America’s depressing new culture war

What do we learn from reading through a list of top Patreon winners?  That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Feel free to peruse the list yourself. My own browsing and clicking led me to a new conclusion: America’s culture war is not just left-wing vs. right-wing, or privileged vs. unfortunate, or even Trump vs. his critics. It is between those who believe in aspiring to something greater and those who do not.

You will note that your main criticisms already are covered in my text.


Why do you think that this is a change? “Aspiring to something greater” (eg: the fine arts) has always been a fringe activity. Now there is more data to support that assertion.

Indeed. Plus the top 50 winners are an unrepresentative snapshot of Patreon recipients who are going to have broader than normal support pretty much by definition. Looking at 50 randomly selected Patreon recipients would probably be more informative as to what the service is really doing. And looking at the full data-set would be fascinating.

There have always been Bohemians, but the mainstream was watching The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Wide World of Disney, and Happy Days.

So now the Internet opens it up and we have a bunch more (down-market?) Bohemians.

The Waltons(!) was a thing.

Only cucks watch reruns.

I'm talking about an age gone by, when all televisions were 4:3.

most of those patreon supported media sites are higher quality than "the view" and most of the cable TV crap that sells the orange doritos

Trump is doing an excellent job kicking out Chinese students from our universities. America for Americans!

We should force the children of the Chinese elite out of our universities. That will start a fire under their a$$es.

If the universities complain we should tax their endowments.

Tyler has been in the ivory tower for so long he doesn't really know how the hoi polloi live. Just look at the mind numbing shows on prime time TV or the perverted sh*t that comes out of Hollywood. Then listen to the popular "music" served up on the radio and other platforms. In many ways, things have gotten better. Today you can find jazz or "classical" or even folkloric music somewhere. Prior to the internet you would have to work hard to find anything. Now you can find everything.

The most alarming thing to me is the way we can isolate ourselves into silos of ideological purity, never having to be exposed to contrary ideas. That's dangerous.

I say we are in a civil war, just not a shooting war, which would be horrific and in which everyone would lose.

Doesn't a war require two sides? It's not clear from the article where those representing the grand vision of the future are.

China, perhaps.

That was my thought. He also doesn't really give evidence for a change over time. For a point of comparison, here is cultural commentary from 1949.

Actually, I think pillows, tomatoes and the Lodge are awesome.

I was struck by how the IDW is nowhere to be found. They allegedly dominate YouTube. How do they raise money?

Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson and Dave Rubin left Patreon after they banned 'Sargon of Aarkad' for remarks made outside the platform.

The Intellectual Dork Web is the biggest fraud out there. All morons that can't math.

The people who listen to classical music or jazz. They have the grand visions. Nobody else.

Ah, but at what proportions. I'm up to 10% classical again, which means only 90% jazz. Is this a good portent or bad?

Every generation has it's fringe. Mass media played if it bleeds it leads for many years. Today the internet helps the fringe find like-minded souls. I can only hope the tail does not start wagging the dog. I'm just afraid that I'm being wishful rather than hopeful.

But I can't think of a good rebuttal. Sad.

You begin by surveying efforts funded by Patreon as if they were representative of both sides in the present culture war. That only makes sense if you are oblivious to the fact that Patreon has chosen sides by deplatforming people on the right, enough of them that SubscribeStar had to be created.

Then you put forward the theory that one side "believes in something greater" and the other does not, but you don't even spell out what you mean by that, much less offer any evidence in support of it.

And no, these criticisms are not covered in your text. Assuming that your readers share your assumptions is lazy and persuades no one.

Nice objectivist perspective

Belief in something greater is not an unqualified good. All manners of terrorism, fanaticism, and insane ideologies are plain evil.

Do you see aspiration in Hollywood and on Broadway?

What’s new here?
“Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public,” said PT Barnum over a century ago.
WWE was founded in 1952.
And so on ...

Actually, that's a paraphrase of H. L. Mencken, not Barnum (who also never said "there's a sucker born every minute.". What Mencken wrote was "No one ever went broke..."

They called themselves WWF until I curb-stomped them and took the title for myself.

One couldn't observe American culture in the flesh until airports. Now, with the internet, one can hear and read the inner thoughts of the airport class. Ever been to see America's favorite game, NFL football. Years ago I suggested to my orthodontist friend that she set up a booth outside the stadium. This morning's homily was about today's gospel lesson, taken from Luke 14: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Our priest made the point that where one chooses to sit either affirms or defies order. Cowen's recent parables on democratization might be read to conflate conflate democratization with defiance of order, that the airport class deserves to be heard, that the views of the airport class deserve to be heard while the views of, for example, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington don't. My view is that Cowen wants to have it both ways, extolling the virtues of the Silicon Valley billionaire philosophers while lamenting the ignorance they have wrought.

Bless Your Heart.

I think it is a mistake to say that someone steeped in one of today's subculture (like gaming, MMA, or particular podcasts) as ignorant while extolling someone steeped 19th century Russian literature as knowledgeable.

What gives me hope is #42 on the list: 3blue1brown, a creator of one of the most amazing series of videos on mathematics you will ever see on the Internet, bar none.

His explanation of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is one of the most amazing yet informative 20 minutes you can spend on YouTube--bar none. He has a series on calculus that I wish existed when I was in college, and he delves into a number of other topics in a way that is incredibly informative yet easy to follow for someone with a relatively good grasp of basic high school math.

I support his videos through Patron not because I necessarily watch them or really even learn anything--but because his videos *deserve* to be supported.

For those interested in his video on the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle:

Charge is an options market, Heisenberg Uncertainty is the natural market uncertainty due to serialization of the ledger.

There, I got it down to 18 words.

Thanks for the Link.

I second 3blue1brown. There's a lot of good stuff on YouTube if you look hard enough - math, physics, paleontology, geology, jazz... It's all there.

"Winners" is a curious appellation for what Patreon itself calls "creators". And you would think Patreon would have a reasonable motivation for gamifying its platform.

'You will note that your main criticisms already are covered in my text.'

You mean wondering how many of those Patreon winners were also winners in the Donor's Trust sweepstakes?

'Still, we ignore internet trends at our peril.'

And who is the 'we' you think you are referring to?

“You will note that your main criticisms already are covered in my text.”

Awww, first a love letter to big business and then a love letter to his readers, so sweet.

Or disturbing, as these are what Prof. Cowen wrote that first love letter to - 'abstract, shark-like legal entities devoted to commercial profit.'

What a cuddly image to inspire a touching missive.

The culture we were given in the midcentury literature - the tragedy of the everyday, gritty and 'real,' has been ground into every American in each public school. Now you want heroic epics?

'Now you want heroic epics?'

'A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....'

I suppose they don’t teach Horatius at the bridge anymore. Truly a civilization in decline.

They didn't even teach it in prep school 55 years ago. Not that I think it's all that awesome.

> I suppose they don’t teach Horatius at the bridge anymore. Truly a civilization in decline.

Which is why we needed George Lucas, and also Tolkien. Our civilization is not in decline it is battling along gamely against the blows that the literati aim at it.

"Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus' son Achilleus and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians, . . ."

"Arms and the man I sing . . . "

Or, how Civilizations Collapse, which is the goal.

> 'A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....'

This comment was short, insightful and relevant to the topic at hand.

Who are you, and what have you done with the real prior?

1. There's value in both the "grand" and the "mundane," and people probably like a mixture. You seem to be making a binary assumption about people's preferences.

2.The "grand" already receives plenty of funding. Ergo a bias in what needs Patreon funding.

We must start from where we are … thrown back on our individual will and energy, forced to exploit each other and ourselves in order to survive; and yet, in spite of it all, thrown together by the same forces that pull us apart … to develop identities and mutual bonds that can help us hold together as the fierce modern air blows hot and cold through us all.
Karl Mark 1848

I never read Marx. But his historic analysis is worth knowing, so his critics say.

As I like to say, sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't.

Good insight, though I don't find it depressing. Modern life is inherently mundane. Most of us will never have a measurable impact on anyone outside our immediate circles. This is inevitable in a world with billions of people; the contribution of any one person to humanity is diminished. Even scientific advancement, arguably the most heroic endeavor of all, now relies on huge teams where most people are filling a tiny role, rather than heroic geniuses coming up with world-changing insights. Because people today don't have much chance of being heroes, it is probably good that they are able to find meaning in the mundane.

"Most of us will never have a measurable impact on anyone outside our immediate circles."

But some of us will.

You miss the great and the transcendent because you in your prudishness skip straight over the creators labeled "NSFW". You would have labeled Michelangelo "ordinary" and "mundane" because David had his tiny dick out. I defy you to play Monster Girl Island and tell me it doesn't represent a romantic vision of something greater and grander than everyday life.

Just curious, has anyone else here watched a Simone Giertz video (YouTube) all the way through? I don't know the rest, but I know of her, and consider her pretty positive energy and aspiring to something greater.

But as you say, she might be the odd one out in that group. I'm not sure what that says. Maybe that cynicism reigns.

Is it related that I am disappointed with Amazon's Carnival Row? It seemed like a nice show for kids, with fairies and other mythical creatures, then whoops girls' tops come off and Orlando Bloom's butt is on the screen. Are we too jaded for PG-13? Or maybe that's the fare we are actually offering 13 year olds these days..

"It seemed like a nice show for kids, with fairies and other mythical creatures, then whoops girls' tops come off and Orlando Bloom's butt is on the screen. Are we too jaded for PG-13? "

I don't think they ever intended to do anything PG-13. They were clearly going for adult (for some values of "adult") fantasy, trying to be a GoT successor.

Maybe. I just worry that they think a good story won't sell without it.

I'm only one episode in. Interesting that it is a fairly direct race and xenophobia parable.

If no one here is a Giertz fan I am actually going to be disappointed.

We are all Giertz fans, and take it for granted that others are too. Such an interesting character arc from the lipstick robot to brain tumor.

The tumor complicates things, but I think the original appeal caries through. If you are a bit of a nerd you get what's actually clever and what is funny in shitty robots.

Patreon is largely about people contributing money for content that they can consume for free. It is not a substitute for opera tickets or museums and their rising entry fees. Moreover, podcasts are typically an accompanying medium, while we commute or wash dishes, or fold laundry. In this sense they are a means of squeezing more out of our time. They do not compete with violin lessons or reading Proust.

What appears to be true is that people continue to patreon creators as a form of personal gratitude, an internal signaling. I care enough about this to pay for it, even though I don't need to. In that sense Patreon is like PBS, but personal. I mean, can you imagine what Mr Rogers would have taken in if he had a Patreon?

Patreon features mostly low-brow content, Cowen is right about that.

There is not a culture war between the mediocre and the aspirational as Cowen claims. The Patreon creators making pornographic content, for example, are certainly not opposed to ballet or jazz music or people curing cancer or inventing self-driving cars.

“One evening, when we were already resting on the floor of our hut, dead tired, soup bowls in hand, a fellow prisoner rushed in and asked us to run out to the assembly grounds and see the wonderful sunset. Standing outside we saw sinister clouds glowing in the west and the whole sky alive with clouds of ever-changing shapes and colors, from steel blue to blood red. The desolate grey mud huts provided a sharp contrast, while the puddles on the muddy ground reflected the glowing sky. Then, after minutes of moving silence, one prisoner said to another, "How beautiful the world could be...”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

If he could see hope, I sure as hell can as well.

those rabbit holes that cast a stray eye aren't defective, anymore than a "color" or "line" or "fullness."

High/low? I would have said the difference was the splintering of the culture. Take a look at the Top 40 for this date fifty years ago. Very likely everybody in America had heard those songs somewhere. [Well, maybe not my mother, for whom the music died December 15, 1944; or my husband's grandmother, with her Time-Life record sets and her Mantovani. He recalls once he tried to play one of his records for her and then apologized, "I think it's damaged or something." "They damaged it the day they recorded it," she replied. As far as 70s FM radio went, he only remembers that she had no use for any of it, but expressed a particular loathing for Bob Seger. Everyone else, though.]

Amazingly, there is still a Top 40 chart ...

Eh. The thesis that there is an on-going culture war between the mundane and the grand isn't supported by anything in the article. it's based on the assumption that the distribution of the top Patreon recipients ought to be skewed towards the 'grand' which is not warranted in any way. Historically the mundane (in the form of low and middle-brow entertainment) has always dominated the grand in popularity and revenue. There's no reason to think this should be any different at the present.

Also Patreon is very much an alternative means of funding. Most of the recipients are using Patreon because they don't/can't get revenue from the usual sources of government/NGO grants or sponsored advertising. Grand content creators have a much easier time getting funding from these so they are likely to not even bother with going through Patreon.

Also I would quibble with how Tyler seems to define what is 'grand' and his overall evaluation of Patreon recipients. He's comparing current small on-line content creators with great scientific and political achievements of the past and whatever art forms existed circa 1930. These aren't even the same category. And Patreon is certainly not the place to try and compare the two.

Plus the mundane and the grand have coexisted for centuries. There's no reason to think that they can't continue to do so.

This comment is right, TC's culture war hypothesis was just a bad one. TC's Emergent Ventures is kind of like a high brow Patreon. Hats off to TC for that.

From the article: "A recent survey of American values indicates that patriotism, belief in God and having children all rate much lower than they did 20 years ago"

Oh look, a cosmopolitan atheist using the wholesome born again family values card on us collective heathens.

Are you going to adopt any of these values or are these just for the masses?

I don't think Patreon and crowd sourced media is the cause of cultural dysfunction as much as the MSM.

If you want dystopia see: Kindergartners undergoing school lockdown drills, MSM's FP analysis on anything: Russia, Russia, Russia, and Syria getting more infrastructure funds from the USG than any State in the US.

And what exactly are you proposing?

Maybe you can crowd-source some neocons and their boomer nostalgia to start making profitable podcasts instead of complain.

When you are struggling to pay off your mortgage-sized tuition bills and keep a roof over your head, you don't have time to virtue signal with your grandiose dreams. See Maslow's hierarchy.

"When you are struggling to pay off your mortgage-sized tuition bills and keep a roof over your head, you don't have time to virtue signal with your grandiose dreams. ".
Here in India it is common to to see very poor people go on pilgrimages, sleeping wherever possible. I have mixed feelings about this phenomenon. At times I think they have perverse priorities. At times I wonder if religious faith is indeed the opiate of the masses. In a more reflective mood I wonder if we should respect their choices. Especially if, in the words of Tyler, it means even those in penury have a vision beyond obtaining their daily bread.

Freedom. Nothing to be depressed about.

Tyler, this is just silly.

Patreon is an example of the free market working. If more people wanted "elevated" content, they'd pay for it. Most people don't care about high sounding ideas. They aren't hipsters. Real Americans want pornography and cheap jokes.

I will take the bait. You missed 3blue1brown, Jim Sterling, Lindsey Elis, CGPGrey, ClickSpring, and who knows what else. I'll admit there was only a small overlap with Patron and who I follow but I expect there are a lot of interesting voices getting funded in other ways who haven't felt the need and hadn't been exposed to crowd funding.

This is why Trump won the election.

But what about Instagram? Women and the feminist movement are leading us out of our complacency crises. I’m 33 y/o strait dude BTW

"...feminist...leading us out..."

Speak for yourself, soy boy!!!!

I was about to comment to the effect of “well duh, Patreon funds entertainment creators mostly, and people have never liked edutainment.”

But then I looked at the list - CGP Grey, Crash Course, Kursegagt, 3Blue1Brown, and a bunch of others, are all educational and “aspirational” media. And these are near the top of what people are choosing to fund, beating out all manner of cheap drivel! I’m strongly convinced of the opposite of your position, looking at that.

Suggest you read "Burden of Bad Ideas" by Heather MacDonald where she notes most foundations support leftist activities.

"Foundations of Betrayal" by Phillip Kent is an eye opener.

Btw, BookTV and C-SPAN are pretty cool.
I especially like BookTV.

Here's Phil Kent talking about his book on BookTV:

OK, I perused the list. Not depressed.

You're unusually hand wring-y today. Is Dreher rubbing off on you?

"your main criticisms already are covered in my text"

I must have missed that on a first reading.

Why should we consider Patreon rankings as evidence of a cultural change? What are we comparing to? Perhaps average cultural preference are not so very different from those of the past, and now the mediocre simply has a voice.

Patreon is just a digitized busker's hat. It's a rare busker who transcends the familiar and achieves a special beauty, and those who do probably make less than those who don't. What the internet does wonderfully is allow a specialization in buskers, so that those who do something extraordinary can gather a larger audience. Among bloggers that I follow, I consider Scott Alexander and Razib Khan the finest, and I'd be very surprised if they are filling their hats.

99.9% of humans through history only seeked to get alive to next day.
When those who aspire to something great (0.1%), lost contact with the reality of the other 99.9%, then bad thing happens (like neoliberal economy)

Sure. Comics, video games and Dungeons and Dragons is the epitome of being in contact "with the reality".

Ya neo liberalism is the worst as is classical liberalism. We’d be much better simply living with Malthus....

Freedom is about being able to spend money as desired (provided no one is harmed).

The absence of real sports, fitness, food, travel, cars, health or style is very telling, not even a single one non-profit animal rescue . A list populated by comics, video games, movies, fantasy sports, comedy and science reveals the nerds than fund them. There are lots of nerds, but they are not representative of younger generations. Tyler is making a conclusion out the data available before pondering what the data represents.

Tangentially, I'd like to know how Tyler decided to write "ordinary" instead of "nerds". Or was it the BBG editor?

The only depressing thing here is not-so-high income people doing non-tax deductible donations. Or, is Chapo Trap House podcast a non-profit? But once again, the freedom to do stupid things is more important than people being financially hurt by doing stupid things.

"The only depressing thing here is not-so-high income people doing non-tax deductible donations. Or, is Chapo Trap House podcast a non-profit"

But how is it a donation? You pay $5 a month to listen to their content - which is of far better quality than the propaganda slop pretending not to be Tyler serves up here. If you don't pay you don't get to listen, don't really understand why you would view that through the prism of a "donation" rather than paying for content.

Well, that's another way to frame the issue and seems to fit better to it.

In that case, the crime podcasts are just modern penny dreadfuls =)

But then why not just listen to free podcasts? I myself enjoy listening to the "Mogg-Cast"; a fortnightly discussion with Jacob Rees-Mogg on the issues of the day.

I don't think Tyler really defines Patreon accurately. It's a replacement for other markets as much as charity. Take Ben Hed, No. 7 on the list. Forty years ago, he would have a syndicate deal to run his comics in newspapers across the country. Now he has a Patreon account.
Most of what is on this list is harmless. Some is actually pretty good (more than Tyler gives credit to). And there is some garbage. But isn't that reflective of mass culture for decades now?
But Tyler can relax the grip on his pearls.

If I'm the first person to work this out, give me a medal, but I've just realised that if we divide a given society (or platform) up into more and less 'sophisticated', (referring to breadth, depth and complexity of knowledge and taste) individuals, then, almost by definition, the less sophisticated will have more homogeneous tastes. Therefore this will create a 'lowest common denominator effect', which will inevitably lead to the most popular examples of anything being less sophisticated. I imagine some other effects may play a role, such as perhaps another effect arising for products appealing to both more and less sophisticated individuals, or contagion and signalling effects, but I suspect this 'sophistication-heterogeneity' effect might be dominant for most ratings.

Having said that, I was impressed by how obscure some of the Patreon pages were (D+D Adventures, science videos, gaming mods, Yaoi art etc.). But I'm not surprised that none of my (obviously highly sophisticated) tastes are accounted for.

Typical of an autumnal culture. Pataliputra 400 BC, Alexandria, 200 AD, Baghdad 1200 AD, Los Angeles 2020 AD: tired of reasons, explanations, and analysis, which are all ultimately inconclusive, the Late culture subsides into myth and mysticism. Neil Degrasse Tyson is like Porphyry to Carl Sagan's Plotinus. Soon to come: suicide cults.

Re: Pataliputra 400 BC

Huh? So India was going down the tubes 80 years BEFORE the Maurya Empire was founded?

There is a distinction here between A work of art and a series. A podcast, much like a blog, aspires to say something on a regular basis. This is not the same as an individual great work of art that an artist may spend his lifetime producing

Comments for this post are closed