Culture as Weather

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The notion struck me: that contemporary [British] life functions by a kind of endless cycling (or treadmilling, if you prefer) of people / themes / texts / events. Each of these, um, cultural memes gets turned into a Cultural Conversation - it gets a slot on Newsnight, or a G2 cover story, or maybe even (if it's eg. the death of Diana) a special issue of a journal. And people say banal things about the Issue that has been raised.

I shall try to give some examples, though I myself am usually out of touch with current or recent ones.

Bridget Jones' Diary: the Movie // Do Women Still Only Want A Man? Do Americans Really Have A Chocolate-Box View Of UK?

Prince Philip Makes Dodgy Remark // Is Racism An Endemic problem In Our Society? Are The Monarchy Becoming An Irrelevance?

Robin Cook Compares UK To Chicken Tikka // Do New Labour Want To Kill Britain And Take Us Into A Mongrel World?

Martin Amis Publishes Memoirs // Memoirs: They're The Novels Of The Millennium. Martin Amis: He Was Kingsley Amis's Son.

'Gorillaz' Band Withdraws From Mercury Prize // Is There A Role For Music Prizes?

blah blah...

It's the banality that strikes me as much as anything, the way that with the right gear you could see the cultural weather approaching on a map of emotional warm fronts and semiotic storms. An Issue turns up, and goes away, just cos the chatter has moved on; and one day it returns. But is there something to be said for this 'transient-mass-conversational' mode in which our liberal democracy seems to talk to itself?

the pinefox, Wednesday, 8 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

No, I don't think so.

Nick, Wednesday, 8 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

You mean it's a bad thing? Why?

the pinefox, Wednesday, 8 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

What is this thread about?

Greg, Wednesday, 8 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

Everybody complains about culture, but nobody does a damned thing about it!

Kate the Saint, Wednesday, 8 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does a damned thing about that either!

Martin, Wednesday, 8 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

What the thread is about = what it says in the question.

'Everybody complains about culture' - ? What I said above was mainly trying to identify an impression I had, not to complain. Anyway, why shouldn't people complain about culture when they want to? They (we) are always celebrating it too.

'Nobody does a damned thing about it' - ?? I don't know where this remark is aimed. Personally I don't feel in a position to do much about culture at large (who does? Rupert Murdoch?), but that doesn't mean I never make my own contribution.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 8 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

i want to sample all of you brits and break open your skulls and then put you back when you're full of dodgy orange nougat. does that count as a chocolate-box view? alternately, i just want to eat you.

ethan, Wednesday, 8 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

i want to sample all of you brits and break open your skulls and then put you back when you're full of dodgy orange nougat, does that count as a chocolate-box view? alternately, i just want to eat you.

ethan, Wednesday, 8 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

hey it's the first time the double posting thing has ever happened to me. that damned button just wasn't putting it in the database.

thoughts about the actual question, everything everywhere is always like this. or certainly america, as other us posters will hopefully confirm. the headlines never change. also: kate's post = very funny.

ethan, Wednesday, 8 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

Pinefox, I have a hard time believing you're really that culturally illiterate. "Everybody complains about the weather but nobody does a damned thing about it" is a famous quote, so famous I've forgotten who it's from. Mark Twain, methinks.

Sigh...

Kate the Saint, Wednesday, 8 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

Hmm. OK, this fact is why I no longer watch the news or read newspapers: but all that says is that the site for "serious" discussion — of culture and thus of news — has migrated elsewhere (not least because TV news and newspapers set themselves up as THE PLACE TO BE SERIOUS...). To me, the symptom pinefox picks out is actually more like a strategy (poss. not a conscious strategy): if they dealt with "culture" seriously, they'd immediately reveal how trivially inadequate their news coverage was. cf eg any "grown- up" newspaper's coverage of rock, or rap, or TV.

mark s, Wednesday, 8 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

Mark S: yes, that may be right. I wasn't suggesting that no serious discussion went on anywhere - far from it.

Kate S: I can't believe you're so culturally illiterate that you don't know the source of your own fantastically witty quotation.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 8 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

The news is like a national club that everybody already belongs to for free. And regardless of the news's "content" its main project is to further our belief in the club, and the things that make the club possible (not just advertisers, but a kind of authoritative storytelling, the superiority of gelled hair, and of one-to-many conversation). The weather is a GRATE example of the utterly banal pieces of "news" that broadcasters and broadsheets use to only- connect us. i think there are MANY good things to say about the idea of a nation talking to itself about itself. but pace mark s, the way most traditional news orgs work, seriously reporting the news wd undermine the network of alliances that makes the news possible. a steady diet of connecting banalities is a 'good-enuf' placebo.

i think their periodic recurrence is down to news org's tolerance (for reasons above) of people's willingness to stop thinking just as the hard part begins. the banalities pf cites above are familiar for the same reason a town in the foothills is populous: it wuz settled by a bunch of folks who just kind of gave up once the going got rough.

Tracer Hand, Wednesday, 8 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

(um, that's twice [in as many months yet!!] that sumwun's sed "pace mark s" when actually they seem to be agreeing w.me: pace = polite latin for SHUT UP INTERRUPTING YOU, LET ME FINISH CAN I MAKE MY POINT TOO PLEASE!!)

Or are you disagreeing w.me, Tracer, but I'm too dumm (or vane) to see how this = possible?

mark s, Wednesday, 8 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

Mark S is, of course, absolutely right.

I like what Tracer is saying. But I think he / she might just be overrating the badness / banality of the thing. I said it was banal, I know - but maybe lots of things look stupid from a distance?

Basically, though, Tracer - yes. It's this convergence of Life / Society / News / Culture / Turnover / Opinion / Public thing I was trying to get at. I don't know - it's like there's an element missing from how some (*some*) people think about how culture works - maybe it's the 'dynamic' element, the 'turnover' aspect?

The 'organic' sense too of culture as ecosystem, tide, weather or whatever. I think this goes somewhere. Perhaps it's already been.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 8 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

mark I am totally agreeing w/you. i think is one of those words that's changed meaning w/usage. i always thought it meant "after" not "hush" - believe me i've learned my lesson with the shushing!

pf: i agree that the banalities are useful. to the extent that, like those little mountain towns, a study of their outline can maybe predict the shape of the obstacle that formed them. and maybe hint at a gap or pass?

Tracer Hand, Wednesday, 8 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

I can't accept that 'pace' has changed its meaning with usage. Whose usage? Not mine.

That mountain-pass metaphor... cor.

the pinefox, Thursday, 9 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

Most irritating to me is the way the same increasingly tired-sounding cultural commentators pop up with their rehashed and often ill-informed (ie. informed by yesterday's paper) views on each topic. See Germaine Greer, Salmon Rushdie et. al. desperately trying to flag their stalling careers with scathing indictments of Big Brother. Every time I read these sorts of articles I think, "Yes, you're right, it's terrible, but... um... who asked your opinion?"

Tim, Thursday, 9 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

pinefox: can you explain more what you mean by a "turnover aspect" of culture?

Tracer Hand, Thursday, 9 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

I mean that culture is made of apples. It's tasty - yum.

the pinefox, Thursday, 9 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

I mean nothing very sophisticated - just trying to talk about the rhythm with which things appear, get mined (eaten?) and are discarded. 'High turnover' - nothing more original and interesting than that, I'm afraid.

the pinefox, Thursday, 9 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

I liked the first explanation better, it was very Mike of you.

Ally, Thursday, 9 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

I was thinking of tarts, myself.

Tracer Hand, Thursday, 9 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

Damn good question, damn good thread, damn good metaphors (foothills, weather charts, etc).

Nobody mentioned Dawkins and meme theory, but perhaps nobody wants to go there (mountainous, stormy).

Is it a question of the commissioning editors just opening up their address books a bit? Like, I'm available to write 1000 words by Monday on the death of the NME, or the extinction of the Tory party. But actually, I'd rather do it here on ILM / ILE, because the brain rhythms are my own.

Here (or on my website) I write about something because I'm really thinking about it, really excited about it. The clouds roll in, the air heats up, electricity accumulates, lightning strikes. If I were commissioned by G2 or somebody I would be fitting into someone else's rhythms, someone else's passing interests: the editor's, or the public's. The great circular flow of ideas we call 'commentary', where the danger is that trends and enthusiasms are designed by committee and the buck stops nowhere.

I say this as a marginal member of the 'commentariat' (I write magazine articles for non-UK mags like Relax and Index). I feel the slope under my feet, and it's a slippery one.

Momus, Saturday, 11 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

This is interesting. I recently wrote an obituary of Delia Derbyshire for The Wire: my approach was broadly the same as it would have been had I been writing for my long-neglected website, to recount what she achieved, how I felt she should be remembered, and how I would miss her.

Of course there were other external factors that wouldn't have been there had I been my own editor: specifically, the sub-editor was involved, not to alter my words or thoughts but to slightly change the order of those words and thoughts, something of which I'm excessively fetishistic. I'm possibly standing on the edge of joining the "commentariat", and thoughts are rushing through my mind on what effect it would have on me: what would happen to my brain rhythms and how would they be redirected? Would I ultimately think "Delia Derbyshire: she did the Dr Who theme, sad that she's gone" rather than "Delia Derbyshire: 'Pot au Feu' is rave '91 had it been born to post-war intellectualism rather than lumpen-prole functionalism / accidental genius"? Would I, in short, have my opinions influenced by What I Was Supposed To Think rather than what I think inside me, what I want to think, what I am driven to think?

Interested in any further comments.

Robin Carmody, Saturday, 11 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

The question is, though, is the sudden expansion of the commentariat to include, uh, everyone with a web connection a positive or negative trend?

Tom, Sunday, 12 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

Tom E: I'm not sure what the answer to that question is, but I'm also not sure of the terms of the question - I mean, is this group really that broad?

Robin C asked: >>> Would I ultimately think "Delia Derbyshire: she did the Dr Who theme, sad that she's gone" rather than "Delia Derbyshire: 'Pot au Feu' is rave '91 had it been born to post-war intellectualism rather than lumpen-prole functionalism / accidental genius"?

I think I can safely say that the answer to that question is "no".

the pinefox, Sunday, 12 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

The same ideas occur to different people at different times, at some coincidental moments certain of those people write those ideas down, and if enough people see the written-down idea at the same time and act on it then whatever you wrote is 'important', it's absolutely irrelevant what you 'thought' you should be 'thinking like'

dave q, Sunday, 12 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

As someone who's spent a fair time inside the, um, Editoriat, there are big old factors which aren't so easy to see from outside. Question One: we need a piece on [Topic A]; if we ask [x], will the piece ARRIVE ON A TIME and TO A LENGTH WHICH FITS the space available. Or will they say yes then vanish. In the end it sometimes comes down to a pretty unimaginative kind of judgment: [y] will write to length and deadline, and is fun over the phone when you're subbing their copy. [x] = a gamble, [z] = a genius, but also a liability blah blah.

Cautionary Tale. At Wire in the early 90s, I used to send out PLEADING LETTERS to the contribs not to be afraid of wild ideas; strange connections; difft ways of writing abt things. Response I got = a teenyweeny bit above zero, from foax I was already totally on-wavelength with anyway. We did a discussion panel at the ICA once, abt hiphop and jazz, and got lots of flak from the floor abt being a white mag and by defn shut to black writers. I said — which is true — I'm the editor, and I promise I'm not turning ppl away. Call me: give me ideas. NONE OF THE FOAX ATTACKING ME FOR NOT PUBLISHING THEM EVAH CALLED, BEFORE OR AFTER. Two writers did turn up: one was a bit useless, the other pretty good. I was encouraging to both (I think): I said, come up with an idea for a piece and we'll go from there. I never heard from either of them again. This was ten years ago: I don't doubt the climate has shut a great deal since. There's things I write which wd never get into Wire now: not cuz I'm barred (which is the opposite of the case), but because their idea of who they are wd rule this stuff out. (Hence posting here so much, obviously...)

mark s, Sunday, 12 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

Oh oh: I wuz also gunna say, if I was a commissioning editor today (with time on my hands to surf), I wd feel I had struck PLUTONIUM ATOMIC RADIO GOLD if I arrived at ILx. There's probably 30 writers on the Twin Beeotch I would hurry to approach to be contributors for [mythical culture mag which employs me as editor]: and a couple — hi, Ally! — whose endless scornful refusals and hilarity I wd wrestle with until they said, "Yes, OK, even tho yr mag is rubbish..."

mark s, Sunday, 12 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

B-b-but - *would DJ Martian accept your offer???*

the pinefox, Sunday, 12 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

urgent and key consideration: "TO A LENGTH WHICH FITS the space available"

But I would still ask!! Passionate expertise is not to be sniffed.

mark s, Sunday, 12 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

[max length = 24 wds please mark s]

mark s, Sunday, 12 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

Hey I just found out a funny thing abt greenspun. I posted "at." to complete above remark, and it said I couldnt; cuz ethan and pinefox had both already done so. I tht "hoho" what lightnin swift comedians that Fine Double Act are to be sure, and hunted for another gag. Arrived: no ethan, no pinefox. Tht a bit: searched. Yes, ethan wrote "nougat." somewhere above, and pinefox finished asetence w. "at."

= you get a repeat post warning when you post an exact subset of ANY PREVIOUS POST IN THE THREAD.

ps ethan re yr greenspun line-break prob: the line-ends in the answer box do add a space to certain items. if any html w/i "<" or ">" breaks at a line, it will probably add a space and wreck it. Just add your OWN spaces to push the whole unit over onto the next line...

zzzz sorry

mark s, Sunday, 12 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

I finished a sentence with "at"??? Oh, dear.

[Faints]

the pinefox, Sunday, 12 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

Well it's better than NOT finishing a sentence WITHOUT "at.", I can tell you.

mark s, Sunday, 12 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

Interestingly, Tom, I never felt part of the "commentariat" as defined by the Pinefox (which must surely be a mainly pejorative definition) until I became a print writer. Then I thought, oooh, I've got my foot in the door, and I did start thinking that there was, even now, a higher level of opinion-forming, and wondering about its possible positive and negative effects on my opinions and attitudes in a way I had never done however strong my net "reputation", among certain people, had become.

The question is: is this "higher level" of opinion-forming still something that exists in reality, or is it just a lingering mental perception?

Oh and Pinefox, I liked your response to my musings :).

Robin Carmody, Sunday, 12 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

at.

(thanks for the advice, mark)

ethan, Monday, 13 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

"higher level" of opinion-forming:

The big difference between web publication and print publication is that print is far more of a 'push' medium. If The Wire was online, somebody wanting to read about Acid Mothers Temple could do so without ever even being aware of RC's Delia obit. However buying The Wire physically, our AMT fan has to consciously avoid and decide not to read the obit.

There is still an 'aura' to print journalism despite most of it being not very good - I know several web writers who consciously or unconsciously seem to see print as a higher calling (NB this is aside from the economics of it - print pays a lot more). As well as a sense of respectability there's also a feeling that print is somehow less impermanent (which is untrue of periodicals at least).

I think the commentariat reflects opinion more than it shapes it - I also wonder to what extent newspaper columnists (even big ones) think they do influence anyone. I have a monthly op-ed column in a print mag and find it laughable to imagine anyone even reading it let alone paying it much attention. Broadly speaking I'd prefer having a small but tangible influence on a small but select web audience than a completely negligible influence on a mass print audience.

Tom, Monday, 13 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

'Print pays a lot more' - and that is the only thing anybody needs to know. 'No man but a blockhead'

dave q, Monday, 13 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

Blockhead = me x 100000000000000

mark s, Monday, 13 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

But 'a lot more' still = 'a lot less than most office jobs'

Tom, Monday, 13 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

Tom E: 'decide not to read'? That makes it sound like the default condition is reading, which you have to make an effort to avoid. I'm afraid that with me and magazines, the default condition is Not Reading, and reading is the thing for which I have to make an effort.

the pinefox, Monday, 13 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

I think Tom is totally on the money here, especially with his last sentence, which is pretty much how I feel.

Newspaper columnists, of course, have much less influence than they think they do, and most of them are prepared to fiddle with the facts to fit better into their own spin - the suspicious claims by the Rees- Mogg coterie of a rural majority in support of hunting come to mind. I cannot recall any columnist seriously altering my opinion on anything, though there have been marginal shifts within an opinion I'd already set myself influenced by reading newspaper articles. I'm certainly far more likely to have my mind changed by this forum these days than by reading anything in print.

Robin Carmody, Monday, 13 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

Having Your Mind Changed: Classic Or Dud?

the pinefox, Monday, 13 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

(if you didn't like it before) Having Your Mind Changed About Hip-Hop By Ethan: Classic.

(if you did like it before) Having Your Mind Changed About UK Garage By The Pinefox: Dud.

(whatever you thought before) Having Your Mind Changed *Entirely* By A Newspaper Article: Dud.

Robin Carmody, Tuesday, 14 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

What if ethan wrote the newspaper article?

Nick, Wednesday, 15 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

Re having your mind changed by a newspaper article - ONE newspaper article, maybe a bit silly, but if you get confronted with some facts that demolish your assumptions and you still don't change your mind even a little, then you're not only a dud but potentially dangerous

dave q, Wednesday, 15 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

i want to change someone's mind about hiphop, where do i sign up? pinefox, that run dmc offer is still up, just so you know.

ethan, Wednesday, 15 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

i change my mind with every post i read: but that is because i am learning to "pull" (ps i am a virgin)

mark s, Wednesday, 15 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

Sign up to the Guardian, Ethan. Even if you didn't change anyone's mind, we all know you'd be their first decent music writer ...

Robin Carmody, Wednesday, 15 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-two years ago) link

two years pass...
this reminds me of a recent david thompson essay in a long-lost (by me) issue of sight & sound where he talked of american cinema as a type of weather.

cozen (Cozen), Sunday, 14 March 2004 20:44 (nineteen years ago) link

When I look back to the original question it seem to me that one of the things that is being asked is "Who sets the news agenda?" Why does a piece of 'soft' news i.e 'launch of Bridget Jones diary' spawn a piece of 'hard' news, "the American mind-set is over-optimistic"?
Partly , I think , it's simply a question of competition. The rise of cable TV?CNN/internet news have meant that TV news programmes are far more competitive about viewing figures than they were and like to use examples from the world of show-business to draw viewers to watch 'hard' news shows. My favourite example of this is the business page of British tabloids (actually, and broadsheets) Even the dullest story about profits warnings at EMI or the rise of i-pods will always be illustrated with a picture of Robbie Williams or Beyonce rather than any of the principal characters involved.

winterland, Monday, 15 March 2004 10:43 (nineteen years ago) link

That trend annoys me no end. Not cause it's populist - just cause it's so lazy looking. See also: every other feature about employment being illustrated with a picture of David Brent.

N. (nickdastoor), Monday, 15 March 2004 10:53 (nineteen years ago) link

"Madrid bomb blast" was illustrated in one of the papers yesterday with a picture of David Beckham. I think though, if you were writing about employment law or business news for a tabloid you'd argue it's neceessary to get people interested.

winterland, Monday, 15 March 2004 10:56 (nineteen years ago) link

"Ooh - a picture of Patsy from Ab Fab swigging champagne - must read this article on alcoholism".

N. (nickdastoor), Monday, 15 March 2004 11:02 (nineteen years ago) link

Martin Bashir!

run it off (run it off), Monday, 15 March 2004 11:05 (nineteen years ago) link

one month passes...
You can almost look at it the way you can look at, say, a satellite map of atmospheric conditions. I mean, you can look down on Ireland and say there is a large dense cloud of high culture moving towards the country or moving away from the country, and it’s as explicit and as homogeneous as that for you, it seems.

Brian Friel to Laurence Finnegan, 1986

the finefox, Wednesday, 12 May 2004 14:09 (nineteen years ago) link

nineteen years pass...

Seemed like the thread for this young person:

As culture writers or people who work in the media industry broadly I do think we need to read the room and discard talking about an artists latest project when crimes against humanity are unfolding like this

— Jason Okundaye (@jasebyjason) February 12, 2024

xyzzzz__, Monday, 12 February 2024 12:47 (one week ago) link

i'm not sure what you mean by posting that, but it does seem to me that we're long past the hashtag-end-genocide point where any particular crime against humanity has been reduced to (or maybe subsumed into) a discursive unit that functions identically to the more mundane topics that circulate in the media ecosystem. and that the tools of journalists or "culture writes" are totally inadequate to "take a stand" and in fact mostly just reproduce the dominant ideology. so if the past twenty years has seen an endless succession of overlapping atrocities, that some people's less-than-human status turns out to mean more than others is a depressing reflection of something that's endemic to the regime of global capital, that is happily explained away as the cost of doing business, and which, yeah, our news media won't face directly because of how it's designed

budo jeru, Monday, 12 February 2024 16:31 (one week ago) link

I think you can talk about multiple things at once. We keep living even as the disaster happens around us, no?

Culture writing (and writing in general, at it's best) was where violence and atrocity could more than intrude, we should write and read it as a way to talk about the many disasters.

I guess it was the separation that I was reacting against.

xyzzzz__, Monday, 12 February 2024 18:07 (one week ago) link

I like how suggestive and potentially fertile the thread title is compared to how narrow and specific the OP and ensuing discussion were. Culture is far larger and more multifarious than

a slot on Newsnight, or a G2 cover story, or maybe even (if it's eg. the death of Diana) a special issue of a journal.

Culture surrounds us in all our social environment and we carry it with us even alone in the middle of a desert, yet it is made up of billions of tiny condensed particles and constantly shifts and changes its shape according to the vagaries of wind and chance, like a billowing cloud. To me that's one sweet metaphor just begging to be enlarged upon.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Monday, 12 February 2024 18:19 (one week ago) link


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