In COM 270 Visual Rhetoric, we read Michael Kimmelman’s really smart piece on globalization and the creation and contestation of culture. Now it’s time to respond.
First, here are some key excerpts from the article as I see them:
- Culture . . . is a suite of traits we inherit and also choose to disavow or to stress. It consists in part of the arts. It is something made and consumed, in socially revealing ways. When Mats Nilsson, a Swedish product-design strategist for Ikea, not long ago told The New York Times that he loves to browse for handmade baskets in Spain, bird cages in Portugal, brushes in Japan and hardware on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, he was creating his own cultural identity out of the bric-a-brac of consumer choices made available by the globalizing forces of economic integration. Bricolage, it’s called. Anyone may now pick through the marketplace of global culture.
- (T)he fact that everybody from Yerevan to Brasilia, Jakarta to Jerusalem, knows songs by the Black Eyed Peas or wears New York Yankees caps doesn’t mean that culture is the same everywhere.
- What’s new is the power available to wide swaths of the populace, thanks above all to cheap travel and the Web, to become actors in the production and dissemination of culture, not simply consumers. A generation or more ago, aside from what people did in their home or from what’s roughly called folk or outsider art, culture was generally thought of as something handed down from on high, which the public received.
- Today (culture is) made and distributed in countless different ways, giving not just governments and institutions but nearly everyone with access to the Web the means to choose and shape his or her own culture, identity, tribal fidelities — and then spread this culture, via Youtube or whatever else, among allies (and enemies) everywhere, a democratizing process. The downside of this democratization is how every political niche and fringe group has found a culture via the Web to reinforce its already narrow views, polarizing parts of society despite the widened horizon. Neo-Nazis across borders now bond around cultural artifacts available over the Internet. Democrats and Republicans move further apart, digesting news from their own cable network shows.
- Instead culture (often unconsciously) identifies crucial ruptures, rifts, gaps and shifts in society. It is indispensable for our understanding of the mechanics of the world in this respect, pointing us toward those things around us that are unstable, changing, that shape how we live and how we treat one another. If we’re alert to it, it helps reveal who we are to ourselves, often in ways we didn’t realize in places we didn’t necessarily think to look.
- Culture is something we propagate but also something naturally there, existing in and around us, which makes us who we are but which may rise to the level of our consciousness only when one of those ruptures or rifts appear — when some little psychic clash happens between it and our more or less unconscious sense of the everyday world.
Your task: Choose one of these excerpts and write a brief (350 words) account that either confirms or rebuts Kimmelman’s argument. For example, for the excerpts about culture’s role revealing rifts in society, you might write about street art or graffiti you have encountered on your travels and what that artistic expression might mean or reveal. I might write about seeing New York Yankees hats all over Ireland and what that tells me about Ireland’s relationship with or perceptions of the United States, and perhaps about the power of brands and how brands work. (Unfortunately, I saw a lot of Red Sox hats, too.)