What’s Mainstream? (Culture Coach Needed?)

Jeffrey Shaffer, in today’s Christian Science Monitor, says he needs a culture coach to “hang out with me for several hours each day and make sure I’m briefed on hot topics, trends, names in the news, and all major events and ideas sweeping across the national landscape. Keeping myself up to speed on everything that’s ‘happening’ these days is almost impossible.”

“Evidence that I’m drifting out of mainstream society” includes not knowing who James Frey was until the recent controversy over his Oprah-enhanced memoir, A Million Little Pieces; not knowing what the voices of Shakira, BeyoncĂ©, or 50 Cent sound like; not listening to satellite radio and therefore not hearing Howard Stern’s new show; and not having witnessed David Letterman and Bill O’Reilly sparring on late night TV.

My questions are:

  1. Does being part of “mainstream society” require that we keep up with the latest bestsellers, pop and rap singers, talk radio and satellite radio formats, and late night TV personalities? Something about this article reminds me of Dave Pollard’s recent comments on American “leader-worship.” To what extent is knowing about show biz and media personalities a pathway to mainstream culture — to the extent that they’re talked about over the proverbial watercooler? — to the extent that these personalities become symbolic cultural archetypes for many of us, part of a national, cultural psyche?

  2. Do we have to be aware of everything that’s going on in our culture to be part of it? Given Shaffer’s examples, I would bet that lots more teenagers know the music personalities than know about Frey’s book (even now).

  3. What is the reason to want to be (or feel) part of mainstream society? Simply for a sense of belonging to something larger than oneself? To find ways to make connections with other people one encounters? To speak a common language? To feel hip? To feel informed? To critique it? Because it’s there?

  4. Is mainstream society to be found primarily in the media, and, can we find it walking down our streets, in our local coffeeshops and grocery stores, our local worship spots and town halls?

  5. Is mainstream culture all about media and media personalities, or does it also include any of these: business, politics, civics, fashion, food, education, medicine and health care, addictions, science, technology, religion and spirituality, aesthetics, art, landscape and geography … ?

  6. Is there only one mainstream society in the U.S.? Do the Amish feel left out? Do they have their own mainstream? Is there an urban mainstream, a rural mainstream, a techie mainstream, a teen mainstream, an elders mainstream — or is it more of a monolith, as Shaffer seems to imply?

All that said … I think it would be kinda fun to be a culture coach. It’s similar to what many librarians do, keeping up on the latest media news and hype (as well as on lots of other, often esoteric and specialised, areas of knowledge) so that when a patron comes in looking for a book mentioned on a certain TV show or related to a current cultural icon, they have a clue what it’s all about (even if they have never seen Emeril cook or Heath Ledger act).

Somewhat related: Mark Morford’s musings on the tech-crammed mind at SFGate.com today.

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