Here’s an empowering thought: culture isn’t static. The moment culture ceases to develop, to change, to be active and relevant, becomes little more than history. What’s more, culture is just a conglomeration of a thousand contributing members– the aggregate sum of everyone within the culture. So the empowering thought is this: we, as a generation of the 21st century, play a role in the development of our cultural tradition– American culture.
Though a bit trite, the point is this: we can be shaped by our culture, or we can shape our culture. And shaping our culture is a lot easier than one might think. It starts by awareness: becoming cognizant of one’s place and role within America. We are the next generation– the next generation of musicians, of business owners, managers, executives, etc, or politicians, of activists, of consumers– for better or for worse. We are a swelling mass pushing up from underneath. We are displacing what’s above us, and replacing with broader, bolder, distinctly 21st century ideas, trends, foods, styles, etc.
And we’re in control. It’s not the multi-billion dollar marketing corporations and not the flashy over-polished fashion shows that define what our trends are–what tomorrow’s style will be–it’s us. It’s the people who buy, or don’t buy, into the marketing schemes. It’s the people who buy, or don’t buy, a particular fashion. There’s a lot of different groups competing to help define our culture, but at the end of the day, it’s up to us to decide which groups we want to identify ourselves with.
So yeah–sure, MTV (for example) is one of these groups. MTV wants to define our culture. Period. To control what’s hip, stylish, trendy, etc. To tell us what music is valuable, and what music we can do without. And here’s the thing: as inheritors, and now possessors of American culture, we can choose to give or deny this right to MTV–and to a thousand other media and marketing conglomerates. How do we choose? Simple. Don’t tune in. Change the channel. Turn off your television.
The cool thing is, though, that we have a choice. To continue the MTV example, if we like what we see– if MTV is providing valuable, relevant programming, then by all means– endorse it! Support it! If it’s valuable, if it’s representative of yourself, of our generation, of how American culture should look, then we, as owners, can buy in to it. Support it. Watch it. Tell our friends about it. And if we don’t like it–remembering our place–we can turn it off. Change the channel. Start our own music television broadcasting station. Why not?
And it’s not just music. It’s not just pop-culture. It’s broad and all-encompassing. Every dollar we spend–every organization or company we support–shapes tomorrow. If we want businesses in our community to pay their employees fairly, we can make it happen? How? Shop at the businesses that do. Don’t shop at the businesses that don’t. Easy, huh? If we want our culinary tradition to include more vegetarian options, we can make it happen. How? By ordering vegetarian options when available. By requesting vegetarian options where not available. By experimenting– making tasty new vegetarian foods ourselves. Sharing with friends. Etc.
Every decision we make, every item we buy, every item we don’t, every restaurant we patronize, every restaurant we don’t, every vehicle we drive, etc– it’s all significant. Our choices shape our culture. It’s a privilege and a burden. It’s a privilege in that tomorrow can be exactly what we want it to be, but a burden because we’re forced to evaluate each of our decisions in terms of our roles and shapers of culture.