Now, I'm no French cultural studies professor, so for the purposes of this blog entry I'm going to define those two terms, in the Humpty-Dumpty-it-means-that-because-I-said-so way.
Sanctioned culture is composed of cultural interactions and artifacts which get produced and/or explicitly distributed by a large, powerful entity. Usually that's either a government or a big corporation.
Resistance culture is also composed of cultural interactions and artifacts, but gets little to no explicit support by large, powerful entities. Governments, big corporations, or the like may be tangentially involved — an artifact is created with a mass-produced camera, say, or distributed via an e-mail account Google or Microsoft host — but they don't sanction it. Beyond a cursory, automated check to ensure it doesn't break any of their usage rules, they may not be aware it exists at all.
This is an interesting era, because for a very long time (how long? I date it back to the advent of the photocopier, but other people choose their own milestones), resistance culture has been becoming easier and easier to produce and distribute. It's got to the point where sanctioned culture will use resistance culture's methods in an attempt to give itself back some street cred; at the same time, some resistance cultural artifacts are looking awfully polished — like something we're used to seeing from sanctioned culture. One example of the former are the various flash mobs for the sake of advertising. One example of the latter is Nina Paley's wonderful animated feature film, Sita Sings the Blues.
So what's special about this week? This week alone:
- Larry Kollar released Pickups and Pestilence, the sequel to his novel White Pickups
- Marc Nash posted an hour-long video for his Friday Flash — basically a poetry reading you could enjoy in the comfort of your own home, without having to head out to that café that doesn't have any signage.
- It was Mother's Day here in Canada and elsewhere, and my mum asked me to design and make her a necklace or bracelet instead of just buying something. At brunch today, we talked about stuff we were making and about the upcoming performance of my stepfather's first play.
All the same, think about it: for most if not all of the people on that list (including me), if marketers were to look at our demographic profile, they would come to the conclusion that we should be consumers, not makers. Certainly we shouldn't be publishing novels or plays. Our family just successfully celebrated that most Hallmark of holidays without directly buying a damn thing for it — even the card I gave my mum was an art card I picked up a couple of years ago... somewhere, and while it is mass produced it's not widely available either.
I don't have a very bohemian family — we tend to have jobs in IT or accounting. I grew up in the 'burbs, and most of my close relatives still live there. According to those who sanction sanctioned culture, there shouldn't be a single thing I own that can't be found in a shopping mall, bar maybe some tchotchkes picked up during an overseas holiday.
Resistance culture is supposed to require resistance. It's not supposed to be this easy to find and do. And certainly before the web took off, it wasn't.
The web's going to be twenty years old in 2015, so again, maybe this shouldn't be this big a deal still. But consider:
- Marc's in the UK, and I could watch his video. I cannot watch all videos uploaded in the UK by sanctioned-culture entities like the BBC. If they deem it for international consumption, I can view it, but not if it's domestic-only. In practice this means I can watch a lot of news clips, but next to no drama or comedy. See that? A one-man production has less publicity, but greater reach than content that took dozens of cast and crew members to produce. We all know by now that when a resistance-culture video goes viral it gets more publicity than the sanctioned content.
Now, don't get me wrong, there's still a lot of sanctioned culture I quite like. I just finished re-watching my DVD of The Avengers before starting to write this post. But it just seems, year over year, there's less and less to entice me back anymore, and even the stuff that was enticing is getting harder and harder to find. I'd love to see that film Hysteria that Maggie Gyllenhaal starred in, but it only played at two cinemas in my city (and Toronto loves movies — there's a reason they have a film festival here). That's a sanctioned-culture film that got great reviews, but good luck getting to experience it.
There's so many more examples to discuss, but this is an overly long post already. Long story short: resistance culture is blooming in landscapes those heavily involved in sanctioned culture never thought it could even sprout in. Traditionally that means an upset is coming. This time... I think this time is going to play out differently. But maybe more on that in a future post.
Postscript: if you are into any facet of resistance culture and have not yet read Lipstick Traces, you really, really should. The historical dot-connecting makes it a very provocative read.