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A Blog About Culture

Recognition, Situation, Identity, Reality

I recently attended a choir concert and thought of this essay as I enjoyed the music. I’m not going to write a ton about it, because this blog has more than its share of words already, but I’ll give you a little bit of summary.  The link’s right here. Read it if you have JSTOR access; if not, search for Kracauer, Mass Ornament.

Basically, part of the essay discusses the Industrial Age and how it changed our societies and cultures, etc. Kracauer uses examples of how even modern arts (which I will say = pop culture) grow to resemble capitalistic practices such as the assembly line. Kracauer’s example of the Tiller Girls, dancers similar to the Rockettes. Those dancers don’t look like humans or move in ways that are at all natural; they look like machinery, the assembly lines.

I was thinking about that concept as I was watching the choir performing. Sometimes the songs they sang were hymns or soulful African-American spirituals, deep expressions of what it means to be alive for them. (I won’t even go on to my usual rant about identity.) Yet the singers in the choir were still. They were dressed in black, holding their folders of music, and moving only their lips. Their voices harmonized beautifully together like one, but there was no celebration or meaning behind the words. I noticed such a tension in what these songs and the way that they were performed that I honestly started feeling disturbed by the modern culture in which we live.

On the other hand, I’m no musical expert, and maybe I am just interpreting their performance incorrectly. Not saying the music didn’t sound good, June! Just saying that the whole concept of choirs is strange and unnatural, so that’s more acceptable, right?

Read the reference: “The Mass Ornament,” by Siegfried Kracauer.

An old professor shared this video on Facebook. It’s a video by Natalie Bookchin. It raises interesting points of the individual as part of the mass ornament, even in complete solitude. But is it solitude if you post it on the internet? Are we all the same?


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