From Richard Hanania, On the Death of a Common American Culture.
The subtitle is “the meaning of cultural fragmentation and political centralization,” but I think it’s the opposite: power has become more fragmented and culture more centralized into hubs, franchises, and brands.
His overarching point seems wrong. I don’t see the fragmentation he is talking about. True, unlike the 20th century, no particular movie, album, or artist has as much relative dominance over the cultural landscape, but culture has become much more hegemonic in other ways, such as franchises, genres, and brands (e.g. Marvel movies, rap music, Mario, and Pokémon). The platinum-selling artists and A-list movie stars of the last century have been superseded and eclipsed by the huge popularity of e-celebrities such as Mr. Beast, Andrew Tate, Joe Rogan, the Logan brothers, and Elon Musk. Elon’s brand and name recognition is as big, if not bigger, as any pop celebrity of the last century. Same for Mr. Beast.
Unlike Tom Cruise and Will Smith of the last century, who were only good for putting butts in seats, today’s internet personalities also have a message, are making huge money in business, and can influence discourse, such as Elon Musk’s recent attacks against the ADL, which have gone viral.
But that doesn’t explain why you can’t simply check out anymore, which people in previous generations were more apt to do. I suspect that politics is filling the void left by the fragmentation of popular entertainment.
As I have argued, here, Congress and the executive branch have lost power over the past decade–peaking in 2010 with the ratification of Obamacare, which has been upheld numerous times by the Supreme Court–and this void is being filled by e-celebs/entrepreneurs, like the aforementioned individuals who have massive popularity on social media and cultural clout (even if they may not have power in a formal sense) and serve as surrogate leaders, as well as ‘new media’ (like Twitter), and also the courts (SCOTUS decisions which can shape policy, like over abortion and affirmative action).
Power is increasingly being concentrated between two major entities/spheres of influence: billionaires (but more specifically, tech billionaires) and the judicial branch, and away from politicians and academia. Conversely, the executive branch and Congress has only seen its power continue to diminish. Biden is powerless to do much about about Putin, and then his plan to forgive $400 billion in loans-–which although very unpopular with conservatives at least helped shore up some support among his young, college-educated base who otherwise have little enthusiasm for his otherwise ineffectual presidency-–was struck down in a 6-3 vote by the Supreme Court.
But this is the opposite of fragmentation. Instead of the old ‘town hall’ of civic participation, the town hall has moved online. The centralization of online society into major hubs, such as Elon’s Twitter account, which can create news cycles in its own right (such as Elon and the ADL), or Tucker’s interviews using Twitter as a platform after leaving Fox, are the modern equivalent of the town square. After Elon began tweeting about the ADL, everyone is talking about it all over Twitter and the internet overall (such as blogs, Facebook, podcasts, and Reddit), and the mainstream media too (CNN and Fox reporting on the ADL). Same’s for Tucker’s recent (and overall critically panned) interview that suggested Obama may have had a gay past, which is also all over the news. Tucker, by using Twitter, has far greater reach than he ever did on Fox. Another hub, but with a more left-wing bend, is Reddit, which has sorta replaced CNN, much like how Twitter has replaced Fox.
Same for ‘current things‘, which momentarily capture the collective attention of the public and are perpetuated by such hubs, whether it’s errant balloons, UFO sightings, or various shortages. Or the ability of such celebrities and pundits to collectively force successful boycotts on brands, whereas in the past such boycotts failed or were much shorter lived, which has had a major negative effect on the share prices of affected companies such as Target, Disney, and Anheuser Busch. All of this sounds like concentration or a monoculture of sorts to me.
Due to well-publicized fraud/scandals (such as faked data for major studies), concerns over student load debt and bubbles, and bias/indoctrination, academia has lost some cultural power too. As the public loses faith in ‘old’ cultural intuitions–be it academia, government, religion, etc.–the public has turned to guidance from these new, unelected online leaders, brands and pundits, like Bill Maher, Elon Musk, Tate, Babylon Bee ,etc. who form a cultural bulwark against the woke-left and left-wing academia.
Jon Stewart, true, was popular in the early 2000s, but he did not have the sort of Zeitgeist-shaping power as something like the Babylon Bee or Bill Maher. Similar to how Tucker’s show was relegated to Fox, The Daily Show was nevertheless isolated to its nightly weekday slot on Comedy Central, and that was it; it’s not the like the richest man in the world with the biggest media platform in the world was constantly giving it a boost, nor were the conditions at the time as conducive to the creation such a monoculture.