Imagine hitting “generate” and getting:
Mos Def and Tina Fey
This is your output from a Culturematic machine.
The machine does something really simple. It selects two names from a list at random.
The point of the exercise? Practically, this Culturematic machine could be used for making culture, specifically, casting movies and TV shows. Formally, it can be used for exploring our culture.
I have run my Culturematic many times now, and some of the outputs are not interesting.
Bill Clinton and Barbara Walters
This isn’t especially interesting because we can so easily imagine one interviewing the other.
Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh
This is not interesting, because, well, you know. They come from the same part of the world.
Madonna and Lady Gaga.
It’s when the Culturematic brings together far-flung worlds that our interest is piqued. (At least mine is. I realize that I am working off my own idiosyncratic reactions here.)
Mos Def and Tina Fey
This is interesting. I can think about Mos Def. And I can think about Tina Fey. Thinking about them at the same time is difficult…and therefore interesting.
It is precisely because they are far flung creatures that we would not normally think to bring them together.
That’s what the Culturematic is for. Because it’s a machine, it doesn’t know from culture. It’s happy to make combinations we wouldn’t think of. And that’s what makes it valuable: for casting and for exploration. (“Date Night” starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell was interesting. Replace Steve Carell with Mos Def and interesting becomes interestinger.)
In this version, the Culturematic takes two names and combines them with a phrase. Here are some of the outputs I have got from my Culturematic:
Lady Gaga and Glenn Beck struggle to establish a parent-child dynamic.
Pink and Richard Branson, working on new concepts of civil society.
Christopher Hitchens and Graydon Carter, looking for triumph in all the wrong places.
This is interesting for another reason. It forces us to take our cultural knowledge (celebrities are particularly useful cultural knowledge: shared, vivid, and well distributed) and use it in new ways. We struggle to think about how Lady Gaga and Glenn Beck could have any relationship, let alone a parent-child one.
Ok, I have run out of time. Tomorrow, I will give you the logic and the code for my Culturematic. (Wait till you see how I wired it together. It’s a real mess.) I’m hoping you will want to build one too. (Because I know that you can do a better job.)
Thanks for the University of Chicago writing laboratory for their precedent. Full details tomorrow.