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Has Western Culture Died?

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posted on Apr, 17 2006 @ 12:05 AM
This is a question that I've been mulling over in my head during my hiatus from ATS. I recently lost all my modern distractions, internet, television and even my land line phone ( I still have a cell phone for emergencies and I spliced together an antennae so I can watch the Simpsons.) Since I've lost all that I've noticed the world is very different from how I remember it as a child, and vastly different from what my father tells me of his child hood. Looking through books on the history of art, literature, fashion, philosophy, religion, anything really, you'll notice a trend. That almost every generation has had things that defined it as a culture, be it the way they thought or the way they played the guitar, it was somthing distinguishable they left behind.

Western culture has been known for a great many advancments and for most of it's history continued to evolve and advance as a culture, one movement feeding off the next like a great symphony of time. Almost all these advancements, it can be argued, have stemmed from the certain social, political, or econmic environment of it's time. Charles Dickins wrote of England in the Industrial Revolution, Picasso gained inspiration from the influx of African art, Art Deco reflected the movement into the future. Everything was born of passion, be it hatred, love, admiration or anything else it was the passion of the creator that gave birth to these milestones of culture.

However, the most striking thing I've noticed as of late has been the total lack of passion in most people. Sure you still get the hot headed liberal, or the irate racist, but these are passions created to fill the void of true, externally influenced, passion. The kind of passion that drives an artist to paint or a poet to write. What I see most in place of this passion is repetition and immitation. The last great idea is repeated until a new idea comes along, and that in turn is repeated until it is useless.

Take television for example, when the X-Files turned out to be a big hit there was a sudden influx of macabre television show obviously copying off the success of the X-Files. The same is true today, Fox has "Wife Swap" so ABC makes "Trading Spouses". In fact the same goes for all entertainment. Hollywood has been reduced to endless remakes of old films and televisions shows followed by endless sequals until they cease to make money. If one band becomes popular it isn't a month before there are five others that sound and look exactly like the first. What this seems to be to me is a total loss of creativity, there's nothing new, only the same thing in a different color.

If we define "culture" as music, art, literature, philosophy, and archetecture it seems quite obvious that we havn't had a significant movement in any of these areas for quite some time. Sure we've had trends but a trend isn't a movement. A good example of a movement in this case is French Impressionism. Impressionism shocked, appalled, and forever changed not only art but the way we view art and what we're willing to except as art. It has had a lasting effect that basicly created all the movements to come after it. Somehow it seems that we've lost the ability to create somthing like that.

Now what I've really been wrestling with is the main cause of this lack of creativity. Is it the corporate world trivialising every aspect of life in order to make a buck? Perhaps it is our education system and it's obsession with pleasing everyone that has denied our children the knowledge of such past movements in culture. Or maybe it's the constant need to be "jacked in", staying on the internet for hours and watching television at the same time, relying on the both to bring us our world view. Possibly it's the fact that our society has become opulant and lost all it's moral values much like the Romans near the end. Or maybe this is just a lull, the kind that gives rise to great cultural movements and I'm being far to dystopic in my view of the future. Maybe it's the NWO or aliens, really nothing is too "whacky" for ths thread, it is ATS after all.

What I really want this thread to be, if anyone is interested, is more of a discussion and less of a debate. I want to know how people feel about what I've been thinking, whether you agree or disagree, and I want to know why. I'd also like to hear any possible reasons people can come up with for this total lack of cultural worth. I'd like to know if anyone else has noticed any of this or feels the same way I do. I'd really be interested to hear any suggestions people may have on how to remedy this. I do firmly believe that if we are culturally dead then our civilisation as a whole can not be far behind. We need a cultural identity to survive and the constant regurgitation of previous identities is only making the problem worse. I hope this thread has peaked your interest and I'll be eagerly waiting to read anything anyone has to say. If anyone would like me to clarify anything I've stated I'd be more than happy to do so.

posted on Apr, 17 2006 @ 12:41 AM
Wow, excellent post.. pretty though provoking.

I was some what blind of this until you pointed it out. Society is alot of things right now. Apathetic to anything seems to be the normal. Mostly the United States society. They feel worthless and defenseless compared to their military.. erm.. government.

I think this view of thinking, that people of the world are gloom, and not very creative, which as you also stated, was seen before the collapse of Rome; somehow may play out in our modern society.

The doors are open there. All it will take is one very strong movement to get us riled up. But we're scared to start that movement.. revolution at its infancy. Hope you're ready for the fight.

Never considered comparing the arts, literature and beliefs of society to an revolutionist uprising.. weird how I pulled that out of your post

[edit on 4/17/2006 by QuietSoul]

posted on Apr, 17 2006 @ 02:40 AM
Again, great post and yes...very thought provoking...hmmm.

Well, I think you are right....western culture has just, well, stopped. There is nothing great to show of our time but then again did people see Charles Dickins as the great writer we think him to be when he was first writing books. Did people see picasso as the great artist...

I think we shall have to wait and see what the future says of us. We could very well be in the middle of a complete cultural upheavel but it takes someone from the outside to notice.


We could just be lazy...who knows.

posted on Apr, 17 2006 @ 07:39 AM
Very interesting, the lack of exposure to external influences has uplifted your creative thought processes, this happens to me also, I almost dislike using the computer, but at the same time Im hooked because it gives me the information that I crave.

Recently I have been even more sensitive to how unplugged western culture is becoming from feeling anything, I have children and we often visit leisure/tourist venues and I walk watching everybody desperate to make a connection, are they enjoying themselves they ask, they don't know, what does it feel like to enjoy yourself, like you say their passion is gone, waiting for notice/advertisement which confirms that yes they are enjoying themselves.

Am I rambling ???, I am sane I think!!.

Yesterday it was my son's 4th birthday party, we had the party at home, I like to bake/cook and set about a mission to cook everything myself, I would consider myself to be a moderately good cook, but Im not uniform and like things to look handbaked and loved, cooked all the usual stuff fairy cakes, jelly, jam tarts, cheese straws, trifle, cheese cake, it looked great and even better for the fact that I know with everything I cook my heart goes into it. Guests arrived, and you would be amazed how many people did not know what to do, it was the food they usually eat, but well it looked different, would they like it, how would they know, there has been no advert to prep them, no packet to tell them if it tasted good, the food all went very quickly so it couldn't taste that bad, but I couldn't help feeling that some people thought well that I should have made more of an effort, feeling sorry that we couldn't afford to buy branded products.

I'm not bitter

What are we doing, why are we allowing ourselves to become this, life is wonderful, art, music, poetry, sculpture, food, people, until people stop listening to advertsiing and start finding out for themselves so many will miss out and generations to come will not progress.

Thanks you given me another subject to rant about.

posted on Apr, 17 2006 @ 10:12 AM
As a professional designer/artist/craftsman for over 20 years; I definitely see a decline in the overall appreciation of the arts by the masses. On the other hand; folks with discretionary income still patronize the arts with exceptional taste and style.

Artists, like everyone else are driven and motivated by the marketplace. unless you are a trustfunder artist, then you can be as avant garde as you want.

What really adversely affects we professional artist is the manufactured, mass produced stuff that masquerades as hand made or artsy craftsy.

Actually I feel that Western Culture in general is as vibrant as ever if you have the desire to look for it. One of the bellweathers I use to gauge the aesthetic health of a nation is by going in bars frequented by working people. If there is live music, all is well. At least here in the southwest,
bands, solo acts and combos are everywhere, playing for drinks and tips.
Granted this isn't HIGH ART but I feel it's, all good!!

posted on Apr, 17 2006 @ 10:25 AM
I don't think Western culture is dead at all. I think it's just becoming harder to see the major accomplishments through the glut of information and stimuli, most of it garbage, that assaults people in Western societies these days. There are great, original movies being made - look at Crash, for example. There are great novels being written and great songs being composed. It can simply be difficult to see them.

During the early periods of the 20th century, and even before that in the 19th century, people's exposure to the media and other forms of entertainment were far less than what we are exposed to in the 21st century. Simply put, there were less (or no) TV shows, books and songs, mainly because there were less people. So, if a work stood out as a masterpiece, or if it were simply popular, it garnered far more attention. These works stand out as dominant examples of their time and they are easy to see in comparison to similar works produced in today's forest of stimuli. Today, major accomplishments still stand out, but they have less attention and reverence attached to them simply because they are not indicative of their era in the same way that Beethoven and Dickens were. I don't think there are necessarilly any less accomplishments, it's just that we have access to so much media today.

Another factor might involve the general lack of a specific 'movement' for the latter part of the 20th century and early 21st century. The 40s had the whole World War 2 thing to define it, the 50s had rock'n'roll and communism, the 60s had free love and music, the 70s had me (
), the 80s had greed, but what does our present period have? Perhaps, as has been pointed out, we are still too close to it to form an objective opinion.

You also need to consider that cultures do not remain constant decade to decade or century to century. The examples you cited - literature, philosophy, music, art - are all examples of 'high culture'. Whilst I debate the notion that these things have dwindled, you also need to consider that just because a culture shifts away from these things, that doesn't mean that culture has died. It might just mean that it has changed. Sure, you might hate 50 Cent and reality TV, but who is to say that these things won't be considered critical and legitimate elements of Western culture in 50 or 100 years?

Oh, and by the way, Dickens was immensely popular during his own time. Oliver Twist was produced as a serial and was amazingly popular. Dickens was akin to a rock star.

posted on Apr, 17 2006 @ 10:33 AM
Thank you all for your thoguthfull replies, hearing how other people feel on this topic certainly helps me better understand how I feel about it.

What QuietSoul said about being somewhat blind to this rang very true with me, it was sort of a slow dawning realisation. I think most people these days have a certain nagging feeling that somthing isn't right, that somthing is missing. I think this helps give rise to rampant consumerism, cosmetic surgeries and reality televison. Everyone is seeking to fill the void, but what exactly is the void?

I had been thinking that perhaps the void was a loss of cultural values. Exactly like TheRedDragon had stated, people seem to be wandering around in a stuppor waiting for someone to tell them they're having fun. People have forgotten that our culture, our music, art and literature, is far more valuable than anything you can purchase at the mall. It's more than just a gift from the past, it's the culmination of all our human achievements. Look at a Picasso, you're not just seeing a particular movement in art, you're seeing the culmination of art since the first caveman smudged pigment on a wall.

However, I don't think it's as Archangel suggested, I don't think there is some hidden genious waiting to come to light. Granted many artists may have to wait until they die before they're truly appreciated but they were at the very least provacative in their own time. Many artists we consider to be great masters today were once thought of as insane, moronic, or downright useless, but they still illicited strong reactions from the art world.

The only strong reactions I see these days seem so contrived and created, almost as if the person feels they should get angry but don't really know why. Nobody reads anymore, go to a symphony and there are no younger people, search all day and you won't find anyone who can name 3 ballets. We've lost all our cultural values, at one time our music and art were just as important and just as symbolic an export as any mass produced good we may have.

The simple fact of the matter is that we need culture, we need passion, we need people to feel as if they have somthing burning inside them, somthing that when set free will set the world on fire. Painters once painted not for themselves but for the future, it seems we've completely lost sight of the future. People are living so much for the moment that they cease to think of anything else.

In fact, people seem unable to think for themselves at all anymore. If you were to take your average young American to an art museum and ask them what they thought of a painting they wouldn't be able to say anything other than an objective description of the painting. They would mention the how they like the reds, how well the artist captured the faces, but you would never hear a subjective description of how the painting made them feel. Nothing is internalized anymore, so much so that I'm begining to feel that there is no internality (is that a word?) to people anymore. I had a girlfirend once who liked to think of herself as an intellectual but when we went to art museums and I asked her what she thought of a given painting it was obvious she was searching for the right, smart answer, not what she truly felt. the truht of the matter may be that she didn't feel anything at all.

I personally think it's a sin how little money is spent on cultural education and cultural development. If I could I would take half of all the military budget and put it to use reviving our culture. Perhaps there is somthing we can do to help revive it, but I think our efforts will be in vain until we find the root of the problem.

Thanks again everyone, my mind is going a mile a minute now

posted on Apr, 17 2006 @ 11:32 AM
the way I see it is.. the media created culture is what's making 'western culture' disappear...

posted on Apr, 17 2006 @ 12:48 PM
Yes, I agree, the media, and mass production.
For one I get the impression that we are over-entertained, so we fruitlessly strive to be even more entertained, yet we become increasingly bored and it saps us of who we are. I think that perhaps what we need is (like Henry Rollins sung about) 'Nothing, Right Now!' Wanting to be appeased constantly makes it so inner reflection is the one thing we don't entertain.

How can an artist or a craftsman make a living producing stuff that is already mass produced in China and India for slave wages and can be bought at a dollar store? This cheapens the artist. So people who are creative see creativity as a nice thing to have, but it doesn't pay the bills.

People just don't have the time, to much input, it's like someone posting a link, you'd like to read it, but you don't a lot of the time, there is just not enough time to devote to all the information and stimuli that comes in to properly look at it and give it thought, move on, to the next thing, skim through whatever, there are more than enough distractions to keep me busy.

People are tuning out, look how pervasive advertising is, they know they have to shout louder and louder with their ads, simply because people are having a hard time paying attention.
People are tuning out!

I want nothing right now!

Don’t like to think too much, it makes me think too much,
It keeps my mind on my mind
Don’t wanna see too much, it makes me see to much
Sometimes I’d rather be blind

All the things that they’re saying & doing
When they pass me by just fills me up with noise
It overloads me
I wanna disconnected myself
Pull my brain stem out and unplug myself
I want nothing right now, I want to pull it out

Yeah, I want to pull it out, yeah
I wanna break it all down, hey, I wanna pull it out
Yeah, yeah, disconnect myself, disconnect myself
I wanna see it go down, yeah, disconnect myself

A thousand miles an hour going nowhere fast
Clinging to the details of your past
Talking ’bout your damages and your wasting my time
Wanna be the king of pain, stand in line
All the numbers and the colours and the facts
Backed by the rumours and the figures and the stats
I think I’m gonna download my mind


Too damn bad if at the end of the day the only thoughts
In your brain are all the things that they say, what a waste
Too damn bad if at the end of the line you got no idea
What’s on your own mind, you got no one to blame but yourself
Too much to know, too much to see
It might mean something to you but it’s nothing to me
Its just another ad for someone’s version of how they think it should be

I wanna disconnect myself, pull my brains damn out, unplug myself
I want nothing right now, I want to pull it out


Henry Rollins

posted on Apr, 17 2006 @ 01:48 PM
My granny grumbles a few things about the past

In the good old days, so she tells me, the people used to do their daily work for 6 or 8 hours, and then they used to have a complete rest for the next 10 or 12 hours. When at home they used to have plenty of time to do their own family things. This has changed in the last 50 years. Now there is no rest. Today when you finish your job and come home, THEY don't leave you lone. THEY still want you to do something for THEM. THEY want to you watch THEIR television or THEIR movies. You happily oblige. You sit down and carry out THEIR wishes for 3 or 4 hours. Even kids play THEIR video games. You dont even have time for your family and friends to have a proper good talk soul to soul. You must always dash. You and your kids are prevented from doing YOUR own things. Things which would have led you to live a more happier life. People in the old days did exactly that. They used to do what they themselves CHOOSE to do. Now that choice is being eroded. You are depressed because you are an employee even when you are not working.

Well, all that is what my granny says.

[edit on 17-4-2006 by mr conspiracy]

posted on Apr, 17 2006 @ 04:01 PM
Your granny is spot on

posted on Apr, 17 2006 @ 04:16 PM
I like to turn off all electronic media every now and then and just read a good book. Then I spend the nextfew days mulling over what I read. Even fiction can be thought provoking.

posted on Apr, 17 2006 @ 08:34 PM
Great thread shadowflux. Very important and thoughtful essay.

I don't think the culture has died as much as its gone comatose. The basic, survival functions are working, but the higher, cognitive functions are kaput.

The arts exist, but honestly, the last mention of modern art in popular media I can recall is a story about an exhibit consisting of 'meat'. A bacon sleeping bag, steak tent. It's a shame more people don't read The New Yorker and stay minimally current on art.

More than one of the responses here mentioned the 'immediacy' of our culture ("our", I'm assuming you're a part of the Western culture). I think the 'right now' aspect of this culture is a serious handicap to our future. Particularly when it makes it incredibly difficult to wake people up to how the future is shaping up.


posted on Apr, 18 2006 @ 10:15 AM
Thank you again for all your great responses they've really made me think more on the subject. Somehow Whaaaa and Jeremiah managed to post while I was writting my last post hence why I didn't mention them in that post, this one should cover everything so far.

I've been thinking over the past few days that perhaps Whaaa and Jeremiah are correct, that maybe I'm being too hard on society as a whole and that if I looked deep enough I'd find some vibrant "high culture". However, no matter how hard I try I can't really see it, perhaps there are a few burgeoning movements but I think they get crushed amidst the mountains of drek that's saturated our culture. I've been looking, I'm always looking, I'm an artist/graphic designer myself and I live in Manhatten, a major hub of western culture if there ever was one. All the art I see is either some regurgitated style of the past or meaningfull only to the artist. What's worse is that even skilled artisans are turning their talents to garbage much like this scultpture which is about to debut in Williamsburg. Brittany Spears giving brith:

Granted, examples like this and the meat exhibit may be considered as "art" by a few but I hardly think they have any significance. I find it hard to believe that naked pop stars and meat furniture are going to have a major impact not only in the art world but in society as a whole. In 50, 100 or even 1,000 years no one will know or care who Brittany Spears is.

Whaaa also mentioned that a great many rich people still contribute greatly to the arts but if the arts they're contributing to never reach the masses then it's not Western Culture, it's Elitist culture and does about as much good for the advancement of our society as naked pop stars giving birth. I believe so called "high culture" to be a necessary element of objective thought. Looking at the Mona Lisa we're looking at somthing hundreds of years old, it puts into perspective the fact that we can't only be concerned with the present that we must always keep the future in mind. That is why I don't consider things like 50 Cent (even though he's from NYC lol) to be culture, things like that are simply corporate creations designed to make money and have no lasting impact on our society as a whole.

As I said I've been thinking about it a lot and I think I'm willing to except a few things as Modern Culture if not High Culture based on it's impact on our society, how much it's done to advance our society, and it's long term impact. This may sound a bit biased but I believe Star Trek, at least the original series, to be important Modern Western Culture due to the amount of people it influenced. The head of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the creator of the cell phone, just to name a few, both cite Star Trek as their inspiration and that, at least in my deffinition, is a major factor in labeling somthing as important Culture. Our culture should inspire generations and teach them that they are not bound by the limitations of their current position in life, it should make them strive to be more, to change the world. Our culture should do more than refelct the mindlerss apathy and idol worhsip of our times.

As far as art goes I've been able to come up with one major artist that has changed art as a whole and that would be Frank Frazetta. These days the field of fantasy illustration is completely saturated by any number of imitators but Frank Frazetta has been the most influential. His style of dark bold blacks mixed with vibrant colors, his master level understanding of anatomy and his ability to stylize the human body has influenced all the preceding fantasy artists. On top of all that he and his wife are also responsible for many of the artist's copyright acts we have today and the ability of a commercial artist to keep his original work. On a somewhat lesser level I would also add Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell to the list of master painters though I believe they are sitll too young to have influenced society as Frazetta has.

I've also been giving a lot of thought as to the cause of our degrading culture and so far I've come up with a few possibilities. I think that, as has been mentioned, the media has played a major part in the slaying of our culture. Due to the availability of, and speed with which we recieve information people have lost all patience and have come to demand things on the spot. Even if there were another Da Vinci alive right now he would never recieve any work if he took 5 years to paint even a masterpeice. This need for instant gratification has devalued every aspect of life and made it impossible for people to value anything except in a sentimental or monetary sense. People will no longer spend half an hour going over every brushstroke and detail of a painting in a museum, they'll just stride on through thte gallery and hope their favorite picture is on a trinket in the gift shop. People are only able to take things at face value.

Our education system is also to blame, placing more value on athletic ability and future earning potential than tha actual education of our children. Our schools are little more than indoctrination centers where our children learn little of real significance and are taught how to properly be a corporate drone. Children are unable to place current events in a historical perspective so I suppose we can't expect them to refuse to except meat sculptures and 50 Cent as culturally significant.

Going hand in hand with the education system is the constant drugging of not only our children but our leaders, all the way up to the president. A long time ago people were forced to deal with and live with their emotions which in turn caused them to place value and significance on them. These days there is a drug for every feeling, whether you want to stop one or feel one more often and this cheapens the human experience as a whole. How can a great masterpeice incite strong emotions in a person when chemicles are constantly surpressing them? I suppose this is why people love the sweet sterile tranquility of Thomas Kinkaid so much. I for one take no medication except Alleive when I have a headache.

I suppose I should end it here as I should be getting back to work but this discussion is becoming increasinlgy stimulating and I'd like to thank everyone again for their thoughful replies. I look foward to hearing more about how you all feel about this, please feel free to add to anything I've said or disagree with it all, just keep it as a discussion and not a debate, I'm sure we all have better things to do than start an argument online.

posted on Apr, 21 2006 @ 04:08 PM

Originally posted by Jeremiah25
I don't think Western culture is dead at all. I think it's just becoming harder to see the major accomplishments through the glut of information and stimuli, most of it garbage, that assaults people in Western societies these days. There are great, original movies being made - look at Crash, for example. There are great novels being written and great songs being composed. It can simply be difficult to see them.

I just wanted to say that this is an excellent point that Jeremiah made. My main "art" interest is in electronic music, and I can't say that what was created after the year 2000 is inferior to what was done before. It's a fascinating genre and it continues to thrive... However, as Jeremiah pointed out, because of the glut of information, the stream of interesting works is diluted by a huge flow of mass culture (or whatever you choose to call it). So, there is a select group of people with keen interest in a particular art form, and they know, create and appreciate it, and there are the masses who listen to Britney Spears (whose albums are beautifully mixed, by the way). Or 50 cent. Or whoever. So the culture is not dead, it's somehow retreated to niches... Does it make sense?

posted on Apr, 21 2006 @ 04:33 PM
I would hardly surmise that Western civilization has died or is dying. It has simply begun to 'morph'. The 'morph' is caused by globalization in an age of instantaneous internet communication, etc.

Furthermore, as an avid historian and a student, literally, of international relations studies, when something has died, especially in the case of a civilization, something takes it place. Having said that, I would ask the question that if the death or dying Western Civilization hypothesis is valid, then what will or is replacing it?


posted on Apr, 21 2006 @ 05:43 PM
So true, Seekerof. A personal example of future--my nephew's wife is Russian, their son and daughter (both under seven years old) had Russian as their first language and are now fluent in English, too. A colleague's young nephew is fluent in Russian, English, and Spanish. East has met West. Will this be a global civilization?
I would like to see more Americans be "cultured" beyond Hollywood. Sadly, these are the subjects being removed from schools, a traditional method of conveying culture. Sadder yet, America has commodified so much of culture, crap in a beautifully wrapped box is still crap . And, yes, Shadowflux, we have numbed the emotional side of us, blocking a way to Truth, not only of ourselves but of others.

posted on Apr, 21 2006 @ 06:01 PM
Very good question Seekerof, one on which I will have to spend some time pondering. I intend to write a longer response to the question when I have the time, however, my first thoughts would be that it is indeed being replaced by a new globalized, instantaneous culture. One in which change hapens so quickly a long lived movement is impossible. Though if it truly is being replaced by such a culture than what is to become of our cultural identity, what will define a given work of art or a peice of music as distinctly coming from a given country. I still feel cultural identity to be of importance as the rise of a virtual and connected world hardly negates the physical world of regional, social, philosophical, and political differneces.

Thanks for the question, I can feel the hamster wheel turning in my head.

posted on Apr, 21 2006 @ 06:23 PM
In a few words: corporate mass media propaganda driven by global plutocracies.

Think about it: our minds are overloaded on a daily basis by messages from corporations or governing bodies (are they not the same entity?) It is simply too much. I´m from ´64 myself and can vividly remember the rise of the internet, and television programs breaking new taboos all the time, creating more and more lethargy and immunity to violence and sex in the masses. Can you imagine shows like free-fighters or hexagon or whatever it´s called being shown in the 70´s? I would think not.

We are numb. And not comfortably so. The appreciation for fine arts these days seems to have been pushed to the background as we are all in survivor mode, young and old.

It´s not a battle where the fittest wins, but rather the one who is less confused. Maybe we should claim our focus back by meditating for a month by not watching t.v., not surfing the net, not listening to the radio but just reading some classic books (No, not Catcher in the Rye. :-) or actually visiting some musea for a change.

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