Week 1 Readings

Posted by: | January 13, 2009 | Comments Off on Week 1 Readings

Week 1 Readings

The reading “Culture is Ordinary” centralizes around the idea that culture originates from ordinary people. Often culture is associated with the elite of a population, as they are the main producers and consumers of arts and knowledge. However, it is obvious that that there is a kind of “working class” culture that has emerged, that is quite different from the typical idea of refined, luxurious, high-class culture. Williams brings up an interesting point that often the makers of art have a hostile view towards the elite, making their consumption of the art somewhat ironic. The article goes into great detail about the Marist take on culture, stressing that “culture is interpreted in relation to its underlying system of production”, that his English society was a “class dominated culture”, just as Marxist thought states. I find these two things very interesting, because you at first thought I would not think that a system of production would have very much to do with culture. But when looking at a modern culture, such as the United States, one can see that the constant production and flow of goods, and their wide availability and marketing, are all directly tied to the consumerist aspect of American culture. Also, I found interesting the statement that only the “deserving poor get much educational opportunity” in relation to his earlier Marxist statement about the bourgeoisie being the dominant class in a class dominated culture. I had not really thought about this, but after reading this I find it especially true. The rich can buy their education, with not much regard to whether they are actually “deserving” of it or not. There are requirements to be able to attend educational institutions, but in many cases it is money that is the determining factor in one’s acceptance. For a poor individual to receive an education such as the one that members of the elite receive, he must do extra work in order to excel academically, athletically, etc.

I am not sure I really agree with Williams talk about “bad culture”. When talks of the “cheap feelings and moronic arguments” shown in popular culture are a “deeply degrading version of the actual lives of our contemporaries”. I understand where he is coming from, as anyone can see that much of our modern culture is, as he says, vulgar. But on the other hand I don’t really agree with his immediate branding of this culture as “bad”, just because it is new and not produced by the upper class. Perhaps I am not fully grasping his argument, but his label of modern culture as “vulgar” seems to be a little pretentious.

Keesing’s article talks about the way we stress the differences between cultures while analyzing them. I found it interesting how Keesing explained how the focus on cultural difference is a search for the exotic. One can see this everywhere: when tourists travel to tropical places, when people dress in the style of a different country, when people take dance lessons, etc. These are pretty trivial searches for alternative expressions and experiences, but it they are everyday examples of the “search for the exotic” that Keesing speaks of.

I also really liked how the article brings up the irony of the fact that it is fashionable to be different in a globalized world, where boundaries between cultures are vanishing. Not so long ago, distinct cultures where shrouded in mystery due to lack of contact between them. Now that much of this mystery has disappeared, and a kind of global culture is emerging, people have decided they want to stand out from the crowd, either individually or by uniting their people to show they have a strong, vibrant culture.

Both these articles were quite interesting, but a little hard to grasp the main concepts. They both taught me a lot about the production, reproduction and consumption of culture that I had not thought about before.


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