Cultural Production

I've been thinking about the ways in which culture is produced. As I think, I am sitting in my bedroom folding origami animals. A giraffe, a walrus, an antelope and more. What I find fascinating is that as I get excited to create these artifacts and possibly distribute them about the city, I realize that most of the people I know have totally different intentions regarding culture. Instead of producing, many of my friends want to consume. Consume TV shows, movies, books, music, video games and such. They want to take what has been created and enjoy it.

I have no fundamental problem with people enjoying what was so painfully created for their enjoyment. What makes a product valuable is that it is consumed. What is the value of a movie no one watches? Or an outstanding meal left uneaten? Consumption gives meaning to production and so it might be considered the more important of the two. But I think they are roughly equal in value, that we as individuals need to balance them. A healthy person needs to interact with their environment, not simply consent to it.

Even though we are in an age where it is easier to disperse culture once it is created (via YouTube, blogs and eBay), the environment is not one that seriously encourages the initial production. With origami as an example, for me to casually fold is time consuming and not economically beneficial. I could just as easily watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer (as one friend would like me to be doing right now).

In the days when each tool and each meal and each piece of clothing was custom made, it was easy for the artisan to be an artist. The craftsman would leave a personal touch, whether intentional or not. But now the "craftsman" has little control over the product. There is no customization for the vast majority of products which means in order to escape the standard, people must make an extra effort. That discourages them and encourages a minority of people to over-produce what they can sell to the rest of us. True, the masses have a say. They can vote with their money and they can vote on American Idol, but voting is not the same as singing on stage.

What I would like to see is an increase in hobbies that produce. More casual musicians who don't care if they get a gig. More drawing for the heck of it. More meals from scratch. Because when one produces culture, they are forming their environment, they are becoming a part of it and letting it become a part of them.

[The image is my own, of a traditional Crane]

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