WHEN people try to destroy my argument about a crisis in culture, one of their most common tacks is to suggest that I’m describing just the fading of an old world — classical music, literary writing, print journalism and so on — that is being eclipsed as a new, more democratic pop-culture-driven world rises, bestowing its blessings on all of us.
But what I talk about, here and in my book Culture Crash, is an economic/ technological/ sociological cock-up that does not discriminate by genre lines or by high/ low delineations. The latest evidence of this is an online rant of a club deejay. Here’s a bit from “The Dead Art of DJing” which shows the coming of the winner-take-all economy that’s reshaped other fields:
Timberg quotes an excerpt in particular ...
Do you realize that, right now, at this very moment, technology could completely replace the human DJ? Somebody could create a program that tracks the itunes and Beatport charts, then searches the artist and song titles in Soundcloud, downloads 128bpm remixes, analyzes the wave form for appropriate mixing points, and then blends the tracks together live, for the enjoyment of the dancefloor. I’m not talking about the future. This could be done NOW.
Of course John Sousa predicted that with the rise of the machines humans would be less and less likely to participate as amateurs when machines could mediate the experience of music for them. His polemic was predicated on the worry that if you lost the amateurs then the bifurcation of musical culture would be into the absolutes of makers and consumers with no gradation of a middle ground. It might be Sousa was at least partly right about that more than a century ago. Still, the ascendancy and obsolescence of a particular medium seems to come with the territory regardless of formal or technical innovation.
Thus, we can pivot to Terry Teachout on what he considers the given observable decline of both theater and the mostly given decline of the novel in comparison to the film as the dominant mode of artistic expression. It's not that people can't keep writing novels, it's that the novel as the medium of serious cultural debate and exploration has been supplanted by film and it would be silly to presume that the novel will regain its former pride of place.
For Americans under the age of thirty, film has largely replaced the novel as the dominant mode of artistic expression, just as the compact disc has become the “successor technology” to the phonograph record. No novel by any Gen-X author has achieved a fraction of the cultural currency of, say, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Movies like this are to today’s twenty- and thirtysomethings what The Catcher in the Rye and On the Road were to the baby boomers….
We are not accustomed to thinking of art forms as technologies, but that is what they are–which means they can be rendered moribund by new technological developments, in the way that silent films gave way to talkies and radio to TV. Well into the eighteenth century, for example, most of the West’s great storytellers wrote plays, not novels. But the development of modern printing techniques made it feasible for books to be sold at lower prices, allowing storytellers to reach large numbers of readers individually; they then turned to writing novels, and by the twentieth century the theatrical play had come to be widely regarded as a cultural backwater. To be sure, important plays continue to be written and produced, but few watch them (unless they are made into movies). [emphasis added]
Four years later, I became the Journal‘s drama critic, which doubtless struck a great many people as condign punishment for publishing so grave a heresy. But it never occurred to me when I wrote “Tolstoy’s Contraption” that anyone would ignore that last sentence. My point wasn’t that plays were no longer worth writing, or that all new plays were bad: it was that in a mass culture, live theater is not a major player in the cultural conversation, simply by virtue of the fact that comparatively few people see it. To write a play is not an efficient way of attracting the attention of very large numbers of people, and the novel (by which I mean serious literary fiction, not The Da Vinci Code), it seems to me, is headed in the same direction.
The art form doesn't exactly die in the sense that nobody does it anymore, but it dies in the sense of no longer being the dominant, prevailing iteration of cultural exploration.