söndag 5 oktober 2014

12 true things you can't say about culture if you want to appear cultural

What is culture?

A very long time ago my teacher in social sciencies asked me that question. Well, it was in a test, so technically he asked everybody that question. I was perplexed. I knew instinctively that something was seriously wrong, but I coldn't put my finger on it.

Aged 11, I wasn't systematic and mature enough to grasp just how to phrase or voice my opposition. I just resigned to quiet hatred instead; A hatred that grew, when just one person got the full 10 points on that particular question for listing activities like Opera, Theater, Music etc.

30 years later, that question and the expected answer to it still haunts me. What really grinds my gears the most (yes, invoking Peter Grifin) is that our teacher never meant to tell us something new or deep, a principle or a method. No, he actually wanted us to mindlessly list two handfuls of human activities, the more esoteric or obsolete the better. Opera was better than theater and theater beat film and recorded music. I don't think anybody answered pick-and-mix candy, McDonald's or comic books but I don't think it would have scored at all - maybe negatively. Actually, to his merit, I think Lars Ahnlund might have accepted porn as an item on the list of human culture.

 Culture schmulture, I say!

Culture is something created by a living thing. Human culture is something created by humans, as opposed to nature which just is (or in certain respects created by more or less conscious animals). The list I wish I had composed and handed in is the following one. I still stand by this list. I do understand, however, that the cultural elite would disagree vehemently.

  1. Pollution is the highest form of human culture
    1. The most successful culture and perhaps most worthy of the notion is the most spread and high-impact results of human activity and here we have been busy; deforestation, depleting the ozon layer, fertilizers, DDT, dumping radioactive waste, plastic waste, animal extinction...
  2. Global warming comes a close second in humanity's greatest cultural achievements
    1. Where pollution is general, global warming is a special and focused branch of human culture
  3. Agriculture
    1. Almost all areable land on earth is used for growing human crops for food (for us or animals) or fuel
  4. Murder
    1. To sustain 7 bn people's lust for meat, human culture has created a system for efficient kidnapping, incarceration, degradation, torture and murder of billions of land living animals
    2. We of course do this in a smaller scale with humans too
    3. As a byproduct of our general activities here on earth we are also responsible for the complete or practical extinction of millions of species
    4. Oh, I almost forgot, and then there is war too
  5. Buildings
    1. The lion part of everything we humans do is about getting a place to lay our hats. The pollution, the transport systems, the mining, the energy production... It's all geared toward building houses and maintaining them.
  6. Porn
    1. It's amazing that the business of publishing graphic pictures of naked people appears only mid-list. This is also the first "real"culture item, even if still frowned upon by the elite; it's too pervasive, too enjoyable and modern to be considered culture, they claim. For them, only old, all but obsolete, and extinct culture counts
  7. Fast food chains
    1. What says "here be humans", and thus human culture, better than a McDonald's, a KFC or a non-name hamburger kiosk?
  8. Clothing retailers
    1. 7bn people need clothes as much as they need food. Not only are there clothing shops wherever there are human settlements, the clothes have been crafted and personalized since the dawn of time. My teacher and the cultural elite might give more points for haute couture hig
  9. Cars
    1. Hopefully, this item will soon fall off the list; cars are so last century in my mind. But I guess they will still be with us in some form all the way to 2050.
  10.  Cute cat videos
    1. An alien civilization could be forgiven for thinking that our economy was built on the creation of videos of cuddly or stupid looking animals. Of course, this answer wouldn't have been relevant in 1983, but could be substituted by comics
  11. Popular music
    1. It's simply never quiet is it? New songs, albeit with the same chords, the same girl group or guy group choruses, are churned out by an increasingly desperate music industry. It's almost all junk, but for a couple of weeks it feels new and fresh and happening, and if the teens like it and tweet about it you have to get on the train too.
  12. IKEA
    1. Cheap flat-packet furniture to fill our houses, to discard it soon enough and buy more... Perhaps IKEA deserve a higher culture rating; If all the agony that goes into putting the pieces together to actual furniture could be recorded it would probably outrank food chains on the list. For now, Kamprad will have to do with at least making the list
The rest; niche culture: Weapons, SportsLitterature - OK, I admit it's a close call, but I don't think books are a match for cute cats videos or Korean pop; Gangnam style, Classical music - this might still be big business but it's nowhere near making the top ten (11) list of human culture

Not qualified as culture due to irrelevance and small footprint:
  • Small hunter gatherer tribes in remote locations (their cultures failed and shrunk)
  • Opera - killed by theater
  • Theater - in the pocess of being killed by film. For all practical purposes it is already economically irrelevant compared to recorded entertainment
  •  Oil paintings
  •  Ball room dancing

So, what would you add, change or disqualify on the list?
 I see it as a work in progress and am (somewhat) open for suggestions

5 kommentarer:

  1. Culture can be interpreted multiple ways. Dictionary.com gave me two, some times opposite, meanings. One definition says excellence. A second definition says ways of living. Your teacher's definition of culture implies excellence, or if not excellent, at least stands the test of time. Your definition is our current way of life, which is clearly not excellent. I'll add anything that is addicting to your list, since addictions can turn into a way of life. Consumerism also deserves a place on your list.

    1. Thanks. I actually never thought of turning to a dictionary. Yes, consumerism is a very good addition and could replace specific examples of it, like fast food, retailers and IKEA.

  2. What would an alien visitor report back home as "human culture"?

  3. An alien visitor would report that majority of human species is specially bound to trying to impress with consumerism others, and creates so called "superiority" and "inferiority". I posess, such and such; I wear such and such; I read such and such; I know such and such, thus I am better than...

    The humans are creating hierarchies, when there are none. And second most striking thing is the fear of doing something, because what would others think of me, if I do this or that.

  4. I seem to have forgotten about sports :), which is kind of funny since I twinge whenever the "Evening News" switch over to first "culture" news, then regional new and finally sports news.

    How do they know what news to put in which segment?

    The cultural segment is by the way always about art, like film, theater or paintings. However, if a painting has been sold for a billion Swedish kronor it ends up in the real news. If a football player is injured, it's considered sports news, but if there is a fight among the spectators, the severity of it dictates whether it's news or sports news.

    Confusing, or is it just my Aspbergers?