art 2002/1

Mass Culture

by Lauras Bielinis

Už vadinamosios širmos nieko nėra tol, kol tu ten neįeisi tam, kad ten kažkas atsirastų.

A highly contentious concept of mass culture carries implications of the end of culture and its desecration, and, on the other hand, arguments on the emerging new paradigms and their manifestation in mass culture.
Classification of culture into mass, highbrow, ethnic (folklore) or classical is confusing though. Today mass culture is discussed off the platform mass versus elite, yet not always sufficiently defining the difference. It is being claimed that a special preparation or affiliation with a social or cultural group is needed to comprehend elite culture. By contrast, everyone and everywhere can use mass culture, which is more traditional and conservative. The classical culture by its impact of the perceiver is opposed to the first two. Yet mass culture increasingly tends to be identified with culture in general, and is no longer considered to be some specific manifestation of it. Copying and multiplication does not support a distinction between mass and elite culture, but is a condition of turning a work of art into kitsch.
Therefore mass culture should be defined as the power of cultural objects of total penetration into society. A discussion of culture is impossible without taking into account society’s communicative capacity.
The phenomenon of mass culture proliferates with the expansion of information channels. Mass communication in the technological and highly individualized society transforms culture into a hypertext, produced for the sole sake of “reading”. This highly cross-referential hypertext has no logical end, and its form dominates over idea.
This mass aspect of culture is often shocking and results in miscommunication and self-isolation, resulting in the 21st c., in a new tendency - a mass need for self-expression. Mass communication makes it easy, and the aggregate self-expression assumes a form of an “aestheticized” noise.
An increasing opposition of individual and mass stripps the concept of mass culture of the aspect of uniformity. Instead, it becomes an unorganized mass act of independent individuals, ethically equating egoistic co-existence of individuals, who perceive others as a backdrop for one’s personal cultural value.
Our existence becomes communication without an answer, reflection without a meaning. It means that mass culture and communication does not make our life more complex or vulgar, simply the reality is related with ever changing illusion moving from the experienced to the new.