Communication Creates Culture

This interview excerpt of Siva Vaidhyanathan from Paul Schmelzer’s Eyeteeth Blog (link above – you need to scroll down the page a bit) gets at the root of why community communication systems are so crucial. It is about preserving the ability for culture to happen.

Siva Vaidhyanathan: Both democracy and creative culture share this notion that they work best when the raw materials are cheap and easy and easily distributed. You can look at any cultural development that’s made a difference in the world—reggae, blues, crocheting—you can look at any of these and say, y’know, it’s really about communities sharing. It’s about communities moving ideas between and among people, revision, theme and variation, and ultimately a sort of consensus about what is good and what should stay around.

Later he writes:

This sort of creative circle–the drum circle or the blues-singing circle–is simply the most vivid image we have of these sort of creative communities. These creative communities are all over the place. Anyplace artists gather, any place musicians just jam for the fun of it… I think that this is a powerful form and a powerful habit. It’s also an important part of being human. It’s the essence of being cultural.

We’re not missing those communities; we’re just not investing in them and celebrating them like we should. Because the form of cultural production that this country and therefore the world has decided to celebrate, protect and promote is the industrial form. It’s the form that says: it’s gonna start with a piece of paper by a scriptwriter, it’s going to go through a series of meetings, it’s going to be produced step by step with the contribution of hundreds or thousands of people with hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars and then be distributed to millions of people, perhaps billions of people, in a form that the institution that produced it dictates.

And of particular relevance to community communication centers, like LTC:

Nonetheless, it’s this notion of working from the common cultural phenomena that we share to build new and special things. That’s what we have to focus on. That’s why we need a low barrier of entry to creative processes. That’s why we need free and cheap access to cultural materials. Free and cheap access can come a number of ways: through electronic networks, through networks of friends sharing material, through public libraries, through universities, through schools, through churches. These are all institutions built for sharing. One of the things I’m concerned about is this ideology of the industrial production and dissemination of cultural products is infecting some of those institutions as well.

And to support the idea of building infrastructure that is open and able to be used by all:

Culture is anarchistic. Culture builds itself without leaders. Culture proliferates itself through consensus and revision. Culture works best when there is minimal authority and guidance.

And then in terms of supporting local control and diversity:

First of all, the very fact that so many media companies have merged into so few, has increased their political power or the political power of each one of them, that has radically altered all of these regulatory systems and phenomena. Secondly, our goal should be diversity and distribution of culture. Our goal should be cultural democracy. Our goal should obviously be real political democracy. We can’t have either one of those if we have a limited number of voices on our airwaves. We can’t have either of those if there isn’t some sense of the local, some sense of the specific. ….

So, we need to ask bigger questions about all of these things. Shouldn’t our priority be diversity? Shouldn’t our priority be some sort of local input on matters of culture and politics? Shouldn’t we allow churches across the United States to set up small radio stations to serve their constituents? Shouldn’t we allow activist groups to do the same? Shouldn’t we allow Native American groups, whether they are on their own nation’s land or not, to operate in the same ways? Shouldn’t we actually be looking for lower levels of regulation? Shouldn’t we be chopping up our spectrum in such a way as to maximize the number and variety of voices? The FCC and Congress are doing just the opposite. This does speak to the same problem. We need to examine all of these issues as cultural policy, and we need to come up with a set of principles about the cultural policy we choose to live under.

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