Culture in the Year of 2020

Written in response to the following invitation from Diego Moldes Gonzalez (whom I’ve never met) in Madrid: “What is the definition of ‘culture’ for you? How is the culture of the 21st century similar and different from the culture of the 20th century?” This was revised slightly on November 22. — J.R.

As a beneficiary of both Internet culture and the imperial culture of the United States (which becomes imperial whenever it vainly calls itself American culture, which is often, thus implicitly appearing to enfold much of North America and all of South and Central America as secondary satellites), I continue to be subject to the market-driven capitalist culture that strives to pick the pocket of my unconscious and thereby invisibly steer my purchases (or, more precisely, the events that constitute my being purchased), defined as my existential identity. Thus, because I’m defined as an anti-Trumpian, the media fills me with anti-Trump rather than the desired absence or disappearance of Trump. In other words, Trumpians and anti-Trumpians get served two alternate versions of the same exclusive diet of Trump and daily coronavirus casualty figures, popularly known as the daily news, and choosing between these two unvarying diets is being deceptively labeled a form of democratic choice and a representative form of “American culture”.

On the other hand, the hub of my own activities as a writer,, receives about a thousand daily visitors, and only about half of these qualify as “American” (i.e., coming from the United States), even though all of these are evidently within the imperial reach of the English language. The same percentages seem to rule the online course I’m currently teaching to thirty-odd art students, roughly half of whom seem to employ English as a second language.

Because I feel that I live primarily on the Internet and only secondarily in Chicago, my “virtual” culture (literary, cinematic, musical, educational, architectural, economic, historical, even personal) is mostly contained and projected by my laptop, whereas my daily life in my Chicago condominium is mainly both incidental and instrumental. Is this “culture” only temporary? The condition of feeling that everything is temporary describes Chicago even more than the Internet.

Jonathan Rosenbaum

20 November 2020

Postscript (22 November): I should have added that Trumpian and anti-Trumpian media are both fueled and poisoned by the fantasies of celebrity culture, which help to explain how and why we’re so out of touch with reality.

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