Mechanical Dances

Popular modernism I

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In the mid twentieth century, when the cultural paradigm of modernism began to lost coherence, its fragments were picked up by figures in popular culture. The rhetoric of elite or high modernism “descended” into popular culture, while at the same time (ironically) it was being superseded within the art community itself. Starting in the 1950s and 1960s and continuing through the following decades, figures in jazz and rock music, film, television, and so on began to talk or be talked about as if there were modernist artists. The assumptions of modernism, particularly the notion of developing the medium, were picked up by writers and thinkers of all sorts. Marshall McLuhan borrowed some of the these assumptions of modernist art and translated them into his version of media studies. Digital media writers have enthusiastically received these ideas from McLuhan: every digital technology becomes a new medium whose special qualities changes the way we take pictures, make and listen to music, tell stories, write, think.

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