The Children of E.D. Hirsch


In a mostly clueless review of Chris Anderson's The Long Tail, Marc Gunther repeats my least favorite complaint about the decline of mass culture:

Big stars, hit TV shows and even commercials help knit a society together. Think of the feeling that comes a few times a year—the morning after the Super Bowl or the Oscars—when tens of millions of Americans share a common experience….[I]t's worth slowing down, now and then, to think about what we are losing as we retreat into that "mass of niches."

Maybe we already have slowed down, given that I've been hearing this argument for well over a decade now. For that matter, you can see an earlier version of the same anxiety in the '80s panic over the alleged loss of our "common culture," which began with dark ruminations about the closing of the American mind but soon evolved into a friendlier series of middlebrow quiz books aimed at testing the reader's "cultural literacy." A generation later, we apparently no longer feel the need to pretend that it's the grand heritage of the West that binds us together, and declinists fret instead about the fading power of football games and celebrity fashions.

Personally, I was more sympathetic to an earlier complaint: that TV was erasing America's regional differences. I can hardly grumble now that the country's diversity is finally creeping back into our mass media.

[Via Jim Henley.]