Monday, January 29


Culture is a funny thing. It gets bandied about so often and so carelessly that to actually find a good definition for it is near impossible. This came up last week during Ethics as we were considering a relativist ethical outlook (every society has its own distinct moral code and it cannot be compared to any others, tradition is its own warrant, yadda, yadda, yadda). To even make relativism viable, you have to be able to identify and differentiate between cultures and so my classes troubles began. I do not remember the specifics of the various theories on culture that were offered, but there was trouble in defining it as circular reasoning arose in calling it 'the beliefs and values one has' or culture became so atomized by examples of a person identifying with their gender, race, nationality, interests, ethnicity and whatever other myriad things that the term culture became useless.

So a friend and I went for a run afterwards and discussed culture on the way. In maybe fifteen minutes (the run was over twenty, but we switched over to a wholly new topic after a while) and after considering whether Star Wars fandom and fashion and other such things constituted a culture, we came to a conclusion that goes something like this. Culture is the set of prohibitions and prescriptions, written or not, that we follow or at least attempt to in our actions. Atomization is prevented because culture is bound by a finite number of actions, but belonging to multiple cultures is still possible.


Webster suggests that culture is 'a : the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations b : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time c : the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization d : the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic.'

Wikipedia says "Culture (from the Latin cultura stemming from colere, meaning "to cultivate"), generally refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activity significance."


Thursday, January 25


Our formal education begins very early and can continue for a long time. They (a rather nebulous concept that includes parents or other caregivers and the government) get their hooks into us early with pre-school and kindergarten, and the process does not often end until a decade has past and increasingly goes on even longer. Why? To turn us into productive members of society, responsible, socialized adults ready to enter into a skilled profession. What follows are personal reflections on the attainment of this goal.

When I was in my junior year of high school and talk about figuring out what I wanted to do after graduating began to circulate (I always knew I was going to college), I hated the very idea of community colleges and three-year programs. There is far more to education than getting a job and beginning to make money. A person should have a developed appreciation for music alongside their understanding of accounting or geology. Besides, a weak worker is one who understands only their own trade and not the context in which it exists. Intersections between diverse fields are common. Engineering and art? English and history? Yeah, there is an entire world outside every individual field and to better understand that field, you need to understand the world. I knew I wanted to go to a liberal arts school and be forced to take classes that I would never normally take because there is a big world out there, and journalism offers only a solitary perspective on it.

Now I am at that liberal arts college, and my thoughts swing more in the other direction. Some friends were recently discussing their plans for grad school and dismissed their current undergraduate education as the opportunity to study what they enjoy. Four years of learning amounted to nothing more than a stepping stone to their real education for them. A great deal of money is going into this necessary passage, and an opportunity to postpone taking responsibility and become a producer and not merely a consumer is extended.

Freak, I am 19-years-old, a physically mature male and in good health. In most any other nation today or at any other time in history, I could very well have been working a farm, supporting not only myself but a family, likely including my parents, or be in the army or something. My peers are planning on extending the lack of true resonsibility for a few more years. This is unacceptable. Besides, what's stopping them from learnign law now. Are their capacities for understanding and memory going to increase that much more between their sophomore year of college and entrance into graduate school?

Ideally, I guess I want elementary and middle school and high school to more closely resemble the liberal arts education I am now receiving. Teach us to write and read and do arithmetic, yes, but also teach us philosophy and how to think critically. Show us the basics of physics and biology. Expose us to every manner of art and music. Catch them young enough and they will not blow it off as something that does not matter to them or their future. Then let us learn a trade.

Tuesday, January 9

Movie trailers

A few days back I saw a trailer for Stomp the Yard on TV. The main draw of the movie seems to be the dancing because the plot of talented rookies in some sport taking on the established veterans has been done time and again in any number of settings. Likely, the hero is the one who jumpstarts the ragtag group of the rookies, falls in love with some girl with connections to the veterans, things fall apart and the veterans see if the hero would like to join them, he declines and brings the rookies together at the last minute to win and get the girl. I haven't looked into the movie anymore than this trailer, so I may be wrong about these predictions. Still, I find it hard to believe I'm that far off. What surprised me about this trailer, however, was that it revealed the ending so blatantly. In the final seconds you can see the hero kissing a girl while confetti falls and his team jumps around behind him with a trophy. I doubt anyone coming to this movie didn't expect a happy ending, but it was rather surprising to me until I began to think about it.

How often do people go into movies completely blind now? Likely, they don't go to a movie unless they've read some reviews or seen some trailers or at least seen a poster which reveals a bit about it. Even more, if the person manages to remain completely in the dark about plot details, once they begin seeing the movie they apply any number of structures they've observed in similar films and can probably make some good guesses about the ending after twenty minutes.

What I find fascinating is that filmakers know this and have changed the ways their movies are presented now. The general structure may remain the same, but the early parts have changed. Take Hitch which my mom and sister watched severl nights back. Even if one did miss the trailers or has since forgotten about them, it's hard not to imagine Will Smith getting together with the gossip columnist after their respective characters are introduced. However, they first appear together in a bar but with different people. At one point, they even cross paths but just miss each other. The audience was expecting their first meeting at this point, perhaps in an amusing instance of slapstick, but it doesn't. Of course it eventually happens, in the same bar ten movie minutes later actually, but audience expectations are played with. I find it interesting that filmakers are still able to practice some originality within these established structures and the associated expectations.

A final question on this subject. If some movie remains popular in future, and people can reasonably come into it without any expectations except that it is a good example of some genre, will they be missing some of these little tricks?