A new name for this blog

grant mccracken II

My blog subtitle used to be “This blog sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.”  This was both too grand and untrue.  Fine for politicians but not websites.

So now it’s “How to make culture.”  For the moment.  Also thinking of “New Rules for Making Culture.”  Is that better?  I can’t tell.  Please let me know.

Yesterday, I was blogging about the new rules of TV.  And in the last couple of weeks I’ve been talking about advertising, education, late night TV, game shows, culture accelerators.  Less recently, I’ve been talking about marketing, comedy, language, branding, culturematics, story telling, hip hop, publishing, and design thinking.

All of this is culture made by someone.  And all of it is culture made in new ways, often, and according to new rules, increasingly.  Surely an anthropologist can make himself useful on something like this.  Anyhow, I’m going to try.

I have four convictions.  Open to discussion and disproof.

1) that our culture is changing.  Popular culture is becoming more like culture plain and simple.  Our culture is getting better.

I have believed in this contention for many years.  Certainly, since the 90s when I still lived in Toronto.  (It was my dear friend Hargurchet Bhabra who, over drinks and a long conversation, put his finger on it.  “It’s not popular culture anymore.  Forget the adjective.  It’s just culture.”)

This was not a popular position to take especially when so many academics and intellectuals insisted that popular culture was a debased and manipulative culture, and therefore not culture at all.  Celebrity culture, Reality TV, there were lots of ways to refurbish and renew the “popular culture is bad culture” argument.  And the voices were many.  (One of these days I am going to post a manuscript I banged out when living in Montreal.  I called it So Logo and took issue with all the intellectuals who were then pouring scorn of popular culture one way or another.)

My confidence in the “popular culture is now culture” notion grew substantially this fall when I did research for Netflix on the “binge viewing” phenomenon.  To sit down with a range of people and listen to them talk about what they were watching and how they were watching, this said very plainly that TV, once ridiculed as a “wasteland,” was maturing into story telling that was deeper, richer and more nuanced.  The wasteland was flowering.  The intellectuals were wrong.

2) This will change many of the rules by which we make culture.  So what are the new rules?

I mean to investigate these changes and see if I can come up with a new set of rules.  See yesterday’s post on how we have to rethink complexity and casting in TV if we hope to make narratives that have any hope of speaking to audiences and contributing to culture.  Think of me as a medieval theologian struggling to codify new varieties of religious experience.

3) The number of people who can now participate in the making of culture has expanded extraordinarily.  

This argument is I think much discussed and well understood.  We even know the etiology, chiefly the democratization (or simple diffusion) of the new skills and new technology.  What happens to culture and the rules and conventions of making culture when so many other people are included, active, inspired and productive?  We are beginning to see.  Watch for codification here too.   (As always, I will take my lead for Leora Kornfeld who is doing such great work in the field of music.)

4)  We must build an economy that ensures that work is rewarded with value.

I have had quite enough of gurus telling us how great it is that the internet represents a gift economy, a place where people give and take freely.  Two things here.  1) The argument comes from people who are very well provided for thanks to academic or managerial appointments.  2) This argument is applied to people who are often obliged to hold one or more “day jobs” to “give freely on the internet.”  Guru, please.   Let’s put aside the ideological needle work, and apply ourselves to inventing an economy that honors value through the distribution of value.

I have made this sound like a solitary quest but of course there are many thousands of people working on the problem.  Every creative professional is trying to figure out what he or she can do that clients think they want.  I am beginning to think I can identify the ones who are rising to the occasion.  They have a certain light in their eyes when you talk to them and I believe this springs from two dueling motives I know from my own professional experience, terror and excitement.


To Russell Duncan for taking the photograph.

17 thoughts on “A new name for this blog

  1. Tim Kastelle

    I vote for “New Rules for Making Culture – I think that better expresses what you’re working on. The other one is more succinct, but less informative.

    1. Grant Post author

      Tim, I agree with you. And I have renamed the blog accordingly. Thank you. I owe you dinner next time u r in NYC or Boston! Best, Grant

    1. Grant Post author

      Tim, this is brilliant, but I trust people’s knowledge of culture too much. As you know! I have to embed it to make it sensible. I have to use it to explain it. As it were. Thanks! Grant

  2. Maryna

    Grant, you sure know how to get my multi-faceted brain spinning on a Friday night as I am walking out the door to a dinner! Thanks for prepping me with cocktail talk.

    Lots of interesting points in this post, some of which resonate with my experience observing the “creative tsunami” across the globe, some not. As a new follower (I just discovered you last week), I wanted to share that – “This blog sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics” drew me in immediately. It felt specific, fresh and intriguing.

    On the other hand, “How to make culture.” or “New Rules for Making Culture” sound grandiose to me. Culture, especially pop culture, is created from the ground up more than top down. It is an organic, naturally occurring phenomenon that reflects the zeitgeist. Pop culture (or folk culture) is a signifier of values and storytelling has always been used to indoctrinated and transfer social values. There are no rules, there is simply desire and need. From my observation, the most potent creative force of the moment is AUTHENTICITY. People are tired of being lied to, manipulated, SOLD, branded etc. Authenticity restores their much needed faith in human kind- bad and good parts. The breakdown of traditional hierarchies of art making are collapsing (as you note with your TV post) and “experts” are loosing sway. Very interesting times to be a cultural observer!

    I am glad to have stumbled upon your blog, which is both interesting and relevant to me, and just ordered your book. Looking forward to learning and sharing insights.

    Best from Los Angeles,


    1. Grant Post author

      Maryna, what a great comment, welcome to the blog. I was of course deeply discouraged to hear that the old subtitle works for someone…now that I am changing it! I think for a lot of people it’s academic and therefore a little forbidding. And if I have learned anything from popular culture it is that we are obliged to be absolutely accessible..whatever else we are up to. Further to the avant garde comment above, this was a constraint the avant garde never felt and deliberately (sometimes showily) violated. This was its difference. But of course there is a technical need to break rules when you are looking for new territories unknown to, unmapped by existing culture. Anyhow, thanks a million for a great comment. Best, Grant

      1. Maryna

        Grant, thanks for you note. I do agree that the old tagline is a bit academic, and know that reinvention is a power tool, but when I hear the word RULES, I jet. More curious to hear what your core desire is here and who you hope to impact? As a Cultureby newbie, my sense is that you are a “meaning maker” creating frames for interpreting our social chaos. What about “Culture Decoded”or “Culture Unscrambled?” Anyway, have fun and break some RULES!


        1. Grant Post author

          Maryna, excellent. You are exactly right. The thing about culture is that it is, for many readers, hopelessly vague. “Rules” promises something so clear it’s crispy. Actionable. With a set of steps. I love the meaning maker, decoder, unscramble approach to culture. It is the way I think about culture. But there are lots of people for whom this approach makes the topic inaccessible. I am the reader’s servant! Thanks! Grant

  3. Colleen

    Popular culture is where culture spearheaded, created, imagined, by the avant-garde, ends up – or at least that’s what we observed, taught in the past. Can we not see that avant-garde any more, or is it, as you propose, nonexistent? is everything simply drifting towards the middle?

    Maybe it depends where we stand. Certain parts of society have wanted to seem outside of popular culture – architects, other creative individuals for example – but now it seems more measured in degrees. Whereas at one point none of my friends even owned TV’s, now the discussion is about what we choose to watch on Netflix – as if the choice of watching Orange is the New Black – sets us apart from those who watch reality TV on a TV. And we certainly want to distinguish between that watching, those people and ourselves. Although of educated, employed people watching an educated employed woman navigate jail is a kind of spectacular pseudo-reality nightmare.

    Are we just too entrenched? Too satisfied with our i-devices and Priuses to even recognize moments of avant-garde culture? Or is everything flowing toward the middle…

    1. Grant Post author

      Colleen, thanks for a great comment. I think the avant-garde is dying. And we are moving on. So the center is now more point of origin and less a recipient of creative events that happen somewhere else and must come by stages in. Thanks again, Grant

    1. Grant Post author

      Jeff, thanks, indeed, the website used to be called Culture by Commotion (that’s where “cultureby” comes from). And the logo for this was CxC. Good thinking. Thanks, Grant

  4. laura

    Hi Grant,

    I liked the old by-line, but I understand your wanting to change it.

    Like Maryna, something bugs me a bit about the new one, “new rules for making culture.”

    I’m simplifying somewhat but, it gives me the impression that the goal is to understand the rules so that culture can somehow be “programmed” or “created.” I’m reminded more about media companies desperately trying to understand how to generate “viral” content than I am about how we can decipher and understand the changing cultural environment in which we find ourselves.

    If I’ve understood anything from you these last few years (and I think I’ve learned a lot), I think I’ve understood that culture comes from a complex interaction between the artists, the audience, the entrepreneurs and society. In the common view these days, if any one of these deserves to be credited with “making culture,” it’s probably the audience. There’s something that I can’t quite grasp about the phrase “rules for making culture” that doesn’t quite ring true to that observation or to what I suspect is your intended meaning.

    I’m not sure if it is the word “rules,” which makes me think of a(n oversimplified) recipe or if it is the verb “make,” which I interpret anthropomorphically. In any case, without meaning to sound presumptuous, I suggest that a by-line that would perhaps better capture your intention to be accessible and actionable without invoking this contradiction might be “new rules for the business of culture.” That’s a very clear statement about the actionable intent of deciphering culture. It also has another advantage: it just happens to sit at the intersection of anthropology and economics.

    Of course, perhaps I’ve misunderstood and that’s not what you intend at all.

    All the best,

    1. Grant Post author

      Laura, beautifully observed and put. Thank you. Maybe I should put the blog squarely on the business side, but I do think that everything is culture, when made for commerce and when not. Hmm. Clearly, I’m stuck. But thanks! Grant
      p.s., and then I got a little unstuck and changed the subtitle to “emerging patterns for making culture.”

      1. laura

        Oh, I *like* that. It’s much better than my suggestion and avoids invoking a potential dichotomy between “real” culture and “commercial” culture. You’re right; it’s all culture. “emerging patterns for making culture” is just perfect.

    1. Grant Post author

      Juanjo, apologies, missed your suggestion, Culture makers is good. The trouble is I’m not sure anyone in the creative worlds think of themselves this way. We are a broad church and disinclined to say so, see so. Thanks, Grant

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