Cultural Education and Social Mobility

Unculture (1)
by Franck Lepage
translation by Dennis Riches
This is what I went through. This is the story I want to tell. When I say I have stopped believing in culture, it sounds like a crazy thing to say, but what I’ve stopped believing in, to be precise, is this thing that we call “cultural democratization.”* It is the idea that by waving the cultural manure over the heads of the poor they will grow and catch up to the wealthy. We were supposed to cultivate them. This is what I have stopped believing in.

In the suburbs—that’s where you find the poor—I conducted my delivery of cultural fertilizer in the form of contemporary art and creative acts. There is a lot of such manure in contemporary art—contemporary dance, contemporary theater, contemporary music—to nurture the poor. There is a lot of talk about reducing cultural inequality, or elevation through culture. But I finally got it through my thick head one day that the rich always had ways to cultivate themselves faster. That’s when I stopped believing.
A philosopher forgotten today, Herbert Marcuse, warned us: soon we will no longer be able to efficiently criticize capitalism because we won’t have the words to describe it negatively. Thirty years later, capitalism is now called “development,” domination is called “partnership,” exploitation is called “management of human resources,” and alienation is called “project.” These are words that no longer permit us to think about our reality. They only permit us to adapt to it and give infinite approval of it. They are the “operational concepts” that make us desire the new spirit of capitalism even while we naively think we are combatting it. George Orwell wasn’t wrong about the date. In the year 1984, we didn’t have a Ministry of Truth, but we were consigned to positivity from then on. As Guy Debord foresaw: All that is good appears. All that appears is good.
* An alternative translation of this term may be “cultural capital” because there has been much theorizing in recent years about cultural capital as the key to upward social mobility, and many well-intentioned programs have sought to give the disadvantaged a taste of it.

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