“Not “bad” meaning bad but “bad” meaning good.”~Run DMC
When we talk about culture it’s obvious that culture is such a cornerstone of human life as it describes a realm of creation and invention necessary to the growth and development of a society.
Society is structured in a particular way and culture in turn is intervened on when a particular culture becomes popular which implies that culture exists outside of its popularity because it is something that has to exist before it even becomes popular and that is where I want to examine culture from, the margins.
This examination from this starting point can be viewed as and labelled ‘ante-pop culture’ and there are tons of cultural artifacts that can be viewed from this “ante” perspective that would evidence the fact that it is something that exist beyond time but is also built within the confines of time; time as the quantitative measurement of movement in space. When viewing culture from the framework of measurement it becomes a thing pre-existing and I would posit already accessible but occluded by the passing of time and its adoption to the point of measurable adaptation.
The fact that something can be a cultural norm at one period in time and then become obsolete and an artifact clues us into another fact of culture which is that culture is birthed out of circumstance by giving a common meaning to a common socio-spatial inheritance in a period of time.
Derrida has written many treatments on the ability to be a bricoleur in using language, the situationists with the idea of detournement of culture or “culture jamming” as the popular Canadian magazine Adbusters has taken up, and McLuhan on the different ways the medium we choose to use to express ourselves as human beings and our culture is modified and could be said to be distorted through those various mediums we choose as the vehicle for expression.
When we think about the ideas of appropriation, adaptation, adoption, distortion, and the myriad of neoliberal fantasies of foreclosure it would seem a natural occurrence of society and the nature of humankind’s existence as society through the passing of time, that culture would change over time, it would become more widely used becoming a functional necessity for social relations throughout the whole of a society, and ultimately changed due to those same circumstances that humankind exist in.
If we want to really examine culture, we as folks in the diaspora deserve to look at culture as an opportunity to push and pull and antagonize from our position as black folks, as the other, as “the black” in an anti-black society and understand that most of the culture that has become popularized by mainstream white civil/civic society had its genesis and its origin, outside the margins, created by mostly black folk among others, who exist in what I’d like to call “extra-civil” society.
All people from around the globe bring their culture to America and this milieu, imposed on by capitalism, takes the best cultural qualities out and makes them standard, accessible, typical, stereotypical, but ultimately marketable.
In being the originators we have a stake in how culture is created through time and ultimately who gets to be the owner of said culture. The question is if you examine the framing occluding the malleable nature of culture coupled with invoking the enlightenment era framework of ownership, private property, and social contract, these being westernized notions of social relation and engagement, they frame out an alternative to their given conclusions.
They also lay the ground for what we do not want which is exclusion, enclosure, foreclosure, and many other lines drawn in the sand. If we could imagine a different way to engage with culture that didn’t push these frameworks antecedent to the exposition, creation, and usage of culture, even the question of “ownership”, could something be created from outside the margin? If we were to engage antagonistically, productively, and pre-figuratively with posing the question could it be a matter of how and when, a how and when defined by social relations that are extra “productive” and from an organic cycle of intrapersonal utility and/or a surplus of cultural production that serves all psyche and subjectivities.
If we pose the question as culture being a matter of circumstance do we need to define out and distinguish between whose circumstances warranted the use or usefulness of such culture or could it be seen as a organic communal process? This question brings us back to the myriad of ways culture can become modified via different mediums such as language, technology and human social relations particularly in the era of neoliberal social relations.
If we look at cultural production within poor black communities, often designated as having a dysfunctional culture which there is a case to be made against a mainstream white “civil” anti-black society that chooses to disregard through obscuring and overdetermination, it is founded on a particular history of experience and social relations, intra & inter personal, that contributes to its particularities.
For example, the idea of criminality as an inherent part of black culture that is distorted by white “civil” media, language, and social reification, if we view it through a lens of blackness and humaneness as valid, righteous, just, positive, affirmative, historical, etc., we would realize the potentiality that comes from existing as human due to circumstances of being excluded from “official” channels of expression.
Just as one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter so is one society’s criminal element another society’s S/Hero. Uneven economic development has not been a process to afford those on the bottom of the unevenness ability to gain access to a cultural framework rich with interventions and impositions by mediums, technologies, and human social relations structured through white “civil” society but is garnered through a more organic and creative process, one where there is no westernized prescriptive ideology which to view culture through authentically.
What exists cannot be named and what can be named cannot exist. What makes “black culture” so particularly malleable is its authentic raw and uncut potentiality that can only be viewed by civil society white and black through a lens of mimetic fantasy and illusion. It draws to itself a symbolic disjunction that because it is unpresentable and veiled must be represented. As it is presented again through time and space it becomes historicized, socialized, transcended, and lives out its usefulness. It creates a foundation in which future cultural forms will blossom out of. It becomes soil.
This soil, or “soul” as metaphor, is the essence of circumstance expressed through human society and is found in the gulf between the quality in the material underpinning black culture and its aesthetic and societal expression. The technology and mediums we use to transfer and communicate that culture is inherently trans-local and has been made overly accessible through the neoliberal project of globalization.
These mediums and technologies are created through a system of capitalism and because capitalism is inherently alienating, they alienate, distance, and separate the producer from the management distribution of what is produced. As was stated before, these technologies and mediums intervene on any proposed organic transfer of culture and its execution.
This begs the question of who is guarding the gates? Who creates and manages these technologies and mediums? How do they intervene and impose themselves on culture? How and when does a particular cultural production become popularized?
The real issue is one of social relations and its imposition and intervention on cultural production and distribution. Social relations in an unequal society portends inequality in the engagement, reification, management, and distribution of culture. So, there shouldn’t be wonder or amazement around “ideas of appropriation adaptation, adoption, distortion, and the myriad of neoliberal fantasies of foreclosure” when thinking about how those things happen so easily to black culture, produced and reproduced, presented and represented via structural mechanisms that work as an infrastructure for white “civil” society to monopolize culture and liberally distribute it.
A somewhat recent example is the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruling against a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Catastrophe Management Solutions, effectively ruling that refusing to hire someone because of their ‘dreadlocks’ is legal.
Black folk in the diaspora have been consistently, against all rebellion and movement towards political engagement, intentionally excluded from being at the head of and directing traditional civic institutions and business, thus the most powerful realm of the production, creation, and control of culture is in language and because of the new accessibility to technologies that make human society more connected, black folk have their most sharpened weapon in social media platforms and traditional word of mouth within our communities.
The Black Arts Movement is one of the most prominent examples of how this creation of culture being built on an infrastructure created and secured culturally by black folk is vital to its continuation and dissemination to black folk. The Black Arts Movement birthed Third World Press which is the oldest and largest continuously functioning African American–run literary publisher.
This as such, I would propose using these technologies and mediums as a way forward in creating, constructing, growing, “distributing”, and disseminating culture. To create our Culture as our touchstone.