An Evans-Manning Award For Great Comment to commenter Mohammad, who posted this to this morning’s thread about stability and mobility:
When I came first to the USA, I had a romantic imagination regarding rural USA. It was a mix of little house on the prairie, Huckleberry Finn, and Western movies. And for sure I met in rural America some of the best people one can hope to meet, and that in the bible belt. But overall,in vulgarity was the norm, even if not as much as in suburbs of the cities. (At least it was my experience, which I admit readily to be limited in scope). The reason? I was told by some American friends that it was because of TV.
You can hardly have TV and an authentic local culture at the same time. Your question about the relationship between local culture and fidelity to the place becomes irrelevant, because TV dwarfs any other consideration. And this is not restricted to the USA. In the Islamic world also. It is such a calamity. Anywhere you go in Iran, for example, the local culture has perished. Almost everything has vanished in less than 40 years, and again the main culprit is TV. What difference does it make if a villager leaves his village or not, when the village has abandoned what used to make it unique and worthy? True, the villagers might still be warmer and kinder and more generous than the city people, but they have been vulgarized to the degree that one might very well live in the middle of the cold lonesome city.
When I was much younger and living in DC, I remember having an argument with some friends there about city versus country. Some of them, conservatives, believed that small towns were places of virtue, unlike the vice-ridden cities. I, who grew up in a small town, told them that may be true in some particular cases, but that the idea of a small town as a place to retreat to for the purpose of escaping the crassness of mass culture is a false hope. Wherever you have TV, you have modern American culture. In fact, small towns can under some conditions be worse places than cities because there are fewer places to find a countercultural community there.
I told the story on my blog years ago about a professor friend (who reads this blog; please out yourself and tell more if you want to) who took a college teaching job in Appalachia back in the 1990s. He was struck by how many of his students had no interest in, or active disdain for, the rich musical culture of their region; all they wanted was what was on offer on MTV.
In 2006, I was at an Arab media conference in Dubai. I sat in on a session in which the forthcoming launch of an Arab regional version of MTV was being discussed. All of the panelists were excited about it. I imagine if I lived in a region as conservative as theirs, I would be excited too. As I recall, a Swiss journalist (a convert to Islam) and I were the only people in the room who sounded cautionary notes about how MTV was going to act as a solvent on local culture. Someone responded by saying that some aspects of local culture need to be dissolved. Yes, I agree. I didn’t say, nor would I say, that everything about MTV — or more broadly, cable television — is bad or harmful. I would only point out that its existence changes the culture profoundly, both for better and for worse.