No distance. No borders. No separation. This is the ongoing thread that’s woven throughout the new short documentary, The Culture of Proximity, which explores the existing cultural landscape and the four key areas driving it. Velocity, Viacom’s in-house branded content division, gathered the opinions and insights of various academics, celebrities, marketers and young people in the U.S. in an effort to better understand how and why culture is changing.
In doing so, they discovered that the differences between brands, fans, celebrities and content creators has blurred and become entangled. This is due in part to things like the internet, the definition of near and far, personal relationships, power rankings and the notion of what’s “real” (i.e., everything from fake news to Instagram filters). And by exploring these topics, the documentary (which recently screened at Cannes) has succeeded in generating a discussion about today’s culture and how regular people have the power to impact not only their own sphere of influence, but also mass culture as whole.
“The Culture of Proximity was really an opportunity to bring together important thought leaders so we could have a conversation about culture today and how it’s being powered,” explains Dario Spina, CMO of Viacom Velocity.
“Now more than ever, we want to better understand how fans and audiences are coming together and shaping pop culture and what that ultimately means for the cult of celebrity and brands overall.”
But there’s a paradox: People have the power to create their own versions of culture, potentially drifting apart in cultural bubbles and a filtered perception of the world.
To better understand these phenomena, Velocity set out to explore four key cultural forces.
Four Degrees of Cultural Proximity
The Culture of Proximity is the notion that culture exists in four categories that influence and intersect with each other:
- Close Culture is what’s created and shared by our immediate circle, like friends and family.
- Mass Culture is culture that’s shared or consumed by everyone. Traditionally, mass culture has been projected downward—impacting other cultures, without the opportunity for smaller cultural players to have an influence on mass culture as a whole.
- Crowd Culture is the culture we create together which is why it has the largest impact on mass culture. Recent examples include the national election, the Black Lives Matter movement, trending hashtags, slang, etc.
- Deep Culture represents subcultures drawn together by a shared experience. From fandoms to support groups, this is where those who share a specific interest consume and collaborate together.
Historically, each of these four cultures existed separately. But what’s changed is that they’ve now started to collapse into each other, creating an unpredictable organic entity that’s constantly churning. Influence can now come from anywhere or anything, forcing those who used to own mass culture (celebrities, politicians, brands, etc.) to stop and take note.
Rethinking Branding and Influence
Two major takeaways from the research generated by Velocity is how youth culture sees their sphere of influence within the Culture of Proximity and how a lack of barriers is changing the notion of celebrity, fandom, social relationships, and authenticity.
In traditional mass culture, celebrity-dictated influence and fan interactions were extremely limited. But in the current Culture of Proximity, fans and influencers exist within the same ecosphere and on a more equal footing. Around half of millennials feel like they know their favorite celebrity personally. And the more “real” the better, with 70 percent of respondents agreeing that very personal topics, like having a mental illness or addiction, are acceptable for people to share publicly.
Sixty-one percent of millennials surveyed felt they could influence pop culture. “Who is actually in control of popular culture seems to be a jump ball,” says Spina. “Whether young people think about it consciously or not, what we found again and again is a landscape where consuming culture is only one of the things they’re doing with it.” The study also found that 86 percent of fans think they should have at least some ownership of the things they’re fans of.
Based on these findings, it’s clear The Culture of Proximity has laid the groundwork for a new playbook on engagement. From the way brands aim to be a part of culture, to how the power of celebrity is activated, to even understanding what “authentic” means when audiences seek radical honesty, proximity changes how those that once dictated mass culture can get close to and stay close to fans and consumers.
For more information on The Culture of Proximity research, screenings and workshops, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.