Some Thoughts on Snippets from Caclini’s Hybrid Cultures

I have recently been paying close attention to US politics. More accurately: I have long paid close attention to US politics, but recent events have resulted in me spending an unhealthy amount of time and energy staying up to date on this roller coaster ride of an administration.

As I was trying to distract myself with the reading for this week, I grew listless as I trudged through Calclini’s theories on the hybrid of modernity and traditional culture. Then, at the end of Chapter 3, I found several digestible theory nuggets that I think have a lot of bearing on the current nature of things in this country.

To whit:

“Is it the basis of a democratic society to create conditions in which everyone has access to cultural goods … in order to understand the meaning conceived by the writer or the painter?” To I which I was tempted to reply: “Obviously!”

However, Calclini then goes on to astutely point out that “there is an authoritarian component in the desire that the interpretations of the receivers and the meaning proposed by the transmitter completely coincide.” I had never really considered this before, but it very much rang true for me.

I have recently been keeping tabs on the movie “Dear White People,” which currently only exists (publicly at least) as a trailer. The show is pretty clearly a “biting satire of racial politics” (in the words of Jada Yuan of New York Magazine). However, many members of the so-called “alt-right” have been taking the show’s content at face value, despite the fact that it satirizes precisely the kind of identity politics that that many of the alt-right claim to abhor (I am of the personal belief that the alt-right is totally based around a white identity politics, but I digress).

I am very much interested in living in an America where a movie like “Dear White People” doesn’t elicit the kind of reaction I have described. Is my desire for everyone to recognize this movie as satire “authoritarian?” At one point in my life, I would have been confident in our democratic traditions and the “moral arc of the universe” (to quote Martin Luther King) to make it so. In Calclini’s words, however, “differences based on inequality are not settled by formal democracy.” This is becoming increasingly apparent to me, as it seems that elections clearly have been exacerbating our cultural fault lines instead of “healing” them.

Caclini continues: “It must be asked if the predominant cultures … are capable only of reproducing themselves, or also creating the conditions whereby marginal, heterodox forms of art and culture are manifested and communicated.” Let’s hope it’s the latter.

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