America’s Quiet Revolution

The roots of America’s quiet revolution lie in the trenches of culture war. A caustic melodrama plays out every day as politicians and pundits manipulate public opinion through slander and deceit. In a political charade acted out in a media circus, pompous ideologues feign moral outrage as they rally behind hot button social issues that have little to do with the welfare of the people and everything to do with advancing the agenda of corporate sponsors.

However pious and patriotic right-wing ideologues may sound to working class voters, they have lost the moral high ground. The longstanding economic model where American corporations exploit underdeveloped countries to profit from the consumer obsession of majority culture cannot be justified as an ethical option in a global community connected by cell phones and the internet. As television yields to social media as the voice of the people, a shift in values is taking place that will change the course of politics and bring an end to the late modern period in Western culture.

Commercial television has been the principal source of news and entertainment for the general public for more than sixty-five years. Television gave rise to pop culture and consumerism. Together, they shaped the American persona and were instrumental in the success of post-war corporate expansion. The nationwide television audience emulated pop culture heroes and was integrated into society by buying and owning products of media-produced fads. Enchanted by the evening viewing ritual and immersed in consumer culture, society substituted material gratification for its fading traditions. Over the years, advertising duplicity and the commercialization of culture would leave late modern society with the vacant shell of a once robust and meaningful set of cultural experiences.

Conservative economic models hid the sins of corporate capitalism behind the rancorous facade of culture war while an endless flow of commodities fed the growing narcissism of a society gutted of cultural values. The surrogate culture of consumerism reached its peak during the extended buying frenzy leading up to the economic collapse of 2008. No one seemed interested in examining the ethics of consumerism or free market capitalism too closely. Majority culture revelled in materialism while churches across America condoned the overindulgence. When the economy tanked, middle America awoke from its consumer obsession to a lifeless culture with few of the rich traditions and symbolic experiences that had been the hallmarks of the modern age.

The social advances of modern culture had fallen into decline long before the corporate banking fiasco of 2008. Every aspect of late modern society was subject to exploitation. With economic advantages favoring corporations at every turn, small business and the middle class suffered. The upward redistribution of wealth underscored the injustice as corporations took control of the political process. Modernism’s promise of liberty, social equality and upward mobility fell out of reach. Democracy in America became a mockery of its founding principles with all three branches of government subjugated to corporate interests. For beleaguered citizens in corporatized society, freedom of choice was limited to brand name.

The workforce atrophied into a poorly-educated underclass with few opportunities for advancement beyond minimum wage. In a society gutted of subjective cultural values by consumerism, and without the promise of upward mobility, the ideals and aspirations that inspired modernism as a cultural movement gave way to despondency and ambivalence. People everywhere withdrew into insular subgroups adrift in disenfranchised culture.

Just when the quality of life on the streets was at its lowest point and crime rates were at their highest (mid-1990s), social media provided a way out of the cultural doldrums. The change was personal, driven by desire for a higher quality of life. Displaced segments of society discovered a receptive social environment and a way to come to terms with the discordant conditions plaguing society at the end of the late modern period. In a uniquely American embrace of cultural pluralism, society began to reconfigure itself on an internet-engaged subcultural model.

It was the beginning of a structural transformation from a consumer society of economic classes in television-dependent majority culture to a nonhierarchical social order of variously-organized groups empowered by social media. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, technologically facilitated subcultures rise above the falling pillars of modernism to discover a new interactive group dynamic and a global community more responsive and democratic than the collapsing hierarchies of late modern society.

In its preoccupation with product consumption, consumer society was caught in a downward spiral that parasitically deconstructed cultural values for advertising purposes. Consumerism would remain the controlling ideology of late modern culture for another decade as corporations consolidated wealth and power. The incomes of middle and working classes flatlined while the economy prospered for the capital elite. The new people’s culture, gestating in the undercurrent of social media, attenuated declining social conditions as corporations ran roughshod over the American public.

The corporate banking failures of 2008, along with the hypocrisy of culture war, supplied moral imperatives for turning the burgeoning cultural movement into a political revolution. Corporate executives responsible for the banking debacle had thumbed their noses at the public as they made away with golden parachutes. Their crimes were an arrogant betrayal of the public trust. Unrepentant and never indicted, they drove the final nail into the coffin.

People across the political spectrum lost faith in the established order. Society’s obsession with consumerism had come to an end and the inequities of the corporate power structure had been exposed. People were looking for values and a sense of integrity not found in corporatized society. The political establishment was committed to an outdated mindset serving the upper echelon at the expense of middle and working classes. The controlling ideology and its entrenched institutions were not prepared for the structural changes taking place in society.

Mobile internet access made it easier for conservatives to organize, but it did not alter their ambitions in any significant way. For proponents of change, however, social media redefined the future. Social media has galvanized proactive democracy around the world. In America, it is the means for reclaiming a political process co-opted by corporate money and influence. The elements of political revolution are all in play: there are the grievances of the oppressed, the alternative news sources of the internet, the group dynamics of social media and the emerging internet-engaged social order offering the promise of greater social equality.

The revolution may appear to television audiences to be little more than a few political protests and viral videos. Until recently, most of the changes were taking place below the threshold of mass media. The quiet revolution is not about heroics. It is about the subtle shift in values occurring as society makes the transition to internet-engaged pluralism.

While under constant shelling of media-driven culture war, a political consensus is emerging from the unfiltered flow of personalized information streaming across the media feed. Social networking venues generate a collective group consciousness and a source of public opinion independent of the dialogues of mass media. In a peer group process enhanced by the group dynamics of social media, the new social order has abandoned the political agendas and consumer myths of late modern society.

In the societal shift from television-dependent to internet-engaged culture, the political dialogue of social networking venues turns from the hot button social issues of culture war to the constitutional rights of the people in corporatized society. The quiet revolution diverges from the Marxist supposition that late capitalism is always followed by socialism. People are not interested in socialism or usurping capitalism, only in leveling the playing field and reeling in reckless corporations. The shift in focus is from policies pandering to the interests of corporate capitalism to policies supporting the resurgence of entrepreneurial capitalism and a more equitable distribution of wealth.

When right-wingers look at changing demographics and proclaim the sky is falling, they should look first at the coded fascism of their own agenda for the threat to democracy. The expression of cultural diversity in America is tempered by the need for national unity. All of society shares in the national identity, linked by humanitarian values and democratic ideals. As right-wing demagoguery is rebuked for its prejudicial overtones, these noble principles will again prevail as the basis for a vibrant multicultural society.