Alan Lomax was a folklorist who spent the majority of his life preserving small, local folklore traditions. He believed that globalization was encroaching on the traditions of countless subcultures and slowly but surely pushing them toward extinction. He was also, potentially, a manipulative, manifest destiny toting jack-ass, but that’s not important here.
The main crux of his beliefs were that the important local traditions and stories and music of Americana would be subsumed by the mass media and rendered meaningless. Instead of the local storyteller, we would listen to radio programmes. Instead of being taught by the local wise-man, we’d be taught by a Federal mandated school curriculum.
Cultural individuality would be gone and we would be left with one, big, happy social identity.
He was, for the most part, correct. Television and the Internet have become one of the primary means that we identify with one another. If I mention Grumpy Cat to an individual who lives on the opposite end of the county, he will know what I am talking about, even if we were born and raised in completely different regions and sub-cultures.
If I talk about Game of Thrones with someone, we will connect. If I mention Downton Abbey, we will bond. Culture is rapidly becoming defined by popular culture; state-wide, country-wide, world-wide. It is steadily and irrevocably moving toward this one, great global culture.
I don’t think this is a scary thing or an arguable thing. It’s just a thing; an inevitable consequence of a communication network that binds together every corner of the globe instantaneously.
What is interesting is the fact that there are still sub-cultures and sub-sub-cultures that are forming and blossoming within this new global identity. Even with the ability to unify everybody under one pop culture umbrella, there are still individuals who huddle under their interests and beliefs, separate and isolated from the main culture.
The difference between then and now is that these people have self-determined their own sub-culture. While in the olden days, Appalachian musics and stories were determined by geographic isolation and blues music and the Harlem Renaissance was determined by socio-economic political subjugation, the various sub-pop-culture interests and traditions that are starting to flower are solely determined by the interests and desires of the individual wishing to define themselves.
And that is not nearly as bad as Mr. Lomax feared.