- Thomas Wolfe
Yes, I use the quote on my sidebar, but I’ve the notion that nowadays ‘culture’ is seen as a free-for-all rather than some elevated phenomenon – what do I mean, ‘the notion’, it’s fact. Kenneth Clark isn’t explaining civilisation on the box to tweedy pipe-smokers and tweedy pipe-smokers no longer inhabit TV studios discussing ‘culture’ – although, as I think I’ve said before, I’d actually welcome the return of snooty culture to the idiot box. Sure, we have The Culture Show, and that’s all well and good up to a point, the point being that they still miss out on the opportunity to discuss fantastic music/film/literature, which translates as Things I Love. And Mark Kermode winds me up. And musically they’re so retarded. At this point I should state that we only have five channels, and whilst BBC’s iPlayer allows for catch-up sessions, I’m still old-fashioned enough to believe that Culture should be covered more in the terrestrial transmissions.
But whose Culture? Everything is Culture now, from soaps, to ‘reality’ TV...and ‘Coast’ (Countryside Culture is big on the Beeb, and I’d rather that than ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’, thanks). Yes, Culture...ah...the Greeks...Renaissance Art...Classical Music...but there is more, so much more, of course, and before you know it you’re forced into an either/or position, which is wrong. Sadly, the old High/Lowbrow debate of the 90s saw many falling into that trap, the one of having to defend Dylan as a ‘real’ poet and pit him against Shelley, or the Teletubbies against Tolstoy (I don’t think that ever happened, actually). Either/or is typical of our class-bound society. You’re ‘educated’ or ‘thick’, ‘posh’ or ‘prole’ and so on. In the race to categorise everyone, there are too many losers, and besides that, too little thought given to actually studying what people are like and how their cultural choices may vary. Whilst generalisations often contain truths, we all know how dangerous they can be. All us of, that is, except idiots born in council houses.
Years ago I wrote about Culture As Religion, and yes, I know it wasn’t a new idea then. In the absence of God, what do we ‘believe’ in? Consumer culture has made many of us into people who actually believe in what we buy, as symbols of our inner selves. This was most strongly felt regarding music when you bought a record. You can’t put your arms around an MP3. I recall walking the town with an album under my arm, not in a bag, signalling what kind of fellow I was. Isn’t that how Keith Richards and Jagger met? Today this is no longer possible. We display a penchant for music, locked into the private world of the MP3 player, without revealing what we actually adore. This is a good thing, probably, because if it were possible to display what we were playing (I’m imagining a projected playlist screened on our clothing) I might go on a killing spree.
Remember going into a friend’s room and looking at their books and records? How revealing it all was. Perhaps you would spot a surprise, a record they might have done better to hide. But that surprise served to remind you that, yes, like you, they’re human after all, rather than a walking manifestation of Perfect Taste. And there was the thrill of seeing things that you also possess and cherish. The equivalent now is posting clips on the social network, I suppose, although that lacks the truly personal aspect of entering someone’s physical domain, of course. Some people, I note, do spend a lot of time posting their cultural signifiers; I mean an awful lot of time. Most of them live in the Outer Hebrides. This is good, though, technology allowing them to connect.
So I’m sat around chatting with friends the other day, all of whom happened to have got this far without worshipping, or being desperate to acquire, all the common consumer items which symbolise Success in our wonderful society. No, they’re not commune-dwelling anarcho-hippies (as if I’d let that smelly bunch into my house!), just living for something other than all that. It felt good to share this attitude, although none of us, I’m sure, would turn down a cool million and everything it would buy. But there’s the rub. I’ve only got to where I am today (lowly material status) by being clueless career-wise, ‘uneducated’, and lazy, it’s true. And yet, I still believe in Art and Creativity as a more sound basis for Belief than just buying Stuff. You know the stuff...stuff that represents nothing more than your ability to afford it. I think the other stuff does enrich lives, and more people would benefit from getting it, just as they would benefit from finding their creative selves.
One of those friends got into The Bunker. I watched him like a hawk, fearful that he might try and pocket my Olympia Press ‘Soft Machine’, ‘The Third Mind’, or worse still, one of the few remaining copies of ‘Points Of Departure’ (ha-ha). I’d protect some of my possessions as fiercely as others would their costly homes. I like to think they’re actually worth more although, sadly, together they wouldn’t fetch as much as a three-bedroomed house. If they did, I guess that would be a true test of my devotion to Culture, wouldn’t it?