Intercultural Society

11 November 2016

It is interesting that Raymond Williams creates a division between high class culture and lower class culture, suggesting that culture is ordinary, shared and common. If this is the case why does he emphasise a division in light of this concept? And if we all share a common culture can there be a division? It is difficult to understand the term culture. What is culture? Is it a utopian dream, is it a shared group of interests that bring a community together, or is it just simply a way of life? There are so many questions surrounding culture and its meaning.

Raymond Williams described culture as “maps of meaning through which the world is made intelligible”, whether we agree with this definition or not, he was right in saying that the term culture is one of the most “complicated words in the English language”; Culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language. This is so partly because of its intricate historical development {…} but mainly because it has now come to be used for important concepts in several distinct intellectual disciplines and in several distinct and incompatible systems of thought.

To formulate an essay entirely on cultures meaning would be extremely difficult due to its meaning being so vast and indescribable and would therefore not lead to any relevant conclusion. Culture has a paradigmatic complexity and it’s this that makes it so hard to analyse effectively. However, if you were to place a leading phrase in front of the word “culture” , a word that defines its disciplines, it becomes more identifiable; pop culture, oral culture and print culture.

Throughout this essay I will be mainly focusing on internet culture and will describe my understanding of the term and will address the key questions regarding the movement towards the internet revolution in terms of mass media. But before I discuss Internet culture it is imperative that I decipher the essence of mass culture and mass media. To understand the term “mass”, it is important to study Gustave Lebon. Although there have been many more recent theorists that have discussed the term “mass”; including Karl Max, John Stuart Mills and Mathew Arnold, Lebon’s theories on “mass” have pervaded disputes on the subject ever since.

A quote specifically that is questioned today is his warning that “the age we are about to enter will in truth be the era of crowds” ([1895] 1916, p. 3), at a time when working class parties were more present and when western societies were dealing with the growth of industrialisation and mass migration to popular cities. His book “La psychologie des foules” was cited for its treatise to crowds, however is much more about the advent of mass society in physiological terms. He discusses “contagion, loss of individuality, and regression to a more primitive mental state were his favourite terms”.

The reason for the book being described as a treatise for the mass is his connotation of crowd behaviour within a larger mass. For example Lebon quotes, “thousands of isolated individuals may acquire at certain moments, and under the influence of certain violent emotions — such, for example, as a great national event — the characteristics of a psychological crowd”. However, the mere coming together of a crowd is not sufficient enough to cause the disappearance of the conscious personality and to turn the feelings and emotions of a large group of people into synchronisation.

At the same time, a crowd may cause its members to all behave in a rebellious nature, causing a local uprising, as it develops into a mass movement. Lebon describes the immediate crowd and the scattered crowd to be generically similar, in terms of the impulses that its participants receive, most of these impulses only lasting for no more than a day and even “the more important ones scarcely outlive a generation” (1926, p. 167). It is important here to note the effect of mass media and communication. Lebon assigned the responsibility of the unpredictability of the public opinion to the newspapers.

Mass media such as newspapers act as a vehicle for the masses to exert influence on statesman whose fear of ever shifting public opinion is so great that the press becomes the “supreme guiding principle in politics” ([1896] 1926, p. 170) . Lebon sees everything and anything including culture, dragged down by mass media; “Contagion,” once having done its work among the lower classes, reaches the higher ones, so that in the end, “every opinion adopted by the populace always ends in implanting itself with great vigour in the higher social strata” ([1896] 1926, p. 46). Another theorist although overshadowed by Labon is Gabriel Tarde who has a less psychological and more sociological view of the effects of mass in society. The main question that he puts forward is what is it that unites a crowd of people “who do not come in contact, do not meet or hear each other; [but] are all sitting in their own homes scattered over a vast territory, reading the same newspaper? ” ([1898] 1969, p. 278).

Tarde came to the conclusion that the aspect that unites people from a variety of geographical locations lays “in their simultaneous conviction or passion and in their awareness of sharing at the same time an idea or a wish with a great number of other men [sic]” ([1898] 1969, p. 278). He argues that the concept of imitation does not arise from the interaction with other members of the public on the streets within your community but of a population who are all reading the same newspapers.

Without this mass readership Tarde argues that this mass public opinion could not exist on a large scale and could only exists within individual communities or within crowds limited to a range that one human voice can be heard. Perhaps this connotation reflects Williams theory that culture is ordinary in that he argues that culture is “not elitist and compartmentalized, but a continual negotiation of power via interactions, texts, and ideas” (http://cltrlstdies. logspot. com). Tarde looked upon the press medium as the major form of public communication, but never argues that this form of media could ever be a substitute to the informal discussions amongst families and neighbours. He does however look upon three other interventions, printing, the railroad and the telegraph, enabling the mass to come together more intensively and are “combined to create the formidable power of the press . . . hat prodigious telephone which has so inordinately enlarged the former audiences of orators and preachers”, therefore enabling all publicists and promoters to have leadership over the public.

It may seem that Tarde was echoing Lebon’s theory, but he certainly was not. Tarde was discussing a pluralistic society by describing the present as “the era of the public or publics”. He suggested that one cannot be part of more than one crowd at the same time, so that, “the gradual substitution of publics for crowds . . is always accompanied by progress in tolerance” ([1898] 1969, p. 281). He does however suggest that an over public can deteriorate into a crowd but that a “fall from public to crowd, though extremely dangerous, is fairly rare and] it remains evident that the opposition of two publics, always ready to fuse along their indistinct] . . . boundaries, is a lesser danger to social peace than the encounter of two opposing crowds”.

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