November 4, 2015

Lots of Cultural Critics on the Internet

Julio Ruelas - Criticism - Google Art Project
By Julio Ruelas, via Wikimedia Commons
I have noticed that quite a few of the social justice warriors I encounter online include the label "cultural critic" in their online bios on the various social media platforms they use. Of course, they are not the only ones. I have certainly seen some who are not social justice warriors label themselves in this way too.

What exactly is a cultural critic? Does the phrase mean something other than someone who is often critical of aspects of the culture surrounding him or her, what we'd typically describe as the majority culture? If so, aren't we all cultural critics? At the very least, it would seem like the description would apply to almost everyone contributing content of any sort on the Internet these days. Maybe I'm missing something obvious, but the term doesn't seem to communicate much meaning if it applies to everyone or almost everyone.

What would we say of someone who wrote a blog, made YouTube videos, recorded podcasts, and/or was active on social media without engaging in any cultural criticism whatsoever? Such a thing hardly seems possible. Maybe we'd call such a person a conformist or some other demeaning label. Maybe we'd suggest they were too naive, self-centered, or oblivious to reality. But my guess is that this doesn't come up very often because such people are quite scarce.

Focus on atheists for a moment, and consider the sort of atheists who are actively contributing content of some sort online. I'm not sure I've encountered a single one who has not been at least somewhat critical of religious belief. Most do so on a fairly regular basis. As long as religious belief is regarded as an aspect of culture (and I think it has to be), this would seem to make virtually every atheist content producer a cultural critic. And it isn't they these atheists restrict themselves to criticizing religious belief; they also tend to criticize the aspects of majority culture that glorify faith, empower it politically, and so on. Not only are they engaging in cultural criticism, but many tend to do so quite extensively.

Of course, just because "cultural critic" might not mean much does not mean that all cultural criticism is the same or is equally valuable. Some cultural criticism is insightful and though-provoking; some is complete garbage. This isn't any different from what we'd say about any other sort of content produced. We could say the same of blogs, YouTube videos, social media posts, and whatever other forms of content we can imagine. Some is extremely valuable, and some is much less so.

I guess what it boils down to for me in the end is that for it to be meaningful for you or I to identify ourselves as "cultural critics," we'd have to know quite a few people doing some of the same things we do who are not cultural critics. This does not seem to be the case. It seems more likely that we are all cultural critics.