[VIEWPOINT]Culture and the herd mentality

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[VIEWPOINT]Culture and the herd mentality

The definition of a mature culture is a balance between unity and diversity in society, and also implies a dynamic culture. But if a certain fad dominates, the balance and dynamic character of a society can be damaged. Mass culture nowadays, especially movies, is overly influenced by fads. Moviegoers swarm only to certain trendy movies while the rest are cast aside and ignored.

Fads are certainly appealing to the public, but the cause and effects of a fad cannot always be evaluated. Marketing strategies for businesses are used to try to generate fads, but no one has the slightest clue as to how they can be started, by whom or for what reasons. Although one cannot simply assert that fads always have bad effects, it does seem clear that if popular culture becomes just a string of fads, society is in danger of falling into a state of standardization and blind synchronism.

The reverse of that assertion is that a mass propensity toward standardization and blind herd instinct may cause certain fads to be dominant. Popular trends eventually change, but such changes take place because the public tires of the current fad due to the pressure of diversification. We must not confuse changes in popular trends with a diversity of culture, even though they may seem similar. Fads do not necessarily imply a diverse culture.

I strongly believe that the flaws in our culture come from standardization and a synchronistic way of thinking that springs from group dynamics. Even though in recent years our country has become accustomed to the idea of a democratic society, it is still under the influence of a synchronistic way of thinking, which was imposed on the public during the military government.

Even with the younger generation asserting individualism and emancipation, we often see that synchronism and following the leader are considered traditions or indigenous principles. In other words, if a person does not follow the general trends, he will be ostracized. The old expression, "A stone with sharp edges will probably be chiseled," has only changed slightly in recent years, to "If you stand out, you'll get hurt." Even though times have changed, the two phrases are the same - fitting in is more important than individuality. The only difference is the phrasing, so people follow the dominant trend and consider tacit synchronistic attitudes to be safe.

With such dominance our culture cannot be diversified. In the past, the public was forced to think in a synchronistic manner through such things as military or school uniforms that symbolized acceptance of authority. These days such a trend has changed from authorities and uniforms to a consumer's free choice - but the basic principle is the same as before because the market promotes synchronized popularity and adaptation to a norm of popular taste. Our society has been trained for a long time to be synchronized; that still influences individual actions and thought.

It is clear what kind of a unified society will result from such manipulative trends. Without our knowledge, we are experiencing a new form of fascism in our daily lives. One significant sign is that movies that portray gangsters wearing school uniforms are becoming more popular without any reasonable explanation of why that should be. Mass culture, high culture or even art-based culture and culture in our daily lives are all influenced by fads. The only difference is that some fads affect our culture to greater degrees than others.

The fine arts are also affected by popular culture and fads. That could turn out to be a more serious problem then for other forms of culture; art is highly dependent on the art market trends in the United States, which now represents the international art world in general.

The term "limited quantities of varied products" has been used as a production strategy to increase demand, and it could be easily applied to culture. But as long as our culture in general is swayed and influenced by fads, our culture will not be productive because "varied products" will not be developed - only faddish ones.

Such words as "development of originality and imagination" or "development of diverse cultural content" are alluring. But first it is necessary that we learn to criticize constructively and precisely the synchronism and standardization in popular culture, which have become a part of us.

As we need to have tolerance and accommodate different political opinions and viewpoints in our legal life, it is also necessary to acknowledge the difference between imagination and sensibilities of different cultures. Our efforts to accept voluntarily diversities in opinions in our lives is vital.

The acceptance of diversity will help provide sustained vitality to our lives and constant infusions of creativity to our culture.


The writer is a professor of film and multimedia at Korean National University of Arts.

by Choi Min

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