Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cultural Touch Points – Our Internal Cultural Beacon

It happens. An story idea I thought was important and I did the work on is superceded by a Force Divine that is yelping at me at a high rate of speed, “You gotta do this, not that.”

And I say “I can’t, looky I really worked on this…” and the Force Divine says, “Save it for next week, kid. We got business here.” And I say “Yeah, but…” and I am lost before I pronounced the “t” in but.  So this is free form and we’ll see where it takes us.

I was at lunch with a 20ish year old person and a 40ish person. We were talking about movies. The young lady said that she had never seen Casablanca or The Godfather.  Never heard of them.  The 40 year old asked, “Ok, you’ve seen the movie, “Taxi Driver, right?”

“Oh yeah, with Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifah right?”

Uhm, No.  Seriously no. Internally I’m going “This is not right, she is supposed to know. Casablanca is a movie she has got to know.” 

That poor kid. We tried to force fed her our lists of the five mandatory movies she must see. We could only agree on three of them, Casablanca, Gone With The Wind and Citizen Kane. I think she also should see What Dreams May Come.  That is a hard sell to people who see Robin Williams and think it is going to be a laugh riot. It is a deep, luscious movie.

Ok, the Force Divine says I’m getting off track.

After lunch and back at the Salt Mine I thought about it. "Why should she see Casablanca? What does that film offer an adult in 2008? And what is it that we were trying to communicate to her about seeing the movie?"

I think what we old fogies where trying to do, unconsciously, was to transmit the feelings and the various cultural lessons that a film can give a person.  That film was jammed packed with romantic love, lust, honor, scum bags and second chances.

Culture is the shared values and beliefs of a group of people. Not just the day to day grunt living but what we aspire to and hope to become. Movies, music and dance are cultural transmission devices. The ancestors had the Griot tell stories and family histories around a fire. Cave painters want us to know how that horse looked thousands of years ago. Madame Butterfly is breaking your heart because she fell for the wrong man.

One of the definitions of culture, is all the knowledge and values shared by a society. Another is the acculturation or the behavior patterns that might help or inspire a person during rough times.

I’m going to continue to use Casablanca as an example but you might have one or two films that taught your something.  So if Casablanca doesn’t do it for you then by all means pick your flick. Here is a look at the trailer of the movie.

What I Learned From Rick, Ilsa and Victor

It was not the intent of Warner Brothers Pictures to convey idealized American cultural values. The intent was to entertain and make money. Despite their best efforts the movie serves a higher purpose. Casablanca transmits (to me) the following values:

  • The power of love and the ability to love more than one person at a time
  • Commitment to an idea or cause
  • Sacrifice of self for a higher good
  • The different models of patriotism
  • Moving forward and getting on with your life.

And please forgive me for being American centric. I know that many cultures and citizens from around the world have the same or similar values.  It was an international cast and I can mangle La Marseillaise with the best of them.

Each One Teach One

So here is the sneaky culture secret that is not a secret. All of us are teachers. All of us transmit and exchange culture values. When two different cultures meet there is an exchange; sometimes for the good and sometimes it can be challenging.  But all of use intentionally or not absorb a certain set of values from dominant cultural clues, pop culture and our own community cultures.

We take what we need and kick out those parts that don’t fit. Movies, radio and television are current mass media transmission devices.  We now add bloggers and social media to the mix.

Back to the Future

Our young lunch companion was texting as she walk with us to the restaurant. She was also having a conversation with us, in fragments but she kept up. There also was contact with her immediate community and it wasn’t us. I do give her credit that she stopped texting as we ate and talked.

Being willing to learn new things is a positive cultural value.  And the first step is to admit you haven’t known about X. New York Magazine has an article on “What Is Your Cultural Secret Shame” where others speak softly about not reading To Kill A Mocking Bird or seeing ET.

Another part of cultural transmission is admitting when you recognize that you have grown and changed and that you are the better for it. Mary Beth at Supafine has a lovely passage in her post:

Life is a ripple, or a wave, or a ribbon. Time bears you forward into different circumstances, doing different work that affects the larger society or culture as a whole. Arranging words on a newspaper page is one such service to your community. Teaching the children of that community about manners and love and respect and compassion is another.

Over at Crooked House Stephany Aulenback is asking for help on finding classic and beautifully illustrated fairy and folk tales for her son. So once again what we hold dear and important is now being collected to be given to the next generation.

Mindy Kltasky over at Read Till You Drop never develop a taste for comics/comic books and graphic novels.  She asked her blogging community what she could do to learn and appreciate them. One of her readers stepped up and shared what he found valuable.

Crayl from Beyond Black and White just hit the letter Z on Thankful Tuesday. On her list are some cultural touch point that I do know; the original PBS show called Zoom, and those I don’t know like Zingers.

As for the Force Divine we have worked out our differences. Next time I’ll just go ahead and do it and save us both a headache.  In the meantime, I would love to know what book, song or movie that you feel had a cultural impact on yourself or the people around you.

This post originally appeared on BlogHer where I am a Contributing Editor.

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