Democracy, Now?: On the "Democratization" of Culture
By Jaylin Paschal
Technology has impacted the sociocultural world on many (if not all) fronts. Often in the creative world, you'll hear about how the combination of Internet access + smart phones + social media has lead to the "democratization" of culture. "Democratization" is almost a buzzword in creative industries. But what does it mean, actually?
"Democratization" is defined as "the act of making something accessible to everyone." The idea of democratization suggests that everyone who wants a voice, has one; that all are free to add some sort of cultural contribution.
We regularly hear about the "democratization" of art, fashion, music and even literature. Today, you can almost completely immerse yourself in a creative industry via the internet. Cultural facets which were once niche, or "bubbles," have been opened. Technology allows us to publish our own work; it acts as a voice, a tool, a medium and a platform. You can't get your art into a gallery? Publish a digital one. Can't afford to buy a storefront? Start an online market. Can't score a ticket to that fashion show? Watch the live stream. New York Times won't publish your op-ed? Post it yourself.
And what makes the "democratization" truly revolutionary, is that you can do everything previously listed for free.
There is almost no more exclusivity in the world, or no more "insiders." Everyone has a shot.
Well, Almost Everyone.
It would be lazy and inappropriate to disregard the technology gap. "Democratization" is never quite fulfilled as long as the massive tech gap between the more/less fortunate is still a cultural barrier. Those with wifi and a smartphone at home have more access than those who have to travel to the library; and they have more access to those who can't travel; and they have more access than communities with no electricity or access at all.
It's Really All Just A Theory, Anyway.
As I wrote in the last edition of "Listed," Democratization and the "for the culture" spirit is more widely appreciated than it actually is applied:
Fashion mavens like Virgil Abloh, Rihanna and Victoria Beckham, joined Anna Wintour and Vogue for "Forces of Fashion" at Milk Studios. The event was marketed as an opportunity for students to learn directly from leading fashion figures. But with tickets set at a price point of $3,000, whether or not this "opportunity" was actually accessible for students was a topic of debate within the industry.
It's not the first time fashion has been called out for advertising to youth on a "for the culture" platform, while also making their clothing/events unattainable for most within "the culture." Kanye West faced criticism for his plain white "Hip Hop T-Shirt" collaboration with A.PC., which was priced at $120. His own brand, Yeezy, along with lines like Supreme and Off--White, have a "for the culture" message that arguably contradicts with the work they put forward.
While culture has not been fully democratized, there is a good chance that it will be soon. Perhaps one day the only thing keeping us "outsiders" and "onlookers" will be proximity. And getting "in the room" won't be necessary anymore.