The End of American Culture 1925-1995
by rich kolker, Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 04:44:01 AM EDT
Ben Franklin once said "We've spawned a new race here... Rougher, simpler; more violent, more enterprising; less refined. We're a new nationality. We require a new nation." But Franklin wasn't really telling the truth, not then, and not for most of the history of this country. We were too big for that. There was a Southern culture and a New England culture and a Western Culture and dozens more, restricted by the difficulty of travel and the minimum of communication among regions of the country, even of individual states. This lasted until the invention of Radio.
With radio, and the creation of the NBC networks (Red and Blue) and CBS, for the first time you could say the United States had a national culture. We listened to Jack Benny and Bob Hope, Edward R. Murrow and H.V. Kaltenborn. Television continued the trend, and at a time in the middle to late 20th Century a Walter Cronkite could get discouraged about Vietnam and the nation moved. Johnny Carson could joke about a toilet paper shortage and one could occur.
But, as the saying goes, that was then, and we are now in the post-mass media age. There is again, no American culture, but the divisions now are not regional but political, age group, interest group and a dozen others. We can choose to get our news from Fox or CNN or Rush or AAR or some web site. Our entertainment provides a choice of hundreds of TV channels, DVDs, video games, IPods and the ever more ubiquitous web. If politicians wonder why the voters seem scattered all over the place it is because their sources of information and entertainment have divided them, rather than bringing them together. There are very few things that bring us together any more. Certainly not television.
And so ends the shot reign of an American Culture in the United States. 1925-1995 or so it will say on the tombstone.
The political fallout of this? It will become even harder to communicate with voters (and non-voters) divided more and more into cohort groups that don't communicate across group boundaries. All politics will become not consensus building but coalition building, either within the two parties, or there will be created new parties to reflect the specific desires of the many subcultures. All that is holding the latter up right now, whether you consider it a good or bad thing, is habit and our electoral system,which is biased to create and support a two party system. But that is changing. And some smart politician will realize it. The splintering of the short-lived American culture makes it inevitable.