We are all the product of our times and cultures. But our ability to read and write, both history and fiction, gives us the opportunity to look back at other times and cultures. The presuppositions we have come from our culture, but these are always in flux. There is a constant struggle between change and stasis.
As part of my morning ritual, I get up and walk about two and a half miles. While I do I listen to audio books. Given the expense I've taken to downloading free audio books from Librivox (http://librivox.org/). They provide free audio recordings of books that have gone into the public domain (they also release their books into the public domain). They get most of their books from Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/) where these books have been provided in electronic format (they provide them in many different formats including Kindle, Nook, and others). Volunteer readers record the books and they are available for download as mp3 files which can be played on many different devices.
So what kinds of books are available. In a word, old ones. To have fallen into public domain, most books have to have been released before 1920. Some other books become public domain for other reasons, but the main way is age. Some of these books are ones that would generally be considered classics. Like Moby Dick, or A Tale of Two Cities. Others are not. But someone found the book to be of enough interest to read it out loud and record it, so it must appeal to someone.
But all of them do provide us insights into a time that no longer exists. But there can still be connections between then and now. The tale of Treasure Island has shaped the pirate tales that are being made as movies today. The Worm Ouroboros, though not to the same standard as fantasy novels today clearly did influence later writers.
And the same points can be made about music and movies. Because when a movie is made, it is a product of its time. And at the moment, I can't think of any movie that has been remade, where the remake was better than the original. And that's because, no matter how hard they try to be true to the original, the new directors and actors are products of their times, and can't recreate the feel of that other time.
Or you can consider shows like Guys and Dolls (which TCT is putting on through June 30th). The play has some old stereotypes, but they continue to work because they fit with the impression we have of that time and place. But I have no illusion that people are like that today. (They probably weren't really like that even back then.) But when I watch, read, or listen to stories from years ago, I am still able to suspend my disbelief, and become immersed in a different world. One that may or may not have ever existed.
But no matter what, these stories do tell me something about the times and people that wrote those stories. And maybe someday, someone will be reading things that we've written today, and learn something about our time and culture. And hopefully they can still find some enjoyment in it.