Yesterday, ChangeThis posted an essay entitled “Against You: A manifesto in favor of audience“, by Andrew Keen. Keen is famous for two things, the 18 month flame-out of Audiocafe.com and the merciless taunting of Web 2.0 boosters. The essay is a jaded, bitter and over-simplified rehashing of Jaron Lanier’s more academic essay, Digital Moaism. Channeling his inner Roger Ailes, Andrew Keen borrows the more reasoned and reasonable arguments from Digital Moaism and stretches them to the Fox extreme (its worth reading for that alone).
Keen’s basic argument is that a democratized interactive media could spell the death of traditional mass culture. That is a bad thing in his book because, he says, he likes to have his music, news, books and movies dictated to him by a cultural elite that knows how to pick the hits. He goes on to argue that this desire to have culture dictated from on high, is true for his entire generation, by which he seems to mean white men over 45 years old.
Of the many problems in this essay, and there are a ton, the most prominent seems to be Keens complete misunderstanding of mass culture. He points to the 70 million bloggers and 100 million Myspace users as an example of the destruction of mass culture with no sense of the irony therein. He rhapsodizes poetically about a “shared cultural understanding” that has never actually existed in the US. The mass culture Keen is so desperate to save was, and in many cases still is, devoid of millions of voices that are now flocking to the blogs, podcasts and news sites Keen so reviles.
Like an art historians arguing for the innate superiority of Neoclassicism over folk art, or a violinist arguing for the primacy of classical music to hip-hop, Keen’s idea of mass culture is little more then his personal preference lightly masked as an ideal. Keen’s essay is driven by the lament that with the death of traditional media, and the rise of We media, his preference wont be able to dictate our cultural experiences and opportunities. Like Statler and Waldorf, Keen is a crotchety old man heckling from the balcony because he can no longer be at center stage.