In Michelangelo’s day, he labored in Florence in the presence of dozens of competing artists and sculptors. Shakespeare’s was one voice among more than fifty other playwrights in London, and in the court of Joseph the second of Austria, Mozart’s not so collegial competitors could fill the room. Even among the greatest artists, there are many others that deserved a look or a listen. But they are gone today, with their posterity etched only in dusty archives, or not even that.
Nowadays our archives have improved, to the posterity of all creators, but not necessarily to the posterity of their audience. The ability to store and retrieve all data, easily, quickly, and for free, assures that all creative voices not only can be heard, but retrieved, again and again and for all eternity. A cacophonic admixture of genius and mediocrity tailored to the variant of every taste and momentary whim.
As a culture becomes democratized, it become atomized, and people have less and less in common to talk about, until conversation is reduced to discussing politicized twitter feeds and the numbing sameness of family life, or at least the posture of happy family life reflected in our social media. Whereas in the past, the individual aped the culture, nowadays culture apes the individual. Unfortunately, it is a recipe that reduces us to, well, apes, as a common language of shared cultural icons and their visual, auditory, and tactile stories is lost. In the Bible, the Babylonians presumed that they could build a tower that would rise to heaven’s vault. As the story goes, God was not pleased with this arrogance, and confounded their speech so they no longer could talk to each other, only past each other, and so were born the languages of the world. Perhaps the Bible got it wrong, and the Babylonians did succeed after all, seeing that heaven’s vault is a store of all knowledge, including all the movies and family pictures that a whole universe may conceive. Like a heavenly Netflix, heaven would contain enough of a media blather for each of us to speak of without the other having a clue. God’s wrath was merely granting them a fitting answer to their prayers.