For me, the most compelling part of the Raymond Williams reading was the idea that “there are in fact no masses, but only ways of seeing people as masses” (12). The idea of ‘those people,’ the American ones who are ignorant, uneducated, obese, etc. is an extremely prevalent notion, yet so unconscious that I have never considered how preposterous it is. Williams makes the point that this ways of seeing others in fact rose out of industrialism. More specifically, “the improvement in communications…created unbridgeable divisions between transmitter and audience, which…led to the audience being interpreted as an unknown mass” (12). (As a side-note, this assumed connection between technological advances and social relations seems very parallel to Marx’s point about a society’s mode of production dictating the social relationships that exist within it.)
To continue to follow Williams’ point: he sees the depiction and the common mass of people as a conspiracy used by the rich to reach and appeal to other people. In Williams’ words, “the lowness of taste and habit, which human beings assign very easily to other human beings, was assumed [by those whose money gave them access to the new communication techniques], as a bridge” (12).
I appreciated the Williams reading because I think it encompassed the idea of equality in a much more rounded, realistic way. Rather than calling on a revolution to “raise up” the “lower” classes to the levels of the bourgeoisie by educating “them,” Williams is saying that people are all capable and interesting. There are certain advantages of industrialization that can make life better for everyone, but these are what Arnold would call “machinery,” rather than the goal in and of themselves. In other words, there is not some ideal cultural peak towards which everyone should climb, rather, culture is in everyday, ordinary experience, which is taken to be worthwhile for all rather than some of the population.
These ideas have an interesting relationship to Arnold’s ideas on “sweetness and light.” According to Arnold, the point of culture is “the study and pursuit of perfection,” and the “endeavour, also, to make it prevail” (9-10). This perfection is that “which consists in becoming something rather than in having something, in an inward condition of the mind and spirit, not in an outward set of circumstances” (12). Arnold seems to be describing culture as an ideal for the individual. I think he would agree with Williams that there is no “mass,” just a machinery for seeing people in this way.