Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hey! Watch as I make a sweeping generalization!

On the latest Culture Gabfest podcast they took on the topic of a Kurt Andersen Vanity Fair piece about how styles haven't changed in the last twenty years, which they all pretty well summarily dismissed. There were nuggets of worthwhile argumentation, they conceded, but they proceeded to pick apart all the things that had changed that he conveniently overlooked in the essay.

I can't speak to the piece, having not finished reading it, but what they mentioned about it on the show made me think of this general statement about making general statements about society and culture: There's too much to society and culture for any generalization not to be wildly inaccurate; only by focusing on very specific elements can there be any accuracy, but of course that is not a general statement.

I can only conclude that such arguments, either consciously or unconsciously, are offered not to be persuasive but to spur reactions. It's not that there won't be those who already agree, but they were not swayed; the piece might be an effort by the author to find others who share his myopic opinion about the topic while at the same time hoping to elicit responses to some level of the contrary.

In this era of so much being available that a more cogent argument where it isn't filled with improperly drawn sweeping conclusions would only drift into the din of what doesn't get discussed?

In short, have we, through our consumption, made it such that only by making something controversial in some way it can draw any attention?

And is that really different than how it was twenty years ago?

Well, of course it would make for a dull debate on the show if they picked topics where they merely sat there and said, "This is good and well done, with nothing about which we can disagree."

Heck, the only way one can draw some comments by what one posts is to essentially throw down the gauntlet with an opinion with which others can vehemently disagree. Much as we want a world where others agree with us, we have no time to acknowledge when that is the case.

That argument is 95% bullshit. On purpose.


I do think there's plenty of ways the world really hasn't changed from two decades ago, but that's more a statement about my ability to remember how things were then and recognize the unchanged elements than it is any sort of statement about the way things actually are now as opposed to then.

It is the curse of being old enough to have been an adult then and still be alive now.


  1. Wait, it IS "Vanity Fair" we're talking about, right? A complete exercise in bullshit. ;-) The author was merely writing for the audience who buys that crap and thinks it's interesting. Such a waste of wood pulp, which could be better applied to printing extra issues of "Problems of Communism" or "Foreign Affairs Quarterly." ;-)

  2. Amazing article and very interesting stuff you got here! I definitely learned a lot from reading through some of your earlier topics as well and decided to drop a comment on this one!


So, what do you think?