Thursday, January 8, 2009


I recently discovered a new blog which I think is going to get added to my rounds because I find it both amusing and informative. (It's really hard to find a blog that does both well) Recently, Seraphic wrote a couple of posts on British culture, because she is moving to England (well, Scotland).

Whenever anyone talks about culture and traditions, I always feel like a bit of an orphan. Ethnically speaking I'm German, Irish, maybe English, and goodness knows what else. But those Germans and Irishmen and Englishmen came over here so very long ago that I've lost whatever culture they had. Hence the feeling like a cultural orphan.

Seraphic (who is Canadian) pointed out that America has its own culture. That's something that I want to explore more, but not over at her blog because that's not nice; one shouldn't derail the conversations the moment one introduces oneself on a blog. So I'll ponder it here.

I'm a bit stumped as to what American culture is. It seems like we're just too big to have any real cohesive culture. I mean, certainly we share a lot of the same ideals (freedom is one that leaps to mind) but when I feel like a cultural orphan I don't want lofty ideals. I want food and music and books and pretty dresses.

As I was pondering that, I realized that I do have something that's part of my culture as a Midwesterner. Barn dances. Out where I live, we still have those; there's an annual barn dance a little ways away that my family has been attending since we moved here 4 1/2 years ago. I have no idea where or when or how barn dances originated, but I do know that they are part of this culture I live in, this culture of living simply and looking out for your neighbor. We dance. (And we eat. If you're not actively dancing you should be eating. The two main food groups in Midwestern Culture seem to be Casserole and Dessert.)

So, my not-so-deep conclusion is that if I want to stop feeling like a cultural orphan, I should learn how to square dance. Next November I am definitely going to get the Cobbler up here for the barn dance. Partly just because I just like having him around (and I think he'd enjoy it) and partly because men tend to be a bit scarce at these dances and it's a lot easier to infiltrate a square if you have a partner.


Seraphic Single said...

Yay! Midwestern US culture is certainly a rich and vibrant culture. I like your idea of learning to square dance. Now THAT sounds like an authentic appropritation of one's own culture!

(Oooh, I learned to talk that way at grad school...)


Shakespeare's Cobbler said...

It also depends what you take to be culture. In some ways, geeks have tons of culture. America in general would also have tons of culture if more modern "music" was actually music... and stuff like that.

Shakespeare's Cobbler said...

Furthermore, even the common American had much culture till Jazz and such was replaced with rock and real American foods were replaced with overprocessed junk and fast food (if that isn't redundant). Granted, Jazz and such is still popular among their select groups, but in general they've become a thing of the past (albeit the relatively recent past, not totally unknown like medieval history). I understand part of our problem to be that things are outdated in a decade (hence the emphases of nineties, eighties, seventies, etc.) rather than generally retained as part of culture. On the other hand bad rock remains with us after almost half a century, so I'm not sure what the whole problem is... except that the cultural decline might coincide with the spiritual and moral decline somehow...

The Sojourner said...

Seraphic--Thanks for the comment, and feel free to talk like a grad student. :)

Dearest--It does depend on one's definition of culture. I hadn't considered geek culture because (at least to my knowledge) geekiness is not a geographically-based community. You can't pick a particular country and say, "This is the motherland of geeks." So if geeks want a physical community they have to travel to conventions and other gatherings. (If we are ever very wealthy, the first thing I want to do is attend a Tour de Japon performance, okay?)

Of course, the internet has made it a lot easier to form communities that are not geographically based, and considering that I met at least 2 of my best friends via the internet, I'm open to the possibility that it might provide opportunities for community that would not have been possible before.

Also, not all rock is bad. Everything that came after the Beatles is bad. :)

Seriously, though, I do think we had more of a cohesive culture before the '60s or so, and would sometime like to do a post on that.

Shakespeare's Cobbler said...

Oh, I know. That's why I said "bad rock". There's a handful of really awesome good stuff that I couldn't differentiate from "rock" and was created in the past thirty years (several Billy Joel songs come to mind), and on the other hand I've heard some stuff that I've been told was in the style of very early rock and it actually sounds real good... I just can't figure out what happened that the really annoying noises they use in place of melodic sound have come to be the mainstream for so long, unless it has something to do with whole generations being generally taught that the classical tradition is foolish and the further away from it we run the better off we are (which, thankfully, we seem to be growing out of over time -- I meet more people better educated in any classic field the longer I live... yes, I can say that even though I'm only an ordinary college-age kid).

Warren said...

American culture is so many things, that's why it's hard to get a grasp on it. It's not a homogenous microculture. It's a massive thing, with regional subcultures.

I like the Midwestern US folks, the Minnesotans especially, because they seem a lot like us Canadians. They understand beer, hockey, hunting and camping.

I love Tennessee, because it's where the old country music I love seems rooted, physically. There's Johnny Cash, and then there's everyone else.

I love New York City because like the city I live in, it's the multicultural ferment that defines not only American History and Culture, but also, what "New York" actually is. Note how many films have "New York" as almost a character in the film. Not just Woody Allen films either.

I love American Music. I love American Films. Almost all the music I really love is "Americana". Call it roots, folk, country, it's American Music.

And there are dozens of great American Film Directors. That is American Culture to me. It is the selective sub-section of American Culture that I value.

I could easily write about bits of the overall American Culture I dislike, and especially the leading role of Consumerism in it. Yes, we all have a culture.

I understand that feeling you mention because I grew up feeling the same way about Canada. But I'm starting to see that there is really something there, something huge and many sided and hard to describe exactly, but it's there.

And Jazz? Pbhbhbhbbhbh! Who needs Jazz....


The Sojourner said...

Thanks, Warren, for some food for thought.

Shakespeare's Cobbler said...

Well obviously, jazz, along with the poorly named "boogie-woogie", is for those of us who need some bounce in our lives and never manage to make enough Irish dance lessons to get far. (And yes, I know Irish dance doesn't really bounce in the up-'n'-down sense. The feet do something almost like bouncing just right to hold the upper body up evenly, though, which is cool.)

Methinks two odd factors may be at play: first, that a culture is often more obvious when viewed from outside, and second, that while culture is there it sometimes takes digging for. Combined that means that those who are near and expect to see the culture without having to dig don't and so think it's gone. Personally I don't like having to dig, although there's plenty to dig through within the culture itself to unearth more and more and understand better and better, but I'll have to think a while to nail down why.