Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Culture of the Media, Culture of Consumption

It is here that the wider issue of 'political culture' extends into modern usages of culture by the media. For the wish not to be come violent, loses itself virtually in a media culture enticing people to imagine themselves being Rambo or some other hero, but always someone ready to disregard the laws and to set his own rules, means of fighting even if that means violently, if only to get his way. Adorno and Horkheimer had described already in 'Dialectic of Enlightenment', that is in 1944, how culture has become a product of the 'culture industry', Hollywood being but one outstanding example of that. They called it the culture of 'manipulation', missing out on the humanistic aspect linked to redemption. 1

This 'culture of manipulation' through the usage of images leads to mass deception. Adorno and Horkheimer argue that this is, however, only possible once societies have lost any positive relationship to nature and to substantial goals in life. The images portrayed on the screen give people the momentary illusion and hence satisfaction to be able to overcome the 'little man' inside of themselves, if only they would follow the model of behaviour presented to them by their heroes. Latest then, when youngsters race in their cars for money along a seaside road in Athens, at the risk of killing themselves by overturning their cars or crashing into normal traffic and thus jeopardising the lives of others; then there is a break-down of distance between imagination and reality. The measure of distance is really the human component languages carry through the centuries. It is said that a loss of distance between imaginative reflections and fulfilment of thought in reality means violence. For to have but a few kicks, when it destroys in the end all human self-understanding and possibilities of language to mediate between personal wishes and the realities of others, then this is no longer an innocent game played to escape boredom. Indeed, it is not hunger that drives these youngsters to the edge of life, but boredom and a deeper motivational crisis linked to a lack of knowledge with what to do with their lives. There seems to be no cultural horizon available and no perspective to become practical in human terms. Especially the latter is negated in a world determined by the 'culture of consumption' and explains the failure of Humanism.

How absurd that world has become, that is demonstrated by Rodeo Drive, a mile long, but one of the most expensive streets in the world. It is expensive not because of only high real estate values, nor due to customers who appear to afford almost anything at whatever price. Rather in this street it is money which is itself being consumed, that matters to the degree of letting prices reach absurd heights. Rodeo Drive is not anymore at the periphery of the capitalistic world, but rather represents its own transcendence. That is why a shoe boutique has even built-in fake staircases due to the wish of the customers to be filled with the illusions to whisk down the stairs, in order to impress everyone. Ascending and descending are compatible terms in a status oriented consumer society. Why? Social recognition plays a role as in all societies over time, but this time it is conveyed by the conviction that no one recognises you for what you are, a weak human being, but what powers (or companies), and in particular the power of money, you represent. Not only clothes but also 'masks' people wear, they indicate that almost everything else is made subservient to this need for recognition. Many are willing to go even to the extreme of self-denial, in order to fulfil that illusion to be 'someone' in a faceless society. That was already familiar to farmers who were considered to be rich if their houses included a few more windows than their neighbours.

Culture in those luring, flashy halls of consumption with their blinding neon lights does not really exist. 'The Culture of Consumption' 2 is not so much an expression of really living and loving life, but rather more like a disguised emergency hospital station patching up those who have become victimised by a society refusing to recognise them on their own terms, as what they are. They are really estranged from life by an endless, equally senseless process of repeated sameness whether in London, Paris, Berlin or Athens because the surroundings no longer add up to a 'quality of life', but apparently Benetton or MacDonald does.

Culture in a positive sense would mean a practical engagement, in order to be able to articulate out of differentiated experiences of life the 'self'. Still, to be determined, culturally speaking, by Beethoven, Mozart, Van Gogh, Picasso, Fellini, Fassbinder, Adorno, Popper, Sartre, Camus, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, to mention but few possibilities, this is not simply an anecdote of having read or studied or listened to something, but a touch of human substance out of which are developed the future cultural co-ordinates for orientation purposes. 3 It takes a long time to develop those co-ordinates (as they are set at a political level by predominant conflicts such as was the East-West one during the period of the Cold War). As a conscious form of orientation they guide human action into becoming something, while budgetary expenditures are justified by them. Without them, isolation resulting from loss of orientation would beset people with 'cultural', not only economic difficulties; i.e. how to make their needs be understood.

This cultural orientation must be attained by every person; it is not given, even though potentially there. It is part of the cultural work in need to be done before being able to be receptive to cultural expressions by others. It includes the ability to listen. These conditions must be fulfilled prior to being able to participate in society with more than just a mere passive consciousness; for then, through this participation of getting involved in a human action, even the future can be shaped by the human being and not by abstract powers or unknown forces. 4 The German psychoanalyst Mitscherlich stated, for example, that in the case of Germany, the prerequisite for such participation is also the ability to mourn over the many losses of human lives and with them the many cultural orientations which disappeared once so many Jewish intellectuals and artists perished in the concentration camps. 5 Without them, there is a general loss of orientation and no poetry possible after Auschwitz (Adorno). Culture rests on the deep conviction that every single life provides others with orientation and insights into life itself; that is, everyone is valuable and not only a leader or someone higher up in the hierarchy. Somehow this deeper dimension of trying to understand Europe in all of its complexity seems to have been lost along the process of integration. That is why there is a need for a critical evaluation of integration especially in terms of culture and the impact of integration upon 'cultural diversity'. If single cultures are left out or overruled by the process, due to a general sentiment that things have become already too complicated and one cannot include still another language, cultural perspective and viewpoint, the then European reality to be dealt with is one of over-simplification and loss of true cultures, rather than one of differentiation in recognition of valuable differences. It would mean furthermore leaving behind the traits of European cultures based on dialogues ready to question value premises, in order to create new ones. As Luc van den Brande says in his written speech to the participants of the Fifth Seminar, 'democracy has its price'.

As Europe will change after the Maastricht Treaty has been ratified by all members, the cultural premise of any further integration process is in need of a new self-critical reflection. Only then the true perspectives for further integration attempts can be communicated to all members in a convincing manner. That is why the Fourth Seminar held in Bruges, November 26 - 27, 1993 was an important effort to bring the political and scientific discourse about integration into contact with cultural dimensions. In order to deal with the question of Europe, the premises of integration had to be made theoretically explicit, in order to be able to discuss them in terms of their implications especially for culture and cultural values.


1 This is especially stressed by Martin Jay in his discussions of the Frankfurt School. See, for instance, the last chapter in his book on Adorno called 'Culture as Manipulation; Culture as Redemption'.
2 This is a key term for Prof. Bekemans in his evaluative approach to Europe on the brink of convergence, for he asks whether 'cultural diversity' can be maintained or else everything has succumbed already to the 'culture of consumption'. See Leonce Bekemans and Robert Picht, European Societies between Diversity and Convergence, Bruges 1993.
3 Bruno Kartheuser speaks about people being grinded down by daily life and only when a poet like Ritsos gives them insights into themselves without need for any kind of translation, can they recognise the human substance again: "An Undefeatable Summer" in 'Myth and Poetry', XVI European Poetry Festival, Crete, Athens and Aegina, May - June 1994 (unpublished).
4 The cultural debate about European integration will have to consider that very carefully, in order not to have the German model of unification via the D-Mark be transposed upon the European Union. The only voices against a kind of mechanical or forced integration in Germany were that of Guenter Grass and Habermas. Afterwards the schisms dividing East and West Germany have only deepened due to having ignored cultural differences and the time needed to reach a mutual understanding based on a consensus of values and respect on equal terms. This is something which Luc van den Brande talks also about from a Flemish point of view; however, as the final evaluation report by Kris Rogiers will reveal, there is a fear on the Flemish part that in a broadening of the European Cultural Movement Flemish interests will not prevail anymore or not that strong. This is, however, a deep fallacy; cultural diversity in Europe cannot be based solely on overt appeals to mutual respect, for each particular culture must perceive the needs of the other (s) and proceed accordingly under the notion own cultural demands cannot be fulfilled without equally heeding and fulfilling the needs of the other (s). The legal term of 'quid quo pro' does not suffice here. Cultural equality is altogether a very different achievement in life.
5 Alexander und Margarete Mitscherlich, Die Unfaehigkeit zu trauern, Muenchen 1968.
powerful entity that people started to look upon it as a world power besides the United States. That was really the rosy side of the picture until, as mentioned already, the Danish veto send suddenly chills down the corridors of the bureaucratic complexes in Brussels. All of a sudden the European Commission had to explain more of its intentions to a Danish population not willing to believe that the Maastricht Treaty would safeguard their interests in, for example, secure pensions. Indeed, as always in history, concerns about the future are translated into real issues like social security, pensions, health insurance's, unemployment benefits, etc.. To safeguard the interests of people, that is the kind of demand people themselves place upon institutions, and if that safety or rather security feeling breaks down, the crisis will express itself in overt or diverse forms of resistance and scepticism not always easy to be dealt with by any kind of political culture, lest of all the democratic one which brought into existence a certain kind of institutions as a means of reaching understanding and decisions.

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