no culture but multi-culture

Hua Hsu’s “The End of White America?” contains a lot worth reading. This about nails the cultural argument:

As a purely demographic matter, then, the “white America” that Lothrop Stoddard believed in so fervently may cease to exist in 2040, 2050, or 2060, or later still. But where the culture is concerned, it’s already all but finished. Instead of the long-standing model of assimilation toward a common center, the culture is being remade in the image of white America’s multiethnic, multicolored heirs.

Hsu isn’t arguing that America is “post-racial”. He’s arguing that mainstream American culture is from now on – and has been since the late 90s – a forum in which the once-dominating hegemony of white culture is significantly mediated by non-white cultures: mutual appropriation and blending might be one aspect of that, but it’s also increasingly easy for non-white culture to exist on its own terms.  Following a lovely surreal anecdote about Gatsby-cum-gangsta P. Diddy partying in the Hamptons with a 1776 copy of the Declaration, Hsu presents hip-hop as the touchstone for the ascendant sensibility of cross-cultural bricolage:

Over the past 30 years, few changes in American culture have been as significant as the rise of hip-hop. The genre has radically reshaped the way we listen to and consume music, first by opposing the pop mainstream and then by becoming it. From its constant sampling of past styles and eras—old records, fashions, slang, anything—to its mythologization of the self-made black antihero, hip-hop is more than a musical genre: it’s a philosophy, a political statement, a way of approaching and remaking culture. It’s a lingua franca not just among kids in America, but also among young people worldwide.

Jane Dark wrote something similar in his essay on M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes”, that every aspect of American music and culture has had to recognize hip-hop, to cede that the cultural game has been permanently transformed. And Dark notes the same exception as Hsu: the “flight to whiteness” in country music and NASCAR. But the fact that the mono-cultural whitness is more a subcultural oddity than the multi-culturualism it reacts to demonstrates the extent to which white culture is embattled in the mainstream. Racial and ethnic identities are far from played out, but they’re coming into an age of flexibility and interconnectivity where the commonsense equation of American culture and white culture is obsolete.

Increasingly obvious: Contrary to the dominant sensibility in music criticism, in terms of cultural history rock will be remembered as the warm-up act for hip-hop.

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~ by staticandme on January 9, 2009.

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