Over the past week, I’ve been reading Carl Sagan’s Cosmos in preparation for Fox’s remake of his groundbreaking miniseries on the wonders of the universe, which debuts this weekend. Towards the end of the book, Sagan takes a moment to explain what human beings decided to try to tell the universe about ourselves when stocking the Voyager spacecraft.
“We did not want to send primarily scientific information. Any civilization able to intercept Voyager in the depths of interstellar space, its transmitters long dead, would know far more science than we do,” Sagan explained. “We included greetings in sixty human tongues, as well as the hellos of the humpback whales. we sent photographs of humans from all over the world caring for one another, learning, fabricating tools and art and responding to challenges. There is a hour and a half of exquisite music from many cultures, some of it expressing our sense of cosmic loneliness, our wish to end our isolation, our longing to make contact with other beings in the Cosmos. And we have sent recordings of the sounds that would have been heard on our planet from the earliest days before the origins of life to the evolution of the humans species and our most recent burgeoning technology. It is, as much as the sounds of any baleen whale, a love song cast upon the vastness of the deep…The Voyager message is traveling with agonizing slowness. The fastest object ever launched by human species, it will still take tens of thousands of years to go the distance to the nearest star. Any television program will traverse in hours the distance that Voyager has covered in years.”
It’s a beautiful expression of an idea I’ve tried to pursue over three years of writing and reporting here at ThinkProgress: that culture can be one of the most powerful tools we have to communicate the ideas that are most important to us. Because culture is so tremendously powerful, it makes sense to hold it to high standards, to ask that its ideas be sharp and well-developed, that its words and images be beautiful and strong, that as many kinds people as possible get to play with these platforms. And if you want to suss out anyone’s most cherished ideals, you can learn a great deal about looking at the culture they value most, whether we’re examining the President of the United States’ fondness for Homeland or our own obsessions with difficult middle-aged men.
When we launched this blog three years ago, I paraphrased Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins’ “You Are What You Love,” and thousands of posts later, I think the song is an even more apt way of describing our relationship to culture. We are what we love, even when we adore a culture that not only doesn’t consistently love us back, but that can be downright cruel to us. As frustrating as mainstream entertainment can be, though, we are also surrounded by miracles and wonders. I can’t even say what a privilege it’s been to get to cover the emergence of Lupita Nyong’o, to dive into Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings and wander through Teju Cole’s Open City, and to be gratified by the breakout success of an utterly terrific show like Orange Is The New Black. There’s a lot to be angry about and frustrated by. But every day at ThinkProgress has involved some joy at the prodigious gifts of artistic creativity that I get to swim in all the time.
I’m starting a new job at the Washington Post, where I’ll be writing a blog similar to this one for the Opinions section of the paper. We haven’t finalized my new URL yet, but I’ll ask the ThinkProgress folks if I can share it here when we do. You’ll be able email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll keep posting content on Twitter here, on Facebook, and on Tumblr. And you can even ask me questions here. Please stay in touch. It’s been a privilege talking to you for the last three years.