Home > Life in General > The tooth fairy and the traditionality of modernity

The tooth fairy and the traditionality of modernity

February 15th, 2014

Salon magazine reports another instance of CP Snow’s observation that all ancient traditions date from the second half of the 19th century. This time, it’s the Tooth Fairy. As you would expect, the Tooth Fairy turns out to be a codification and modification of a bunch of older local practices, many involving a mouse or rat.

This seemed like a good time to rerun one of my posts that stirred up plenty of trouble at the time, making the point that we are “now living in a society that’s far more tradition-bound than that of the 19th Century, and in some respects more so than at any time since at least the Middle Ages”.

I’ll just add that CP Snow was writing in the 1950s, pretty much equidistant between the late 19th century and the present day, strengthening my observation that the “invention of tradition” is now something of a traditional concept (though the phrase itself, due to Hobsbawm and Ranger, is a mere 30 years old).

As was pointed out in the comments to my karate post, the observation that most traditions are invented is getting somewhat traditional itself, going back as it does to the exposure of the Donation of Constantine as a forgery.

So maybe it’s time to turn all this around, and make the point that we are now living in a society that’s far more tradition-bound than that of the 19th Century, and in some respects more so than at any time since at least the Middle Ages.

The traditionality of modernity

It’s striking, if you’re not aware of it already, to observe that Christmas, as we now know it, was invented in the 20 years or so between 1840 and 1860, However, what is even more striking that it’s barely altered in the succeeding 150 years. Even the complaints haven’t changed in decades.

And what’s true of Christmas is true of most of the favourite examples of invented tradition. Clan tartans were invented out of whole cloth (as it were), as soon as the actual clans had been destroyed by the Clearances, but this process was pretty much complete by 1850, and the system is now as inflexible as if the Scots wha’ wi’ Wallace bled had done so in defence of a dress code. Moreover, at 150 years or more of age, these traditions really can claim to be ancient (at least in the eyes of a non-indigenous Australian).

A variety of cultural niches, once subject to the cycles of fashion, seem now to have been filled once and for all. Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean have all been dead for decades, but all are more instantly recognisable than any putative successor.

More significant institutions show the same kind of stability. Political systems and national boundaries are becoming more stable over time, not less. The collapse of the Soviet Empire led to the breakup of some federal states, but nothing like the wholesale resurgence of irredentist claims predicted by many.

One obvious factor assisting all this is technology. Just as printing has fixed languages once and for all, radio, TV and recorded music and video have a powerful effect in fixing cultural traditions of all kinds. Of course, this is the opposite of the usual story in which technology drives us to a postmodern condition of constant change. But that’s enough for me. It’s time to see what’s on at the (75-year-old) Commonwealth Games.

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  1. peter
    February 15th, 2014 at 18:16 | #1

    Recalling my reading of anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss – The Raw and the Cooked – he said something to the effect that tribal myths in the oral re-telling went full circle over six generations such that meanings became their opposite in that time frame. Interesting stuff, interesting guy but it was a long time ago and it may not fit your xmas example.

  2. paul walter
    February 15th, 2014 at 19:20 | #2

    With the “invention of tradition” comes, “the death of cultural memory”.

  3. February 15th, 2014 at 20:23 | #3

    Pr Q said:

    This seemed like a good time to rerun one of my posts that stirred up plenty of trouble at the time, making the point that we are “now living in a society that’s far more tradition-bound than that of the 19th Century, and in some respects more so than at any time since at least the Middle Ages”.

    The cultural conservatism of the 19th C was largely a reaction to the 18th C “shock of the new”, massive societal upheavals (land enclosures, Gin Lane urban ghettos, Dark Satanic Mills) and associated political revolutions (US and France). Sensible people wanted to take a breather from radical change.

    Many of the 19th C “invented traditions” were not fabricated out of whole cloth, they were “repros” of medieval courtly myths and folk customs, elegantly re-packaged and diligently propagated by the 19th C Romantic poets (Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, Shelley) and pre-Raphaelite artists. Indeed most 19th C European artists seemed to have some sort of obsession with pre-modern folk cultural traditions, no doubt related to the growth of nationalism.

    What is really striking is that most of what we regard as traditional verities received their imprimatur as late as the 50s-60s. The era of Ike, Macmillan & Menzies was one of generally buttoned down “organization man” behaviour :

    family values (the womens magazine endorsed Baby Boom),
    religious observance (think of the post-war building boom in dreadfully designed churches) and
    patriotism (the Coronation, the Draft, most cabinets could have doubled as RSL/VFW branches).

    One cannot deny that late 20th C attempts to over-turn cultural tradition did have some lasting “successes”. The seventies “Me Decade” saw the genesis of the egotistic zeitgeist, which was certainly a dramatic break with the altruistic tradition that stretched back through time immemorial. In particular, out-of-wedlock births have lost the sting of illegitimacy, at least in the under-class. The white working class is definitely “coming apart” relative to the high degree of integration it presented in the fifties and sixties. Although even a cultural conservative like me is prepared to celebrate the legal emancipation of women, coloreds and gays.

    Nonetheless there is something of a neo-traditionalist revival in the post-modern era, at least in the respectable middle-class. The experiment with cultural constructivism has pretty much exhausted itself, particularly as baby boomers age and more or less come to their conservative senses. There has been a general decline in creativity in arts and non-IT sciences since the mid-seventies which naturally leads to strengthened antiquarian sympathies. And none of us are getting any younger.

    In retrospect the high tide of post-modern liberal fashionable constructivism flowed with the first generation of the “Sexual Revolution” (roughly mid-sixties through mid-nineties) which saw a pretty determined effort by radical liberals to overturn key aspects of personal traditions, particularly family structure. (In Asia this fashionable constructivism took a sinister turn with Maoist Cultural Revolution and Khmer Rouge Year Zero, genocidal attempts to annihilate political and professional traditions, particularly state structure.)

    Fortunately the tsunami of fashionable constructivism has ebbed due to widespread recognition of catastrophic failures, typified by fear of AIDS, the dissemination of news of the Killing Fields/Gulags and the “law-and-order” backlash against the Mean Streets crime wave. There was a revival of small “c” traditional conservatism in both the Occident and Orient. Wolfe called this reaction “The Great Re-Learning” [1987]:

    The Great Relearning — if anything so prosaic as remedial education can be called great — should be thought of not as the end of the twentieth century but the prelude to the twenty-first.
    The twenty-first century, I predict, will confound the twentieth-century notion of the Future as something exciting, novel, unexpected, or radiant; as Progress, to use an old word. It is already clear that the large cities, thanks to the Relearning, will not even look new. Quite the opposite; the cities of 2007 will look more like the cities of 1927 than the cities of 1987. The twenty-first century will have a retrograde look and a retrograde mental atmosphere. People of the next century, snug in their Neo-Georgian apartment complexes, will gaze back with a ghastly awe upon our time.

    But above all they will look back upon the twentieth as the century in which their forebears had the amazing confidence, the Promethean hubris, to defy the gods and try to push man’s power and freedom to limitless, god-like extremes.

    They will look back in awe…without the slightest temptation to emulate the daring of those who swept aside all rules and tried to start from zero. Instead, they will sink ever deeper into their Neo-Louis bergeres, content to live in what will be known as the Somnolent Century or the Twentieth Century’s Hangover.

    I made a similar point about 10 years ago with the “Decline of the Wets” thesis, which predicted a dramatic shift to the conservative Right in First world political culture. This has been somewhat confirmed with the pronounced revival of cultural conservatism in both the EU and AUS. The US seems to be in a contrary mood, perhaps reacting to the disastrous Bush regime, and is content to conduct cultural experiments in a minor key with gay marriage and dope legalisation.

  4. rog
    February 15th, 2014 at 20:29 | #4

    Nostalgia, tradition and modernity have become the new normal. Politicians seek popularity by proclaiming that they will fix up what has been busted and return things to how they were. Each new generation makes sure they will do better only to eventually learn that under the circumstances the last generation was pretty good. Wisdom is only ever achieved after experience; the process is irreversible.

    And so it goes.

  5. February 15th, 2014 at 20:40 | #5

    1) The Structure of Production (Industrial Revolution) determines demand for mythos, morals, ethics.

    2) The high point of English civilization (Victorian) looked to the past for a new identity and found it’s pagan origins (starting with the collection of ancient fairy tales)

    3) The Germans as well tried to create a new mythos (example is Nietzsche and Wagner).

    4) These two efforts almost succeeded in reversing the christianization of Europe. And would have, had the communists, socialists and marxists not produced a greater incentive to build a new mythos around the state.

    5) Christmas evolved and was commericalized with santa clause because people celebrated their new ability to consume cheap industrial goods. Christmas will likely persist as long as this does not change, because all the incentives for it to persist remain.

    5) Elvis etc: These characters have no durability, and will not survive past the 100 year marker (the roman Saeculum). However, the mythos that they represented, again was an alteration in the structure of production: the addition of the middle and upper proletariat into the consumer class in the postwar era.

    6) My long term bet is that your last comment on boundaries is wrong. Those boundaries were made possible by the finances of the nation state, during a period of rapid change in world power structures, and the invention of industrialized total war. I am pretty sure the englightenment and socialist programs are coming close to an end, becuase the experiments with democracy and social democracy conflict with heterogeneous populations. If, as northern europeans had outbred,our large corporate-states (to distinguish them from nation states) outbred, then that would mean these boundaries will persist. However, it appears that not only do populations fail to integrate, but that the friction overwhelms the democratic political process wherever we try to use it. (We failed to understand that europeans have been a genetially homogenous people for thousands of years, and our ‘differences’ marginally indifferent so to speak.)

    So my rough guess, is that starting between 2020 and 2025, (or, it’s starting now) we will see rapid alteration of borders and governments for a period of as long as one hundred years.

    AT that point the incentives that were created by the industrial revolution, and the relative wealth of that made less social friction possible, will have been exhausted by the near elimination of the value of labor, and pervasive demand for the restructuring of status signals, politics, and the legal structure that supports production in that new context.

  6. Felix Alexander
    February 15th, 2014 at 21:17 | #6

    Almost all languages which had a political force strong enough during the twentieth century had a spelling reform, some as radical as the transformation from the Arabic script to the Latin script to the Cyrillic script. English is the major exception amongst European languages; yet even it has gradually changed spelling over the hundreds of years since movable type first came into use, from the loss of the spelling “ye” for “the” to the change from “divers” to “diverse” much more recently.

    As for the parts of language that actually matter—the bits that get spoken—well, even just looking at English, the majority of Latinate vocabulary was added during that time. The English verb has almost unrecognisably changed with the addition of an assortment of auxiliary verbs, the transformation of the passive, and the replacement of southern -eth with northern -s as the standard/only third person singular inflexion. To say nothing of the unbelievable loss of one of the most common pronouns—the second person singular!

    I suspect that your presentation of tradition as modern is just the same: the nineteenth century was a time of great change. The traditions that died then are just completely out of your view; the ones that have died since you’ve forgotten; and many of the ones that have grown up since are just local traditions like there have always been (the grand final parade for instance).

  7. Felix Alexander
    February 15th, 2014 at 21:18 | #7

    In copy-pasting that into the edit box, I missed my first paragraph:

    ‘Your assertion that printing “fixed languages once and for all” is radically false.’

    Sorry.

  8. Megan
    February 15th, 2014 at 21:38 | #8

    Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

    Nothing’s the same anymore, now that everything’s changed.

  9. Donald Oats
    February 15th, 2014 at 21:39 | #9

    Printing helped the process of convergence of spelling, but that only went so far. Language itself is evolving, new words popping up out of amalgamations, contractions, and “re-purposing” an otherwise mundane and perfectly normal word. In English, the 70′s used “cool” until it wasn’t; sick, deadly, grouse—all re-purposed. In other cases, it is the connotation of a word that has evolved: “apparently” can be used in a quite snarky manner nowadays. But to the topic at hand…

    It is risible when the manufactured tradition is embraced by absolutists…I shan’t give an example for fear of offending a previous LNP government.

  10. Alan
    February 15th, 2014 at 23:15 | #10

    The fixity of language is a myth. The national languages of 2 of our nearest neighbours, PNG and Indonesia, did not exist in 1900. Arguably tok pisin did not exist in 1950.

  11. J-D
    February 16th, 2014 at 03:00 | #11

    I read recently that traditional Chinese medicine, as we know it today, is an example of an invented tradition, deliberately created with a known-to-be-false account of how and when it originated.

    Of course, there were ‘folk medicine’ practices in China, just as there were in other parts of the world. Different things were tried to treat sick people, a lot of them useless and based on mistaken ideas, but there was no consistency in the traditional practices. As elsewhere, some of them did work, but most of those were hit on by accident.

    According to what I read, after the Communists took power in China, they perceived a problem with a drastic shortage of medical professionals. The Communist Party, guided by Mao, decided to promote ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’ as a way of dealing with this problem, even though Mao was well aware that, generally speaking, ‘traditional’ Chinese ‘medicine’ was ineffective (and certainly drastically less effective than scientific medicine, which is what he relied on himself).

    In order to make the concept of ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’ (TCM) look more plausible, the party arranged for the creation of an ‘edited’ version of traditional practices, eliminating conflicting views (of which there were many) and the most glaringly implausible elements, and creating a unified ‘explanation’ of how TCM was supposed to work.

    The plan was that this new model of TCM would not only provide something to offer the peasants to whom scientific medicine was unavailable, but also something to impress people from other countries, and results were deliberately faked for this propaganda purpose.

    But obviously this is not an example of how all traditions were invented in the middle of the nineteenth century, but rather the reverse.

  12. John Quiggin
    February 16th, 2014 at 05:06 | #12

    @Felix Alexander

    Starting with English, it’s easy to show that your argument is wrong. Take a look at Shakespeare or the King James Bible (500 years old). Then look at Chaucer (200 years earlier). Then look at Beowulf (written down about 500 years before Shakespeare). The first two are easily readable today with marginal variations, Chaucer is very hard going (and would have been for Shakespeare), and Beowulf would have been as unreadable to either of them as it is for us.

    Of course, there have been marginal changes since the introduction of printing, just as there have been continuing marginal variations in cultural traditions that were established in the 19th century.

    My impression is that the same is true of the other European languages, certainly of French – I had no problem reading Moliere for example when I did French at school.

    The 19th century part of this process involved the invention of national languages, that is, standardisation on the metropolitan version of the language with all others demoted to “dialect”. Again, this was pretty much complete early in the 20th century in the European countries.

    @Alan

    Of course, this process had to be repeated in newly independent countries after decolonisation: printing can’t fix a language in which hardly any books are printed, and nation states can’t create a national language before they exist. But since the process was already well-established, it went much faster in, say, Indonesia than it did in Europe.

  13. Felix Alexander
    February 16th, 2014 at 07:30 | #13

    If you’re revising your statement to “Certain authoritative texts which we continue to circulate (albeit with revised spelling, punctuation, letter shapes and other changes to the written form—precisely the things printing deals in), and which my cohort was educated in while children, remain accessible to people”, then I’ll grant that as a reasonable claim, but I’ll point out that it’s education, not the printing press, which has caused the illusion of stability.

    Yet it would still disagree; “in my experience” (both as a participant and as a witness) it is hard work to understand Shakespeare and the King James Version without misunderstanding them, and I seriously doubt people from those days would have any understanding of your average contemporary text.

    Comparison with Chaucer and Beowulf is illegitimate. Chaucer was from the beginning of the written English language when standards hadn’t had time to develop; Beowulf was from another era before written English was lost.

    But Icelandic school children can read the sagas which were roughly contemporary with Beowulf. Latin and Arabic and Greek remain(ed) constant for many centuries. Yet today Greek schoolchildren struggle with texts from a century ago, and century-old Turkish requires learning a completely different script.

  14. February 16th, 2014 at 07:34 | #14

    True. Profound:

    —”But Icelandic school children can read the sagas which were roughly contemporary with Beowulf. Latin and Arabic and Greek remain(ed) constant for many centuries. Yet today Greek schoolchildren struggle with texts from a century ago, and century-old Turkish requires learning a completely different script.”—

  15. Alan
    February 16th, 2014 at 08:42 | #15

    @Felix Alexander

    English was never ‘lost’ as a written language after, to pick a convenient start point, the reign of Alfred the Great. I suspect a lot of what we see in this thread reflects the profound shock to English at the time of the Norman Conquest and the huge chunks of Norman (NB not French) that survive in the contemporary language. That did not happen in other Germanic languages and even less with Romance languages where Latin always remained as a viable model.

    There are some clear changes to English grammar that have happened in my lifetime. We used to dress ourselves, shave ourselves; now we just dress or shave. You can still use the reflexive forms if you must, but you’re going to sound quite strange.

  16. Ikonoclast
    February 16th, 2014 at 09:07 | #16

    It is not just the structure of production that is important. It is the ownership of production. Capitalism continues increasingly to move income and wealth from the producers (workers) to the owners. In the US, the middle class is eroding. As this process continues naturally (under capitalism) the middle class will be destroyed. In fact, the middle class will be consumed from both ends. The capitalists will take ever greater profits and general prices will rise as resource shortages (limits to growth) impact.

    Curt Doolittle’s formulation needs to be corrected;

    The natural tendency of capitalism is to concentrate all wealth in fewer and fewer hands. The relative wealth that made less social friction possible via redistribution will soon be exhausted by the arrival of the limits to growth. The redistribution of wealth from capital to labour and the excluded classes via government taxation and welfare which burgeoned from about 1935 to 1970 has been in retreat ever since. With so-called democratic government now bought and controlled by corporate capitalism there is little prospect of this being reversed peacefully and democratically. There is no more sclerotic and legitimised tradition now than the tradition of capitalist ownership. It can be undone only by a complete revolution or a collapse. A collapse seems more likely at this point.

  17. February 16th, 2014 at 09:40 | #17

    “So maybe it’s time to turn all this around, and make the point that we are now living in a society that’s far more tradition-bound than that of the 19th Century …”

    Perhaps because of the ubiquitous global influence of American pop culture? For example, Halloween and Valentine’s Day are now much more pervasive “traditions” in Australia than they were 50 years ago. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before some inspired retailer tries to get us to buy stuff for Thanksgiving (I’ve already encountered Americans who suspect I’m pulling their legs when I tell them we don’t observe it here).

    However new traditions have also evolved or been manufactured; Australia Day has come to be celebrated as something more than a day off work (manufactured) , the widespread ritual recognition of indigenous rights (welcome to country ceremonies, acknowledgement of ancient ownership etc – manufactured), transformation of the character of Anzac Day (part cynically manufactured, part evolution), likewise the role that cricket plays in Australian culture (evolution), overt jingoism at sporting events (part manufactured – thanks John bleedin’ Williamson – part evolution) and so on.

    And as for the suggestion that “Political systems and national boundaries are becoming more stable over time” – tell that to the Chinese.

  18. John Quiggin
    February 16th, 2014 at 10:05 | #18

    “And as for the suggestion that “Political systems and national boundaries are becoming more stable over time” – tell that to the Chinese.”

    I’m puzzled by this. China was utterly chaotic in the 19th century, wartorn in the first half of C20, and has had stable government and boundaries since 1949. Sure, there has been more or less continuous pushing and shoving between various countries in the region about sea boundaries and useless islands, but it has never come to anything, and doesn’t seem likely to.

  19. John Quiggin
    February 16th, 2014 at 10:33 | #19

    “Latin and Arabic and Greek remain(ed) constant for many centuries.”

    Are you referring to these when they were living languages or their subsequent literary forms? If the latter, it would seem to support my case.

  20. John Quiggin
    February 16th, 2014 at 10:45 | #20

    @Ken_L

    Welcome to country and similar “traditions” are a good example of something new, but all the others are pretty good examples of what I’m talking about.

    All the central traditions of Cricket – the 1884 rules, Test Matches, the Ashes, even most of the classic grounds, date to the late 19th century. Everything since then has been slow evolution. And the same with Anzac Day (though you have to go to Hobsbawm’s long 19th century, ending with the Great War). Ditto for all the major sports – none of them existed in anything like their current form in 1800, all were well-established, with many of the current teams and competitions, by early C20

  21. alfred venison
    February 16th, 2014 at 10:46 | #21

    china regards taiwan as sovereign territory and has never recognised its independence.

    there are strong & persistent secessionist movements in quebec, catalonia and scotland. belgium barely hangs together.

  22. February 16th, 2014 at 10:52 | #22

    Pr Q said:


    A variety of cultural niches, once subject to the cycles of fashion, seem now to have been filled once and for all. Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean have all been dead for decades, but all are more instantly recognisable than any putative successor.

    As Oakeshotte once mentioned in an aside, fashion is the only voice in the conversation of mankind that values change for its own sake. But even fashion tends to bow down to the centripetal force of tradition.

    There is something to be said for the neo-traditional revival, although it is a rule riddled with exceptions. The big exception is that under conditions of post-modern liberalism, fashion cycles seem to be increasing in frequency but decreasing in amplitude. Thus we have lots more micro fluctuations in style as celebrities grab their fifteen minutes of fame, courtesy of the voracious need for novelty generated by the multi-platformed 24/7 news cycle.

    But these celebrities are then rapidly consigned into the cultural dustbin of history, leaving the quintessential icons (Marilyn, little black dresses, Manhattan, etc) still firmly established in their commanding alcoves.

    If you compare asset class returns for a standard portfolio it appears that collectible antiquities (stamps, coins, classic cars, watches, paintings) seem to beat properties, securities, equities, commodities and of course currencies. Thus implying that the values of the past have considerable staying power, which confirms Tom Wolfes “The Great Re-Learning” quoted up-thread.

    More generally, the entrenchment of traditional values seems to reflect the founder effect of the Baby Boom cohort that put down roots and grew up in the first generation of the global mass media. Their parents, whose values often reflected those of 19th C “invented tradition”, also got a substantial cultural vote.

    Thus the generation breeding and being born in the fifties and sixties were obviously going to have a profound effect by imprinting their values into the global mass media. Hollywood and Madison Avenue have been coasting on this founder effect ever since.

    Thus Marilyn, James Dean & John Lennon and various youth culture “icons” sit easily beside Super Bowl, Macys Parade, Australia’s invented traditions likewise have a distinctly Victorian-Edwardian era feel eg ANZAC Day, Melbourne Cup Day.

    Of course no one does “invented tradition” better than London Society, the events of “the Season” seem to only ever gather kudos with the influx of nouveau riche Russian oligarch money eg Royal Ascot, Wimbledon, FA Cup, Lords Test, Henley Regatta, Glyndeborne, Chelsea Flower Show, The Proms, West End opening nights, Trooping the Colors are all still going strong. Indeed the Saxe-Coburg & Gotha Monarchy itself, the ultimate form of “invented tradition” seems to only go from strength to strength.

    All these society events have become thoroughly established as higher-status in the mass media hive mind. Absolutely nothing is going to shake them off their lofty perch.

  23. John Quiggin
    February 16th, 2014 at 11:09 | #23

    @alfred venison

    Sure, and all these things have remained pretty much constant for at least the last 60 years. It will be interesting to see if the Scots vote for independence, but even if they do it’s just the breakup of a federal state.

  24. alfred venison
    February 16th, 2014 at 11:37 | #24

    @Curt Doolittle – The Propertarian Institute
    ” the Germans as well tried to create a new mythos (example is Nietzsche & Wagner) ”

    it should be said that nietzsche split with wagner, spectacularly & irrevocably, precisely over the issue of wagner’s teutonism & nationalist chauvinism & anti-semitism.

  25. February 16th, 2014 at 11:39 | #25

    @alfred venison That’s true. But it doesn’t alter the argument.

  26. February 16th, 2014 at 12:06 | #26

    John I may have misunderstood what you meant by “tradition bound” – I interpreted it to mean “not subject to change”. If you mean some of our traditions date to the 19th century but their cultural significance is slowly changing over time, then I don’t disagree; but it’s such an obvious point that it borders on the banal (traditions almost by definition don’t change quickly). Moreover many of the most important institutional sources of tradition in Australia, such as parliamentary democracy and the various Christian churches, all came into existence long before the 19th century. Not only that, but as noted new traditions associated with cultural artefacts have sprung up in the 20th: Australia Day, rugby league, Anzac Day (I confess I don’t understand what Hobsbawm has to do with contemporary Anzac Day, with its ritual visits to Turkey, mendacious narratives about the “Battle of Australia” etc). Other traditions have declined markedly since the late 19th century even though they still exist (observance of Sunday and Good Friday, the Greater Public Schools, the notion of a “working class”). In other words events and institutions might be “traditions” but the fact they have existed for a long time doesn’t tell us anything very useful about them. Cricket test matches might have been played for 130 years but their cultural significance has changed enormously over that period.

    The concept of “tradition” is pretty meaningless unless it’s considered as a cultural artefact with associated values and meanings. I think your post raises interesting ideas but ultimately your argument has to be hedged about with so many qualifications that not much of substance remains.

    As far as China is concerned, I don’t regard the Cultural Revolution and the more recent transformation of Chinese political institutions as “stable government”, and I doubt if the Chinese do. The Middle East, Indonesia, The Philippines and South West Asia have similarly been anything but stable since 1950. But perhaps our disagreement there is a matter of semantics, not substance, if for example you mean the Cultural Revolution was stable compared to the Opium Wars or the Japanese invasion.

  27. February 16th, 2014 at 12:08 | #27

    I presume that old people being on average much less dead than they used to be and the much lower birth rate is a significant part of the cultural ossification.

  28. John Quiggin
    February 16th, 2014 at 13:28 | #28

    “traditions almost by definition don’t change quickly”

    But that’s the crucial point about invented traditions: there’s a phase of very rapid change. As I said, Christmas was invented in the space of 20 years (1840-60) and has barely changed since. Test Cricket about the same.

    And, contra your post, I don’t think the cultural significance of cricket has changed much, certainly much less than the political relationship between the countries involved. Think about the Bodyline series and Mitchell Johnson’s performance yesterday – the arguments flow from one to the other seamlessly. Then think about how the UK sent Niemeyer out to Oz in the 30s to tell us how to pay our debts – that would be inconceivable today.

  29. alfred venison
    February 16th, 2014 at 13:57 | #29

    @Curt Doolittle – The Propertarian Institute
    you’re right, it doesn’t alter the argument, but we shouldn’t conflate nietzsche with wagner as nietzsche was thrown out of the house for playing brahms and wrote anti-wagner tracts and was highly critical of wilhelmian nationalism. -a.v.

  30. Ikonoclast
    February 16th, 2014 at 14:21 | #30

    @John Quiggin

    This stability you refer to (post WW2) is about to end. Whether or not you accept or reject an inevitable decline or collapse thesis you cannot credibly maintain a status quo thesis from this point.

    It is always difficult to avoid over-simpification but the post-WW2 Pax Americana era formally ends when China overtakes the US are the pre-eminent economic and eventually military power. At the same time, the process of moving wealth to the upper 1% or upper .1% in the US (in particular) cannot continue indefinitely. Indeed, the signs are the process is close to its limits as the middle class begins to be eroded slowly but surely out of existence in the USA.

    Any obsession with the “traditional superstructures” of the past era is likely to look decidedly beside the point when this period of rapid change at the productive base gets underway.

  31. February 16th, 2014 at 14:21 | #31

    Deleted for gratuitous abuse. Try again, shorter and sweeter

  32. alfred venison
    February 16th, 2014 at 15:01 | #32

    @John Quiggin
    ” things have remained pretty much constant for at least the last 60 years “. the borders may not have changed, but during that time the sovereignty vote in quebec has gone from 40/60 in favor in 1980 to 49.5/50.5 in favor in 1998, prompting the government of canada to pass the clarification act to get ready. catalonia is now hotter than any time since franco & does not look like cooling down, and scotland has got to the point where it is having a vote on sovereignty. things have not remained pretty much constant.

    the break up of a federal state is no less serious than the breakup of a unitary state.

    i don’t see the uk as a federation but as a tenuous union of four historic nations under one crown, now with theme park local assemblies. the english are not acting like it would merely be the breakup of a federal state or they would not be threatening the scots over the pound, and the eu would not be threatening them over membership. if the scottish sovereignty vote is successful it would be a crisis for the british monarchy and a crisis for the eu – it would heat up wales, it would heat up catalonia which has implications for france as well as spain, and it might even heat up belgium which went a year without a government due to mutual national ethnic hostility. -a.v.

  33. February 16th, 2014 at 15:04 | #33

    “I don’t think the cultural significance of cricket has changed much …”

    Well we’ll have to agree to differ. IMHO cricket was more instrumental than Gallipoli in building a sense of Australian national identity, but yesterday the latest test got about half a page in the inner pages of the “Daily Telegraph” compared to 6 pages of local football coverage. Cricket’s role in the mid-20th century was disproportionately due to the achievements of Don Bradman (a) against the old colonial masters and (b) during the Great Depression. It’s hard to imagine today the pop-stardom that Bradman attracted during his playing career and the veneration he was given after it ended, to the extent that he, a fairly unlikeable man of modest achievements off the field, was still labelled the “greatest living Australian” by John Howard 50 years after he stopped playing. And it was all about playing England of course – matches against the darkies (complete with white managers) from the sub-continent and the Caribbean were just a bit of fun, a legacy of the British Empire which of course we were expected to win but “well played you chaps” when they brought off the occasional upset.

    Richie Benaud and Frank Worrell started to change all that in the 1960s, Ian Chappell and Kerry Packer sent the transformation into overdrive. Comparing any South African complaints (I haven’t seen any, but accept your implication there have presumably been some) about Mitchell Johnson to the events of the bodyline series is simply not sustainable – Australia is not offering to cancel the tour in a huff; no South African governors are telling Australian MPs their citizens will boycott Australian goods in protest at Australian tactics; South African police are not being marshalled en masse to prevent violence against Michael Clarke (indeed from what I saw on TV, hardly any South Africans bothered to attend the match at all). You are right that Niemeyer’s charter would be inconceivable today, but another Bradman is equally inconceivable in the sense of someone playing a similar role in Australian culture, even if a batsman were to emerge whose performance on the field exceeded his.

  34. alfred venison
    February 16th, 2014 at 16:17 | #34

    ” Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean have all been dead for decades, but all are more instantly recognisable than any putative successor. ”

    you’re showing your age.

    the effect of electronic media is opposite to what you say.

    electronic media have made the cultural productions of all the countries of the world available to us.

    electronic media have made the cultural productions of all past periods of our culture available to us.

    if consumers prefer the narrow range of productions provided by the corporatised culture industry that occurs for reasons other than electronic media. -a.v.

  35. J-D
    February 16th, 2014 at 18:14 | #35

    To refer to ‘invented traditions’ in a way that implies a contrast with ‘non-invented traditions’ puzzles me, since surely all traditions must have been invented at some point? What origin could traditions have apart from human invention?

    It’s true that people can have an exaggerated idea of how old a tradition is, effectively retrojecting into an obscure past the origin of a tradition when in fact the time of origin was comparatively recent, but that kind of misapprehension doesn’t have to be invented. Sometimes it might be, if some accounts I have read are correct, as in, for example, the case of the tradition of the divinity of the Japanese Emperor. I have read that it only dates to the nineteenth century but that there was a deliberate conscious propaganda effort, at the time of its origin, to attribute it to the remote past. That kind of consciously false archaising would be like what happened in the case of traditional Chinese medicine, if the reports about that I referred to earlier are correct.

    I’m not sure, though, that conscious false archaising is associated with most current traditions, and I’m also not sure that it’s a recent phenomenon. For all I know, the ancient Romans also deliberately invented false accounts of the ancientry of more recent (for them) traditions.

  36. February 16th, 2014 at 18:33 | #36

    Pr Q @ #23 said:

    It will be interesting to see if the Scots vote for independence, but even if they do it’s just the breakup of a federal state.

    I am betting the NO vote wins, the Scots are alot less bolshie these days, perhaps because they eat too many Mars bars fried in batter. They will draw back from the brink and take the safe option. After all it was the Bank of England/UK Treasury that more or less bailed out the Royal Bank of Scotland. I can’t see the gnomes of Frankfurt being quite so accommodating. If there are any takers to my bet I would be grateful if Pr Q holds bets in escrow on the condition that I donate my winnings to his next Iron-Man charity.

    The whole post-Westphalian system of nation states, which more or less came to full fruition in the mid-19thC, is something of an “invented tradition” – IMHO a good one. We have had the spectacle of Brussels-based EU trying to re-found the Frankish Empire atop the shattered ruins of the Axis powers states, whilst somehow straddling the ultramontane barrier. Good luck with that!

    It seems that 19thC nation states have more staying power than the post-modern liberal opinion of polite society would give them credit. Metropolitan Brussels will have to accommodate the European provinces, not vice-versa.

    More generally there is a good reason why the second half of the 19thC-first decile of the 20thC was considered the great age of progress by Whig historians. Thats because it was, in the sense of recovering valuable lost traditions (national folk cultures) and starting valuable new traditions (the practice of applying science to technology in a systematic way).

    The Victorian-Edwardian era was the period in which most of the great intellectual and institutional discoveries that define modernity were made. That is roughly co-incident with the age of invented tradition. Jonathan Huebener (Pentagon physicist) showed sci-tech discoveries per capita peaked during the Victorian age:

    he plotted major innovations and scientific advances over time compared to world population, using the 7200 key innovations listed in a recently published book, The History of Science and Technology (Houghton Mifflin, 2004). The results surprised him. Rather than growing exponentially, or even keeping pace with population growth, they peaked in 1873 and have been declining ever since (see Graphs). Next, he examined the number of patents granted in the US from 1790 to the present. When he plotted the number of US patents granted per decade divided by the country’s population, he found the graph peaked in 1915.

    And of course it wasnt just sci-tech that had a Victorian-Edwardian era golden age. This was the high-point of modernism in music, art, literature and architecture. It was also the era when the great struggles to emancipate women and colored peoples began (sorry gay libs, you were a bridge too far for prudish Victorians). As Charles Murray pointed out in Human Accomplishment, since about 1950 creativity has slid down hill, with another sharp inflection point in the mid-seventies when the creative juices of popular music seem to have dried up.

    Even social-democracy is something of a creature of the Victorian-Bismarkian era Fabians, It still seems to retain a strong attraction among the general populace, although its Labor Party clothes are looking a little tired and thread-bare.

    The example of the IT revolution is sort of the exception that proves this “decline of creativity” rule. Most IT progress seems to be driven by the almost impersonal force of Moore’s Law combined with military weapons investment and Aspergy computer scientists. Not exactly the stuff of a Richard Florida “creative class” boosterism article.

    Somewhat paradoxically, the high-tide of  post-modernist fashionable constructivism (roughly spanning the period 1965-1995) seems correlated with a decline in creativity. It seems that modernist traditional conservatism actually promotes creativity. This is the basic argument that Oakeshott makes for tradition: by anchoring human personalities in stable institutional & ideological foundations one actually frees up human creativity to flower in more interesting intellectual and instrumental domains. In short, traditionalism promotes modernity. When you look at the continued creativity of the ultra-traditional Japanese this result does not seem so counter-intuitive.

  37. February 16th, 2014 at 18:38 | #37

    Alfred #34 it would be interesting to conduct a study to see how many Australians under 40 could identify James Dean or Marilyn Monroe in a blind lineup. I’m reasonably sure most of them would also find “Rebel without a Cause” to be both boring and stupid, because the cultural context of teenage rebellion against authority figures would be so incomprehensible.

    “James Dean” gets about 4 million hits on Google search, “Justin Bieber” more than 20 times as many … I don’t know how you would go about identifying “putative successors” to pop idols, but I agree that Dean, Monroe and Presley are in terminal decline as pop culture figures. Within a generation they will be regarded the way John’s generation :) regards Errol Flynn, Clark Gable and Deanna Durbin.

  38. February 16th, 2014 at 21:46 | #38

    I think we should invent/re-invent traditions often. And clearly we should borrow and adapt good traditions from other cultures. I particularly like the idea of borrowing Thanksgiving, but having it as a gathering of friends, not family – after all, you do family at Christmas, shortly after.

    And if we are looking at Elvis, James Dean & Marilyn, does that mean we’ve forgotten the fuss over Rudolph Valentino?

  39. Megan
    February 16th, 2014 at 21:59 | #39

    @John Brookes

    And forgotten Michael Jackson, AC/DC and The Muppets?

  40. Megan
    February 17th, 2014 at 01:02 | #40

    Just read Pilger’s latest, what a coincidence of thought!

    He writes, in part:

    Historians, like journalists, play their most honourable role when they myth-bust. Eduardo Galeano’s ‘The Open Veins of Latin America’ (1971) achieved this for the people of a continent whose historical memory was colonised and mutated by the dominance of the United States.

    The “good” world war of 1939-45 provides a bottomless ethical bath in which the west’s “peacetime” conquests are cleansed. De-mystifying historical investigation stands in the way. Richard Overy’s ’1939: the countdown to war’ (2009) is a devastating explanation of why that cataclysm was not inevitable.

    We need such smokescreen-clearing now more than ever. The powerful would like us to believe that the likes of Thompson, Zinn and Galeano are no longer necessary: that we live, as Time magazine put it, “in an eternal present”, in which reflection is limited to Facebook and historical narrative is the preserve of Hollywood. This is a confidence trick. In ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, George Orwell wrote: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

    Quite.

  41. Ron E Joggles
    February 17th, 2014 at 06:17 | #41

    Megan :
    Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.
    Nothing’s the same anymore, now that everything’s changed.

    No, it’s deja vu all over again! …..and every silver lining has a cloud.

  42. John Quiggin
    February 17th, 2014 at 06:37 | #42

    @Ken_L

    A good point about James Dean. It’s not so much that he has been replaced in his niche as that the niche is no longer culturally relevant – teenage rebellion, and even teenagers as a category are much less significant than in C20.

    OTOH, Marilyn Monroe has been reprised by Madonna and very recently by Nicki Minaj, so I doubt she’ll be forgotten any time soon. Similarly for Elvis. By contrast, Bieber is one in a long line (it was Shaun Cassidy around 1975) of ephemeral boy singers. The only one to create a niche was Michael Jackson.

  43. alfred venison
    February 17th, 2014 at 07:02 | #43

    regardless of what or who the culture industries promote front & centre at any particular point in time, the fact is that in our era electronic technology means culture consumers can have them all – valentino, dean, elvis, bieber are always available in a virtual perpetual present. postmodernism does not “drive us to a condition of constant change” nor does electronic technology “fix cultural traditions of all kinds” – electronic technology makes all cultural traditions from all times and all from societies present in our time. -a.v.

  44. Ikonoclast
    February 17th, 2014 at 07:14 | #44

    Modern pop culture does best when it satirises itself.

    Youtube “Backwards” by Rascal Flatts.

    Also, try Tenacious D.

    Best current ephemeral boy singer = Bruno Mars. Youtube “The Lazy Song”.

  45. rog
    February 17th, 2014 at 07:20 | #45

    Michael Jackson et al could be described as boy sopranos, made popular in choirs and right back to pre Christian times.

  46. February 17th, 2014 at 11:40 | #46

    It’s been a long time since we had a couple of TV channels, a few radio stations, and single screen movie theatres. We have a lot more choice nowadays, particularly now we have this interwebby thing I’m using at the moment. And as a result of this increased choice the past looms large as that’s where all the cultural touchstones are. The actors everyone knew, the singers everyone knew, the songs everyone heard, the movies that were the only thing availbe at the theature or the only thing on TV. And you’d talk about these things at work. But nowadays people at work are just strangers. Not a single one of them are interested in the Argentinian crime dramas you are. And who wants to talk to people like that? Anyway, that’s one reason besides there being a huge number of old people why the past looms large in popular culture today. The things that everyone recognised, even if they didn’t like them, occurred back then. That’s why we now have one dozen Star Trek movies which are now explody action films instead of just boring like the first one.

    And while I may have hinted in the past that I am a Justin Bieber fan, I have to admit that I cannot currently think of any of the lyrics to his songs or even hum any the tunes. But I can do the Beatles.

  47. calyptorhynchus
    February 18th, 2014 at 09:50 | #47

    @Felix Alexander

    The definite article in English has been ‘the’ since c 1200. ‘Ye’ is simply a misreading of a scribal form of the letter thorn þ =th.

  48. Tim Macknay
    February 18th, 2014 at 18:06 | #48

    Prof Q’s point about the degree of cultural and institutional stasis and its relationship with technological change is echoed in this piece, ostensibly on the vacuity of TED talks.

  49. paul walter
    February 19th, 2014 at 00:27 | #49

    Nicely done, Megan.. you see what some bright people, have missed as to Quiggin’s trajectory.@Megan

  50. alfred venison
    February 19th, 2014 at 07:29 | #50

    can someone explain to me how electronic media are *fixing* traditions, cultural practices and institutions?

    because i have been studying the effect of electronic media on our society for years from my amateur back-row seat. and what i see resulting from the widespread adoption of electronic media is a radical undermining & hollowing out of the very traditions, cultural practices, and institutions you say electronic media are fixing.

    the effect of electronic media on our culture is to undermine everything institutional, cultural and practical that was already established & flourishing from the recent era prior to the widespread adoption of electronic media. many of you grew up in that era and got your education and moral & ethical turn of mind from institutions & practices that in that era seemed self-evident & eternal. they’re not – they’re going, going, gone. electronic media have turned the world upside down & inside out and hollowed out every institution, tradition and cultural practice we have inherited from the world that existed before advent of widespread electronic media.

    this is why your parliament is dysfunctional.

    this is why you can get no consensus on climate change.

    this is why you have anti-vax on the rise.

    this is why you have a general anti-science and anti-intellectual disposition in the masses.

    this is why there is no respect for authority or authority predicated on accredited knowledge.

    this is why we live in a-historical times. this is why irrationality has traction.

    we are, i paraphrase, playing the old story backwards: if homer could be wiped out by literacy then literacy can be wiped out by electronics. nothing is fixed, everything is in flux. have you actually been looking around & reflecting at any length on the basis of any kind of theory or do you just make up pronouncements about media & culture as you go? -a.v.

  51. rog
    February 19th, 2014 at 07:55 | #51

    @alfred venison I suspect, but have no evidence, that the level of cultural dysfunction, irrationality or whatever was greater before electronic media.

    I believe that the current LNP govt is one which is having problems making its ideology fit reality and the electronic media is tracking this process piece by piece.

  52. Comrade Veidt
    February 19th, 2014 at 11:59 | #52

    http://dickens.ucsc.edu/resources/faq/christmas.html
    –Did Dickens really “invent” Christmas?
    No, he did not, not even in a figurative sense. People have been allowing themselves to believe something of the kind since the last years of the nineteenth century, however, and the notion was given its classic form in 1903 by one of the founding fathers of Dickens scholarship, F. G. Kitton, who published an article on the subject, entitled “The Man Who ‘Invented’ Christmas.”…—

    History has never been your strong suit. The same goes for the rest of CT.

    Change is a constant. That’s the absurdity of various versions of “originalism” and religious fundamentalism, and also of those who write as if future readers of their words will read them as the authors do. They won’t.

    Slow change isn’t permanent revolution. Corey Robin writes about neoliberalism and the new fad for capitalist “disruptors” while forgetting the origins as a Modernist and left wing trope, still popular with teenage anarchists. Robin attacks Disruptors one day and Burkeans the next. It’s absurd. Someone should ask Russell Arben Fox to explain why; he has more patience than I do.

    Modernism was a fantasy of escape from the past. So many traditions, so many aspects of older social relations and social life have vanished or faded, ground down by the machinery of corporate or state capitalism, that people fixate on those few things they want to think haven’t changed.
    It’s tragic.

  53. alfred venison
    February 19th, 2014 at 20:30 | #53

    mr rog – respectfully – and i mean this not as a cant word – i don’t mean to be snarky.

    but which electronic media are tracking the lmp’s bad fit with reality?

    and more importantly to whom, and just how many of them, are they projecting their tracking – who is receiving it? who is receptive to it?

    newspapers are in decline – t.v. bulletins are entertainment – there are in effect a thousand channels – fewer & fewer people read to keep informed.

    here’s how i epitomise the difference between the visual oriented print / reading culture you (i assume) & i grew up in & imbibed our values in, and the hearing oriented acoustic world of speed of light electronic communications – between that sector of the population who remember when their family got its first t.v. set & that sector of the population who remember when their family got its first mobile phone.

    back when print was king – when writing & reading kept the gov’t accountable – and someone wanted to repair a lawn mower, they read a manual.

    nowadays – when telling & hearing are king – and someone wants to repair a lawn mower, they watch a video.

    i think the difference that widespread speed of light electronic communications makes to our society & all its institutions is profound & underestimated: it is not a case of the old literate world, now with computers, and still in possession of the full & unimpeded range of its inherited values – its a whole new world, the emerging values of which are not grounded on literacy.

    >> we’re playing the old story backwards, but you should know what the stakes are: the stakes are our civilisation versus tribalism and groupism, private identity versus corporate identity, and private responsibility versus the group or tribal mandate. <<

    [ http://www.nextnature.net/2009/12/the-playboy-interview-marshall-mcluhan/ ]

    cheers, a.v.

  54. jungney
    February 19th, 2014 at 20:52 | #54

    @alfred venison

    alfeed, I’ll quote that genius of modernity who famously said of the epoch of capitalism that is one in which “…all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned”. There is no evidence that electronic media are ‘fixing’, that is, keeping in stasis, cultural practices and institutions. There can be no evidence for this because those raised and acculturated exclusively on electronic media have no historical memory. They are ignorant of what a tradition might be except as certain protocols surrounding family events at holiday times. They can’t imagine that such evidence might exist and therefore see none.

    Today’s dominant cultural producers, including everyone from intellectual to artists, have been raised in a culture of individual entitlement far beyond anything imaginable at the beginnings of modernity. The dominant subjectivity of liberalism is that of individual entitlement; it is infantile.

    [That subject is a favourite. I'll spare you any more other than this: every human epoch produces a dominant subjectivity. That is, one that fit the subject best for survival or success within the material conditions of the epoch. Some did better than others. In a liberal period, the self obsessed and historically uninformed are free to literally float, with the conditions, to dominant positions].

    If electronic media are in any way fixing ‘culture’, which we ought to understand as ‘product’, it is only in the way that a plug holds a sewer but only until the back pressure blows it all to smithereens.

    I recommend Therese Brennan’s ‘History After Lacan’. Perhaps you could recommend some music to soothe the savage breast.

  55. jungney
    February 19th, 2014 at 20:53 | #55

    ah, I see I’ve somehow latinized you or so it seems to me, not alfeed, but alfred. :)

  56. alfred venison
    February 20th, 2014 at 22:27 | #56

    ah jungney – thanks for the book reference. what i know of lacan is second hand but i think i see what she’s getting at enough to want to follow it up.

    i listen to a lot of music, many genres, many periods, experimental, medieval, renaissance, classical, romantic, modernist, neo-classical, minimalist, 2nd viennese school, folk, jazz, electronic, extemporisation. even accordion.

    if you want something reasonably contemporary& of historical interest tangential to what has been discussed here – on the cusp of modernism & post-modernism – to sooth the savage breast, i recommend you go to ubuweb, locate the search window, and type in “obscure records”.

    obscure records was a u.k. record label which existed from 1975 to 1978. it was created & run by brian eno, who also produced the albums. there are ten albums. they are a veritable time capsule & together constitute an historical record of where the “soft avant-garde” was before the archetypal post-modern idiom of minimalism took over. in addition to being an historical record (no pun intended) i think the music beautiful, restful and intellectually engaging. these were composers who knew how to use “dialectic” in a sentence.

    you need to navigate from the main page to each album where you may listen on-line or download each track individually using right-click down-load. i suggest saving them into a folder for each album and burning them to cd for playback on your system.

    a note if you’re wary: ubu web is an archive of the avant-garde founded on the web in 1996 by the poet kenneth goldsmith – goldsmith teaches at uni of pennsylvania & is senior editor of the archive “pennsound” – he reads poetry at the white house, he is bona fide. all content on ubuweb – text & music & film & t.v. (like “ways of seeing”) – is genuinely out of print & not available to buy anywhere – this is not a pirate site, this is an academic archive site for the avant-garde. -a.v.

  57. Ootz
    February 21st, 2014 at 00:03 | #57

    “i think the difference that widespread speed of light electronic communications makes to our society & all its institutions is profound & underestimated: it is not a case of the old literate world, now with computers, and still in possession of the full & unimpeded range of its inherited values – its a whole new world, the emerging values of which are not grounded on literacy.”

    Bien sure monsieur venison, and no better to demonstrate the scrambling and de-contextualisation of the cultural fixtures of modernity in present times than Jean Baudrillard.

    ” …History itself has become a dustbin. It has become its own dustbin, just as the planet itself is becoming its own dustbin.”

    Take his ‘Simulacra and Simulation’ thesis, it is a fitting tool to understand, for example, the ANZAC Gallipolli memorial event coming up. JB’s “precession of simulacra” (in simple terms) would postulate that this event has nothing to do with the past historical event and represents the image of war that will precede real war. A possible hyperreal manifestation of an event in future of our Nation?

    JB offers a natural extension to the insights of Marshall McLuhan, particularly when it comes to understanding of the media and the contemporary ‘unthinking’ of modernity, but is not without flaws.
    http://www.uta.edu/huma/illuminations/kell26.htm

    As for the soundtrack and knowing your taste a.v., Brian Eno – Music for Airports

  58. alfred venison
    February 21st, 2014 at 00:46 | #58

    thank you, mr Ootz, and nice to be interlocuting with you again. i shall read that link at lunch today and i shall enjoy you video later this morning when no one’s asleep. i am often reminded these days of umberto eco’s essay “travels in hyper reality”, i’m sure you know it. and i think i get what you’re saying about anzac on this centenary, i expect to be sickened in my heart for long periods this year. -a.v.

  59. Ootz
    February 21st, 2014 at 09:34 | #59

    of course Faith in Fakes, the original title of translation of Eco’s Il costume di casa has very much in the same angle on contemporary culture and its ‘unthinking’, de-contextualising, recycling or down-cycling of estabished knowledge in modernity particularely by contemporary ‘carpet bombing’ mass media.

    Here Neil Postman’s Amusing ourselves to death should be referenced too. He makes a very good argument of your point a.v., as in “the medium is the metaphor” where he points out how oral, literate, and televisual cultures radically differ in the processing and prioritization of information. That is why we have ended up with a veritable global Collosseum where the punters thumbs up/down, to give them the impression of determine the outcome of a gladiatorial contest, as happens now on blogs and social networks. So while concepts of modernity have persisted, they are being transmogrified by the knowledge sausage factories which started of by Hollywood dream factories and of late progressed into being an endemic entertainment panglossicon in every living room, hospital waiting room, et al, predominantly via imperial media corporations. So yes, while modern traditions persist, they are often ‘consumed’ as popular packaged fakes of the original experience or meaning in post modern times.

    But cheer up monsieur venison, there is hope in the ingenuity of humans and there are signs that the cultural tide will peak. Perhaps sooner than later, so I look forward when shovelware will become the new expression of individualism and ‘free markets’ in the cultural domain, it surely looks like fun.

    Hence, my alternative soundtrack suggestion.

  60. Ootz
    February 21st, 2014 at 09:39 | #60

    Merde, my comment ended up in auto moderation, I’ll try splitting it up …

    Of course Faith in Fakes, the original title of translation of Eco’s essayIl costume di casa has very much in the same angle on contemporary culture and its ‘unthinking’, de-contextualising, recycling or down-cycling of estabished knowledge in modernity particularely by contemporary ‘carpet bombing’ mass media.
    Here Neil Postman’s Amusing ourselves to death should be referenced too. He makes a very good argument of your point a.v., as in “the medium is the metaphor” where he points out how oral, literate, and televisual cultures radically differ in the processing and prioritization of information. That is why we have ended up with a veritable global Collosseum where the punters thumbs up/down, to give them the impression of determine the outcome of a gladiatorial contest, as happens now on blogs and social networks. So while concepts of modernity have persisted, they are being transmogrified by the knowledge sausage factories which started of by Hollywood dream factories and of late progressed into being an endemic entertainment panglossicon in every living room, hospital waiting room, et al, predominantly via imperial media corporations. So yes, while modern traditions persist, they are often ‘consumed’ as popular packaged fakes of the original experience or meaning in post modern times.

    But cheer up monsieur venison, there is hope in the ingenuity of humans and there are signs that the cultural tide will peak. Perhaps sooner than later, so I look forward when shovelware will become the new expression of individualism and ‘free markets’ in the cultural domain, it surely looks like fun.

  61. Ootz
    February 21st, 2014 at 09:42 | #61

    Ok, and here my alternative, happier and more sustainable suggestion for the soundtrack

  62. jungney
    February 21st, 2014 at 10:10 | #62

    @Ootz

    ‘Panglossicon’, by which I think you suggest a panopticon run along the principle that we live in the best of all possible prisons? If it means other than that please tell me because I would add it to my lexicon.

  63. Ootz
    February 21st, 2014 at 12:09 | #63

    Apologiez Jungney for my crude attempt on neologism. If I retrace the various input signals for “Panglossicon”, perhaps then take gk. pan glossia or über-tongue and -con, -kon and -ken are old Alemanic suffix/postfixe, denominating a place, usually following the name of the head honcho. In latin it is -cum, hence Aventicum or Turicum (and giving away may heritage here) So yeah, my stream of consciousness invented the sign for the place of über-tongue if you like.

    One of the advantages of being bilingual is being able to mesh cultural expressions more freely. More so, it gives a much more nuanced perspective on cultural processes and thus constructed realities. I am sure a.v. would agree with me here.

  64. jungney
    February 21st, 2014 at 13:47 | #64

    @Ootz

    Thanks for that Ootz. I shall claim it as my own then as a neologism derived from panopticon and the ever admirable Dr Pangloss. But feel free to vigorously dispute it :)

  65. Ootz
    February 21st, 2014 at 14:35 | #65

    Great synchronisity jungney, they both point into the same direction. Now may I point back to the the Gallipoli Centenary, that would be a good topic to test JQ’s assertion of fixed traditions.

    It looks like the Premium and Comfort as well as associated Major or Sergeant Tours are a Disney World version from the experience a Major or Sergeant nevermind common digger experienced in 1914.

    An for that matter, considering that just as many Australians lost their life on Australian soil in Australias foundational war, as was lost in WWI, what does it say about our deafening silence about that? There is evidence that a hundred or more years ago there was more open discuorse about that fact, then there is now.

  66. alfred venison
    February 22nd, 2014 at 09:06 | #66

    ahhh, bang on a can, mr ootz , how nice, we’re enjoying it now. and the malawi mouse boys, too. thanks.

    speaking of the home front, i don’t expect anyone is going to organise guided tours of capital city and/or regional centre town halls to relive what it would have been like to vote against conscription. or what it would have been like to have been a striking railway engineer or a striking railway engineer’s wife.

    i learned from the great german musicologist carl dahlhaus about “reception history” – there should be more of it. -a.v.

  67. Jungney
    February 22nd, 2014 at 15:03 | #67

    @Ootz

    The silence on the frontier wars, the absence of public recognition of the massacres, the sites and the warriors, including the absence of representation in the (holy of holies) National War Museum is ongoing denial. As a nation we’re rather good at denial, I reckon.

    I do like the idea of different levels of guided tours and cultural events for Gallipoli. Imagine a premium tour with Andrew Bolt as a guide. Or Rusty Nails, if he’s still with us. With a complimentary and compulsory southern cross tattoo thrown in.

    Some years ago I made a proposal to some mates on a Land Council that we could run cultural tours of the sites of Jimmy and Joe Governor’s murders. I suppose a premium tour would include a mock attack during an evening cup of billy tea and damper around a campfire under a darkening sky. Oddly enough they rejected the idea outright, once they stopped laughing.

    http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/governor-jimmy-6439

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