Future thinking

Stewart Home is in many ways correct. “To be avant-garde” he postures, “is to be ahead of the pack”, to be outside of the norms of society in order to highlight the contradictions failings of the system that are invisible to those inside it. Where he falters is in his assertion that this counter culture “must necessarily take the form of what the discredited ‘culture’ views as a fraud and a sham.” The reason is that his argument is built around the assumption that there are centralised and accepted establishments that dictate the norm and that one must set themselves in opposition to that.

Such an outlook greatly underestimates the rise of the individual and decline of the system’s authority. Take the rather chic example of Lady GaGa. Many would see her as fulfilling Home’s vision, attacking the established paradigms of beauty, style and sexuality. Yet that relies on there being a widely accepted paradigm to begin with and herein lies the contention. Individuality is destroying these paradigms by establishing a subjective model of culture, one where there is no consistent, shared value and most importantly, where the values one holds are a creation, an amalgamation and juxtaposition of one’s own mind rather than an imposition. Increasingly in modern times, one can see the collapse of the top down system of culture. A prime example of this is the dissolution of the critic’s power. There are a number of reasons for the decline of the critic and the fact that online reviews are free is not to be underemphasised. There is a much greater appeal in getting a broad spectrum of opinion than there is in getting a centralised one. Even the more pessimistic commentators of web culture, such as Geert Lovink, accept that “the time of the net critic has come.”

In that sentence lies the future and the death of the avant garde, and in many ways its rebirth. The internet is an exceedingly powerful force of change and equality. More than that, it is an equaliser of unprecedented scale and possibility. The rise of the internet has created a new, subjective and hyper personal culture that defies absolutes. It does this in a variety of ways but this piece will highlight the two main factors. Firstly, it has allowed and actively encouraged the rise of the individual. Social networking sites, blogs and community run projects all emphasise the role of the individual and their importance, rather than the content of corporations or professionals. If one looks at the current rankings for the world’s most popular websites we see that 6 of the top 10 most visited sites are ones where the individual is the focus of the site. The internet can be seen then, to be empowering people not only by giving them the means to express themselves but also the inherent sense of equality and worth they need to replace the critic. The resounding message from the online world is that the individual is the future.

In this case, can one really expect the archaic ideas of a prescribed cultural norm to continue? Given the importance of individualism, there will soon be no fixed stand point for the avant garde to attack because norms will simply cease to exist. One will no longer have to associate themselves with a particular faction or system, because there will be no uniformity and no norm. Obviously radicalism will continue to exist but in a sense there wil be no innovative radicals because everyone will have the potential to be one.

April 11, 2018


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