27 September 2010

Article: Participatory Culture and the Assault on Democracy

Lee Siegel's article "Participatory Culture and the Assault on Democracy" was published in the contributed volume "New Threats to Freedom", ed. Adam Bellow (Templeton Press, May 2010: pp. 259-67):


Excerpt: "No spaces for the cultivation of our individuality exist between us and the media monopolies or the sham elected representatives. The essential liberal position is based on an idea – the idea of ever-expanding individual rights. It just so happens that the fantasy of a majestically sovereign and autonomous self is the heart and soul of American popular culture, a culture that is quintessentially liberal. The result is that the most serious threat to freedom in America today is the threat posed to democracy by the excesses of that culture. As our ever-expanding selves participate more in every cultural activity, the disinterestedness of play and of aesthetic pleasure gives way to crude self-assertion. And as everyone asserts their entitlement to participation, popularity replaces originality as a standard of excellence – you end up with what you might call an egalitarian antidemocracy, in which interactive crowds scorn and marginalize the democratic equalizer of true talent. That old bugbear of postwar sociology – the mob-self – is now a reality. In a participatory/popularity culture, the freedom to think and act for ourselves becomes harder and harder to achieve. The tyrannical majority so feared by Adorno, Foucault, Talmon, and others is all around us, and within us."

Lee Siegel, a book author and cultural critic for numerous US publications, is a Visiting Professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University.

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