Join 3,441 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


He fills his head with culture. He gives himself an ulcer.
March 25, 2009 8:05 AM   Subscribe

Are we living in an age of "Mass Intelligence" or "Commodified Intelligence"? The Economist's Intelligent Life spin-off debates whether the masses are "wising up" rather than "dumbing down" or if, in fact, we have ended up consuming rather than appreciating culture.
posted by patricio (39 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've never really understood the difference between "consuming" culture and "appreciating" culture - and any time someone has tried to explain the difference, it has always come off as very classist to me. Reading these articles doesn't really help matters, especially with the very over the top images they are using to illustrate them.
posted by strixus at 8:19 AM on March 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Interesting debate. If I had to choose, "Mass Intelligence" gets it mostly right, "Commodified Intelligence" is less convincing. In any case it's a logical fallacy to split these into two camps, these articles could be easily merged into one - make the positive points in the first article but temper with qualifiers from the second.
posted by stbalbach at 8:21 AM on March 25, 2009


It's very simple strixus. I appreciate, you consume.

See! Easy!
posted by The Whelk at 8:21 AM on March 25, 2009 [14 favorites]


Oh, dear. Things change. Best get to battle stations.
posted by setanor at 8:22 AM on March 25, 2009


Haha. I think The Whelk has it right.
posted by molecicco at 8:26 AM on March 25, 2009


Some years ago David Brooks wrote about a similar phenomenon in the Atlantic. He visited Princeton University to check in on the future leaders of the country, and found them efficient, disciplined and encyclopaedic in their interests. In a word, they were extraordinary. And in another word—good. When they’re in charge, he wrote, “it will be a good country, though maybe not a great one.”

Yes, David Brooks, the finely-honed arbiter of all fine distinctions between mere plebeian "goodness" and Olympian "greatness."
posted by blucevalo at 8:32 AM on March 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


How do you know when you're done appreciating?
posted by The Whelk at 8:34 AM on March 25, 2009


This is an Age of Commodified Intelligence, a time of conspicuously consumed high culture in which intellectual life is meticulously measured and branded.

Boy, how little fucking faith in one's fellow-humans does one have to be to assume that all their consumption is for the purposes of conspicuousness? What kind of insecure does one have to be to assume that learning things is primarily for the purposes of flaunting things?

In truth, we live far from the age of mass intelligence. As Shakespeare said and Faulkner later echoed, “it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Hey, look at that, you read Macbeth once. Way to apply a character's beautifully-phrased moment of self-centered nihilism to the kids on your lawn.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:43 AM on March 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


A translation of the second article:

I get it dude... you don't. You are not a unique snowflake who is deeply in touch with the finer things in life. I am. So much so that I'm aware of how out of touch everyone else is in their posturing, as I'll expressing in this missive, which will in turn be put down by a snarky commenter on metafilter. Hipsterdom rolls it's eyes onward.
posted by phrontist at 8:45 AM on March 25, 2009


so we're all agreed then? mass intelligence it is?
posted by molecicco at 8:51 AM on March 25, 2009


I liked the article better that says everyone else is totally dumb
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:53 AM on March 25, 2009


The Whelk - for me, that cartoon was Commodified Intelligence, consuming because you think you should. The folks who spend their holidays and savings to visit lectures and museums, as mentioned in the first article, appear to be people who appreciate art and want to better understand it.

They're two different notions - going to college, getting good marks, progressing along the dotted path towards being a Proper Adult, versus seeking knowledge because you enjoy it, because it's exciting and interesting. Of course there aren't set lines defining each camp - someone may go to college because they think they should, and they end up realizing that Impressionism is fantastic, and they actually enjoy their art history course. That person may trudge through the rest of their classes, but there was a bright moment of realization and appreciation.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:56 AM on March 25, 2009


Jade Goody.
posted by Artw at 8:58 AM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Boy, how little fucking faith in one's fellow-humans does one have to be to assume that all their consumption is for the purposes of conspicuousness?

You don't have to withdraw faith, you just have to believe in our ability to be skillfully conspicuous, wasn't there a link to a guardian article a few weeks ago about how most people choose books based on how clever it would make them look to prospective dates? Why wouldn't a cleverly seeded piece of misdirection doesn't count as intelligence anyway?.......
posted by doobiedoo at 9:04 AM on March 25, 2009


......ooops don't know how that stray doesn't popped in there.
posted by doobiedoo at 9:12 AM on March 25, 2009


I've never really understood the difference between "consuming" culture and "appreciating" culture

I remember back in the day when this was called "art vs. entertainment." See if you can possibly guess which social class was looking at the "art" and which was looking at the "entertainment?"
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:13 AM on March 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've never really understood the difference between "consuming" culture and "appreciating" culture

I remember back in the day when this was called "art vs. entertainment." See if you can possibly guess which social class was looking at the "art" and which was looking at the "entertainment?"


I remember an interview with Alan Moore where he notes the same dichotomy between those who look at "erotica" and those who look at "porn." Words are fun things, aren't they?
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:19 AM on March 25, 2009


Ha! I was just thinking about Alan Moore, Adam. Great minds think alike, and so do we.
posted by Mister_A at 9:25 AM on March 25, 2009


It's very simple strixus. I appreciate, you consume.

See! Easy!


See also:

You're a tourist. I'm a traveler.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:26 AM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


You don't have to withdraw faith, you just have to believe in our ability to be skillfully conspicuous, wasn't there a link to a guardian article a few weeks ago about how most people choose books based on how clever it would make them look to prospective dates?

NO. The article started with the observation: "According to a survey for the National Year of Reading, almost one in five people would read a book while waiting for their date to arrive in order to make a good impression."

Almost one in five. So less than 20%. And that's "while waiting for a date".

The article then continued on the basis that, if you had to choose a book to do so, what would you choose, and what do books others read say to you about character? None of this implies that most people chose books strictly to make an impression on others.

I found the MeFi thread depressing a little while before that where MeFites seemed to argue that nobody chooses a book to read on a bus because they want to, you know... read it.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:32 AM on March 25, 2009


Almost one in five. So less than 20%. And that's "while waiting for a date".

Damn, well thanks for checking my faulty memory! But I think part of my point still stands, for those who like to put their erudition on show, why doesn't that orchestration count as intelligence? Sometimes the window display of references is a person's most creative moment (can't say I've been absolutely free of that vanity myself) and if you were to argue for any sort of intelligence intrinsic to the socially networked, digital age it would have to be canny self promotion.
posted by doobiedoo at 9:52 AM on March 25, 2009


I confess. Yesterday I spent more than $400 on finger puppets at the unemployed philosopher store.
Buddha Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Dali Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Freud Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Frida Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Jung Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Kafka Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Lao-Tsu Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Monet Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Nietzsche Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Plato Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Schopenhauer Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Shakespeare Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Woolf Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Kant Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Mozart Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Austen Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Joyce Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Einstein Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Trotsky Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Mandela Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Che Guevara Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Puccini Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Axis of Evil Puppet Set, 1 @  $5.95; 
Tolstoy Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Gandhi Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Galileo Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Machiavelli Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Kierkegaard Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Axis of Evil III Puppet Set, 1 @ $14.95;
Foucault Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Hegel Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Benjamin Franklin Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Eleanor Roosevelt Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Tubman Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Lincoln Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Newton Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Marx Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Darwin Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
T. Roosevelt Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Edison Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Joan of Arc Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Washington Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Napoleon Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Curie Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Dostoevsky Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Spinoza Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Sholom Aleichem Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Queen Elizabeth Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Angel Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
Jefferson Puppet, 1 @  $5.95; 
 
Total in stock: $447.70
Coupon Discount: $22.38 
Shipping: $15.32 
Tax (GST): $27.78
I don't usually do this, but once I started I honestly couldn't stop - these were just the coolest things I have seen in a long time, and I had to own them. I had to Google a few of them to see if they were worthy enough to put in my shopping cart.

I am slightly choked, looking over the list now, that I didn't buy the "forgotten presidents" set, but when you are purchasing in this kind of volume I suppose it is understandable when things fall through the cracks.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:05 AM on March 25, 2009 [10 favorites]


Meatbomb, you have a video camera *and* an inexhaustible supply of philosopher finger puppets?

I think it's time you expanded into theater.
posted by The Whelk at 10:09 AM on March 25, 2009


You bought the Lao-Tsu puppet? What the hell is wrong with you?
posted by Mister_A at 10:13 AM on March 25, 2009


I guess you could ask, what if the second article is right, and all the statistics point to are the intersection between social expectations of erudition and diverse currents of free market provision (although whether that continues is another matter) and no one cares. In fact people enjoy showing off (the author's most credible reference seems to be facebook) more than they enjoy the cultural products themselves and are getting cleverer by dint of vanity rather than personal scholarship, what then? Who said anything about cleverness being about virtue anyway?

On a separate note I think Meatbomb's finally found a way to thank evolution for opposable thumbs.
posted by doobiedoo at 10:15 AM on March 25, 2009


I think it's the opposition between "consumption" and "appreciation" is an interesting idea, but to what extent is it really possible to actively "consume" culture and not get anything out of it? Even if you are only reading a particular book to be a poser, assuming the words have some impact on your brain there is likely to be some benefit to you (and possibly you might end up with an attractive date too...)
posted by patricio at 10:20 AM on March 25, 2009


I made my own "uncarved block" puppet. People are all WTF but they are not aligned with the Way.
posted by everichon at 10:25 AM on March 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wait, I'm confused. Which article supports keeping favorites, and which supports getting rid of favorites?
posted by slogger at 10:26 AM on March 25, 2009


@Meatbomb - thank you. I haven't laughed that hard in weeks - not snarky laughing either, but the real thing. That was truly awesome.
posted by PuppyCat at 10:35 AM on March 25, 2009


Don't mistake your finger for the moon.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:38 AM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think it's the opposition between "consumption" and "appreciation" is an interesting idea, but to what extent is it really possible to actively "consume" culture and not get anything out of it?

I think the two terms are used to distinguish between early adopters (the ones who find the cool stuff and determine what's high culture - they appreciate) and the followers (who think they're erudite because they're attending the same events as the early adopters - they consume). But the trouble is that there are certainly people among the early adopters who are cultural philistines nonetheless and there are people genuinely interested in learning among the followers.

(they're selling Picasso finger puppets at the National Gallery in London, btw)
posted by lucia__is__dada at 10:54 AM on March 25, 2009


I just googled

"solaris another poem there was a young man from nantucket I knew it I'm not marrying you"

and if I didn't get the desired result I hope someone knows what I was going for.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:08 AM on March 25, 2009


Damn you, Meatbomb. I had to Google those puppets, which made me start thinking about other things to buy that are both intellectual and silly. Long story short, I just spent $50 at Archie McPhee.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:23 AM on March 25, 2009


All I know is that there is a really annoying increasing trend in trend pieces.
posted by srboisvert at 11:45 AM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am poor but own (and read!) a lot of books that I buy off Amazon. I am also mildly reclusive, so people very seldom see my books. Where do I fit in?
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:03 PM on March 25, 2009


Well, in defense of the claim that people consume rather than appreciate culture, consider the museum.

When I lived in MN, I had an apartment across the street from the institute of art. Next to the awesome statues of gargoyles and angels and whatnot, there were signs, lots of signs. The signs advertised the newest technology that the museum was trying to use to make the art accessible, those portable electronic tour guides.

"2000 years of art in 30 second stops," or something very like it, was the tagline. I don't know how that could be construed as conducive to appreciation in any sense of the word. It seems quite plausible to compare it to gorging oneself on food rather than slowly, deliberately appreciating a meal. At the very least, that's how it was being advertised.
posted by voltairemodern at 1:12 PM on March 25, 2009


Meatbomb I think I love you.

Also, I'm glad others have been just as confused about this as I have. I honestly do think The Whelk snarked the nail on the head there. We want there to be a distinction simply so we can say we AREN'T those sorts of people who read books only Oprah tells them too (her name is in my spell checker, wtf) or who have never been to an opera because its not in English. Which is why I like pointing out the dirty, low brow, crude jokes in Shakespeare and reminding people that his stuff was NOT high drama of the time, it was for the poor bugger on a miserable day after work.
posted by strixus at 1:12 PM on March 25, 2009


I don't see anything about this on Wikipedia, so it's obviously not true!
posted by autodidact at 1:49 PM on March 25, 2009


Attending a performance of "The Rite of Spring" does no one harm.

I think a virgin gets killed. So, there's that.
posted by everichon at 2:13 PM on March 25, 2009


« Older We Got The Tweet: The Week's 50 Best Rock Star Twi...  |  Are you looking to review your... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments