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Cultural Common Ground Gets Harder To Come By

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Cultural Common Ground Gets Harder To Come By

Cultural Common Ground Gets Harder To Come By

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

We live in a world of seemingly infinite choices. Press the remote: You can watch documentaries, cartoons, dramas, talent shows. Click the mouse: You can play video games, read news, listen to music, watch movies, or chat with friends.

Today, we begin a series on how this fracturing of the media has fundamentally changed the way we experience culture.

NPR's Elizabeth Blair gets us started.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: So, what is this called?

Mr. CASEY RAE-HUNTER (Communications Director and Policy Strategist, Future of Music Coalition): The academic word for this is disintermediation.

BLAIR: Casey Rae-Hunter heads up the Future of Music Coalition.

Mr. RAE-HUNTER: But that's a mouthful, so fractured culture works just fine.

Ms. ALYSSA ROSENBERG (Columnist, The Atlantic): Fractured implies that something is broken. It's wounded.

BLAIR: Alyssa Rosenberg writes a column for The Atlantic. She prefers another word.

Ms. ROSENBERG: The fragmentation of culture is a wonderful thing.

BLAIR: And Mark Lopez of the Pew Hispanic Research Center was just confused when I asked him about fractured culture.

Mr. MARK LOPEZ (Associate Director, Pew Hispanic Research Center): Hmm, I was actually going to ask you what it means. I wasn't sure exactly what it means.

BLAIR: But he took a stab at it, explaining the fracturing he sees in the Latino population.

Mr. LOPEZ: For example, young Latinos are straddling two different cultures. They're straddling the culture of their immigrant roots, but also an American culture as well.

BLAIR: And what's popular with one group can go virtually unnoticed by another. Univision, for example, is watched by millions of Latinos in the U.S., but millions of other Americans couldn't tell you what channel it's on.

(Soundbite of TV program)

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actress): (as Character) (Foreign language spoken)

BLAIR: TV ratings offer glaring proof of how the once mass market has split up into lots of smaller crowds. Since we're not all watching the same shows, those water cooler moments are harder to come by.

Dan Schneider, a TV veteran and executive producer for Nickelodeon, says take a show like "Modern Family."

(Soundbite of TV program, "Modern Family")

Unidentified Child (Actor): (as Character) Okay, ready? One, two, three...

Unidentified Group: Surprise.

Mr. DAN SCHNEIDER (Executive Producer): A really great comedy that's popular and new that's on the air right now.

Mr. TY BURRELL (Actor): (as Phil Dunphy) No.

Unidentified Woman #2 (Actress): (as Character) No, no. I'm sorry.

Mr. BURRELL: (as Phil Dunphy) Nothing's happening.

Unidentified Woman #2: (as Character) Oh, my god.

Mr. BURRELL: (as Phil Dunphy) Yeah. Our kids walked in on us.

Mr. SCHNEIDER: But if you go walk around the streets or if you go walk around the mall and say, hey, did you see last week's "Modern Family," you know, how many people out of 10 are going to say, oh, yeah, I saw it? The television markets are so nichey that even a popular show isn't watched by, you know, most people that you're going to run into.

BLAIR: There is no one dominant cultural conversation.

The music industry, same thing. Casey Rae-Hunter of the Future of Music Coalition says this fragmentation has opened up the world for creators and consumers alike.

Mr. RAE-HUNTER: The arrival of the Internet to some degree leveled the playing field, and that allowed, you know, a plethora of folks who otherwise would've had no shot of getting on, say, commercial radio to be heard. It's really an amazing time to be a fan.

Ms. FAY FERGUSON (Co-CEO, Burrell Communications): It's ushering in a totally different era of communication.

BLAIR: Fay Ferguson is co-CEO of Burrell Communications, an African-American ad agency founded 40 years ago.

Ms. FERGUSON: Based on the principle that black people are not dark-skinned white people.

BLAIR: And, says Ferguson, that African-Americans are a separate, viable market. She says there have always been many American cultures.

Ms. FERGUSON: This has always existed, but technology has been an enabler. So that now there's actually a way to get to these smaller groups efficiently.

BLAIR: She says targeted marketing is the name of the game now more than ever.

So, are we at risk of losing a common culture in such a fractured society?

Alyssa Rosenberg of The Atlantic says maybe, but she also thinks it will make us appreciate the mass cultural events that do occur even more, like the end of the "Harry Potter" series or when Michael Jackson died.

(Soundbite of song, "Man in the Mirror")

Mr. MICHAEL JACKSON (Singer): (Singing) I'm going to make a change for once in my life.

BLAIR: His death affected millions, whether you're a fan or a former fan or just recognize his influence.

Ms. ROSENBERG: It was enormous because we were united in a way that we aren't normally. It added significance to the event.

BLAIR: If Michael Jackson were coming of age now, could he become the King of Pop? Probably not. The once monolithic record companies have lost their power. The fractured media has made it easy for people to discover all kinds of new talent - or even learn about artists from other cultures they never knew existed - just by changing the channel.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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