Friday, April 9, 2010

In the Beginning...

The Roots of Mass Popular Culture

Anthropologists and sociologists generally agree that the roots of mass popular culture reach back into the most distant recesses of human antiquity. Some broadly argue that the first group of humans who organized themselves into a social community that shared core beliefs, rituals, and stylized artifacts, in fact also formed the world’s first primitive mass culture.

Left: Cave Man YouTube
Below: Iron age decorated ice bucket (all we need is the Dom Perrigon)

Therefore by the broadest definition, we are referring to Paleolithic man of 100,000 years ago, or at least to his
Cro-Magnon descendants. The latter lived at the close of this age from 30,000 B.C. to 10,000 B.C. in areas around southern France, Spain, Asia, and northern Africa.

Below: The original Standing Stones and Paul McCartney’s 1997 remake

True mass popular culture as we understand it today, requires the means for ideas, ritual myths, customs, and styles that are part of the foundation of the culture, to rapidly spread between social groups, who might otherwise have no meaningful contact with one another.

The first ones to leap out of this starting gate were the

Mesopotamians who dwelt in what is now Iraq. Mesopotamia has been called the “cradle of civilization" because of the development of agriculture, animal herding and domestication, and most importantly, writing. On the human time line, this corresponds to the bronze/iron ages.

Right: 5,000 year old nag note that reads "Honey don't forget to pick up the dry cleaning"

Above: 1 Timothy 6-10: For the love of money is the root of all evil

Near left: The Goddess Ishtar

Far Left: The Royal Standard of Ur

Left to right: Gilgamesh, a Winged Bull, Marduk-nadin-ahhe, and the Great Flood

This great civilization passes a key test of cultural influence insomuch that masny of their religions beliefs and mythology spread to other cultures. Case in point: The Great Flood which made it into the Hebrew Bible in Genesis.

Below right: Babylonian scribe as Paperback Writer

Bits and pieces of the day to day cultures and practices of widely separated peoples did in fact manage to jump time, geography, and language barriers to become accepted components of other people’s cultures. While the propagation of such influences across the globe tended to be ploddingly slow and linear by today’s standards, there are one people who created one of the most seductively enduring and widely spread popular cultures of all time: the grand masters of civilization, the Egyptians.

The Egyptians established an enduring civilization whose influence spread far beyond the boundaries of their realm and into permanent imagination of all who have followed them, even charming us today. Even the Romans (who were quite impressive themselves) were filled with a sense of awe and mystical delight for all things Egyptian.

Archeology has unearthed numerous writings by ordinary citizens of Rome describing their adventures into the Kingdom of Egypt in search of spiritual wisdom. There are huge parallels between the western intelligentsia’s 1960’s fascination with India, and that of the intelligentsia of ancient Rome and their pipe-dreams about the exotica of Egypt. In both cases, there were widely held beliefs in the existence of mysterious enlightened gurus who dwelled in these lands, and who possessed a mysterious secret knowledge that provided answers to the age old mysteries of life. And like westerners, Roman citizens would go on Magical Mystery Tour pilgrimages to Egypt to seek out this knowledge.

Above: John and Yoko circa 1500 BC
Below: Egyptian Rubber Soul LP cover

Above: Pyramid Power