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The Future’s Silver Lining: the Era of Popular Cultural Democracy

There are plenty of reasons to be depressed by the course of the future, but we’re not here to talk about that stuff.  Instead, we’re going to talk about one of the more positive aspects that modern technology has produced in the massive proliferation of content. It is now easier than ever to produce things and share them with the world. On the flipside, this also means that it’s easier than ever to consume stuff. It’s an interesting new paradigm, so let’s not waste time and jump into what it means.

First, let’s look at how this came about. The advent and growth of the internet have been a great boon to content creators getting their stuff out there. In addition, there are just so many tools for out there to make your work better. The result is that there’s more stuff, of a generally higher quality out there than at any previous point in history. Naturally, this means that one has ability to be far more selecting in what they consume.

This is the basis of cultural popular democracy, an interweaving web of content, its creators and consumers. Now there’s a reason why I use the term ‘popular cultural democracy’; the scale of things involved means that everyone’s interests can be satisfied in a more particular way. An example of what I mean can be seen with American Sci-fi TV in the 90s, also what one could call the Golden Age of Star Trek. While there were other shows, none of them had the same presence.* Star Trek is by and large a wonderful franchise but it’s also incredibly idiosyncratic,  there are only so many stories you can tell while staying true to what Star Trek is actually about. Now there’s a much wider range of visual scifi to enjoy, just not necessarily on tv anymore; although why that specifically is the case is a different discussion. The point being, there are others out there who like what you like and are making what you like. That’s only one aspect of it though, there’s also the actual consumption.

Up until now I’ve been primarily talking about content creators and the space they operate in, with only a tangential reference to people who actually consume all of this content. In short, everyone is a critic, everyone gets a vote. The phrase ‘everyone is a critic’ is often used disparagingly in reference to someone complaining unconstructively or by as a defense by those who are unwilling to accept the imperfections in their work. Here it simply means that everyone has a voice that can be heard, every view, every comment, every favorite, every retweet, share, reblog…it all matters. You no longer just support something by ‘voting with your dollars’ you do so by the sheer act of consumption.**

The biggest problem with this setup is that like anything that invites mass participation is that people can be terrible. In fact the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory and the past few months** have shown that people are in fact terrible. On the flip side, things like Patreon show that many people are in fact awesome. The quality of people isn’t quite the issue at hand though, the issue is criticism. It’s important for two reasons. First, nothing is perfect, there’s always room for improvement and refinement. Second, criticism is a way to talk about this stuff in an intelligent manner that pushes for improvement; everything also has its merits after all. Either extreme is unhelpful, although I imagine having fanbovys is a lot better than having trolls and haters.

If it wasn’t clear by now, this system is ultimately a net positive but it’s also a precarious one. This is part of the reason that issues such as net neutrality and cheap high speed internet matter.

This brings me to my last point, even if it is a bit tangential: the problematic aspects of media. I’m going to start by just linking you to this blog post, because it says what I would say but a lot better.  Go ahead and read it, it’s not long and I’ll wait.

Done reading? Cool. Now with that in mind, I’ll add to it. In general, the things that you love are the things that you want to talk about, and the natural conclusion of these talks is criticism. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s how things improve. Furthermore, this isn’t a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with this. Content creators and their work isn’t immune from criticism.

Well that’s all I got for this week. Next week is a Solforge draftcap. Till next time.

 

*The only big thing I can think of that was concurrent is Babylon Five, which had a terrible airing history. Everything else I know of lasted for 1 season. You could make a case for X Files but that’s still only two-ish choices so it doesn’t really disprove my point.  Not to mention that given how these series have become cult favorites, it’s not out of the question to speculate that if the internet had been around when they aired, word of mouth might have kept them alive longer.

**This isn’t entirely true. Torrents were used as market research to determine which anime to dub. This isn’t terribly relevant since I’m not really talking about corporations.

***I’m not just referring to Gamergate here; a bit more anecdotally is PewDiePie disabling comments on his stuff cause of abuse also comes to mind.

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