Fleishman has an interesting take on what lies at the heart of new class culture:
The New Class’s taste, so varied as perhaps to be incomprehensible as a distinct approach to experience, is a taste nonetheless, the taste for all of it. It is well on the way toward becoming the dominant standard of cultural distinction in turn-of-the-millennium America. As this rising class gains power and prestige, the catholicity of its taste becomes acknowledged as the favored cultural stance. (49)This is a challenging basis for culture. But I see what he means in my students all the time, especially those who experience the world through computers. They are wonderfully curious, open, and global in their interests.
The downside of that openness, though, is that they find it hugely difficult to select what is truly good from the welter of information and experiences that come as a torrent upon them.
Fleishman says that one of the most glaring problems with new class culture is "the lack of any central or ordering principle by which its cultural choices might be made, its experiences and acquisitions graded" (104). They are trying the nearly impossible task of constructing an ethic and an aesthetic within the limits of an easy relativism.
From Fleishman's account of new class culture, I notice another difficulty: trying to experience all the knowledge and culture of the world through the computer distorts and distances what you experience. Fleishman cites Marshall McLuhan in another context, which put me in mind of McLuhan's contention that television is an inherently "cool" medium, which puts a passion-dampening distance between viewer and subject. McLuhan died before the internet came to be, but it seems to me that his insight would lead one to think of internet experience as, at best, "warm," but not "hot." The web is more interactive, especially through the many ways in which young people write to one another all over the world. Still, experiencing the world through the web is to experience it in a limited way.
The taste for "all of it" is a fascinating idea for the foundation of a new culture. So far, though, the all that Fleishman's new class has a taste for comes through the lens of digital experience.
It seems ironic to post these thoughts on a weblog, and ask for the responses of friends and strangers through the flattening power of the comments section. Please do send those responses, though, and I promise to appreciate the irony while thinking about what you say.