifying them with a larger default community. All the other social networks have their niches, but not as explicitly structured as Reddit.  These companies feel like juggernauts that will stick around for some time, but you have to think all the previous titans felt similarly. Now look at TV numbers: it’s like a damn that has started breaking through. It makes me think: What’s the next cultural titan on the horizon? My money is on Earth stewardship in the vein of Avatar, after the environment rises up and destroys large swathes of humanity. Or maybe Mad Max style “The strongest rules” enclaves sweep over the littered remains of humanity. As for what I’m hoping we get? The AI revolution, with Matrix cocoons for all. I’m egalitarian like that.