The fall of mass culture, the rise of meaning

Stowe Boyd’s piece of this title is a response to comments about the shifting nature of modern advertising, in a piece by Arianna Huffington. But Boyd has something a little wider on his mind…

The decline of mass culture that is going on in the Western world is the direct consequence of the splintering of media and our defection from the communities that mass media defines.
The other day I saw Pew numbers showing that almost nobody below 25 watches local TV news anymore, for example. Which doesn’t mean that these folks are uninformed about what’s going on, but that the ‘imagined community’ that local TV broadcasting tries to conjure into being simply doesn’t exist for them.
The ‘message’ of mass  media is not about Iraq, American Idol, or the NY Yankees: it’s mass identity. And when people turn away from mass media — and mass advertising — they aren’t just becoming unaware of the goings-on on some reality show, they are walking away from belonging to a collection of cultural aspirations and obsessions.
And what fills the void for those that operate outside the limits of mass media, which are market-facing, and market-oriented? What happens when you aren’t bombarded with car ads, when you stop listening to music about bling and champagne, or you stop subscribing to fashion magazines telling you what to buy and wear?
One thing is clear: people’s extra-market motivations start to come to the surface. People begin to care more about connection in communities, the state of the world, and, at the most fundamental level, a meaning for existence.
This is being called social marketing. It’s a good term, for perhaps conflicting reasons. First, people associate ‘social’ with ‘social causes’, meaning ‘societal causes’ in a philanthropic sense. But more importantly, this marketing will take root in social media, where our connections to each other — the social context — is as important as the content.
This need for meaning often is trivialized as becoming cause-oriented, but our involvement in causes is the outgrowth of our desire to live meaningful lives, instead of as consumers.
I don’t mean this is some fuzzy spiritual way, some obsession with enlightenment or finding a path to heaven, but on a very practical day-to-day level. It comes down to this: How are we to spend our time, and what is worth being involved in?

He’s pretty much describing a lot of the key motivations and preferred actions of the Tribe of the Strange. And I think he realises that this sort of media-manipulation and the inevitable detournement it will provoke are just the sort of things the streets will find a use for. Or, that the Tribe already have.

3 thoughts on “The fall of mass culture, the rise of meaning”

  1. But he’s implying that everyone is moving to The Tribe of the Strange.

    What will that do to the world? Only good things, eventually, I’m sure, but I imagine the transition period could be anything from slightly messy to apocalyptic…

    1. I’m not quite sure that’s what he’s saying. My read was that the Grand narrative is separating into many overlapping narratives/tribes. Most folk will continue to operate from a basis of a single main tribe identity. The key aspect of Tribe of the Strange is that we use multiple aspects/identities.

      But yeah – the transition is unlikely to be a smooth one. As ever, the tick will be finding a level playing field for negotiation between tribes – which, given the human urge to consider their position as irrefutably superior (no matter what that position is), will require some interesting bases.

      (And ta for the comment… not least because it nudged me to install a threaded-comment plugin!)

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