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Reference points for how we’re living

Culture can be viewed as all the ways we try to make sense of life; all these responses we have to existence in terms of how we think about it, the kind of things we see as appropriate or admirable, the feelings we have and choices we’re making about how to be within the world.

And it’s interesting, because we can clearly lose ourselves in that world: we can get drawn in so deep that our lives become ‘about’ those who are representing all these things for us. We can become obsessed with observing, deconstructing, commenting on the realities of that realm; caught up in pursuing or imitating what we admire and wish we could become.

Which is what it is. It draws people together over this affinity for themes, expressions, qualities we love or feel resonate most deeply with our own existence and views. Culture, after all, can serve to unite us (see Notes One). And we could indeed make that our identity, taking those reference points and turning them into the constellation of who we are.

It’s a fascinating, reciprocal process of reflection and identification: culture taking aspects of our lives and handing them back to us in different forms. It’s almost society’s looking glass, as we see ourselves perhaps mirrored or distorted through these mediums (Notes Two). This layer of creativity as we play with the forms of our lives, the standards and expectations, meeting or subverting them to see what can be made of it all.

And in many ways that does offer identity. Through seeing how we fit within society’s cultural conversation we see how others might see us, ways life is depicted, options available and how they might play out. This arena for making sense of things, working through them hypothetically, and deciding where we stand in relation to what’s happening there.

The idea of this being a place where society plays itself out intrigues me. Because at some point that’s genuine and then it’s illusion; authenticity blends with pretence as people adopt roles, play parts, and present things from a certain angle. These spokespeople or role models for how we might live, images we might recreate, ways we might act or relate.

Over the years, then becoming this rolling conversation between generations: past moments uniting us as we share responses to these common experiences. This layered, self-referential flow of events we’re all somehow related to. From ancient civilisations through to modern pop culture, there’s phenomena we can all talk about.

But with that comes this sense in which we’re expected to keep pace with the global outpouring of cultural content, that being human means going along with all this and forming opinions around it (Notes Three). At some point, we might wish to limit our exposure to constant flows of commercial innovation in order to live more sane and manageable lives.

There’s obviously great value to cultural life, but knowing where life ends and illusion begins is an intriguing reality to grapple with.

Notes and References:

Note 1: Busking as a gift
Note 1: Cultural shifts & taking a backseat
Note 1: Plato & “The Republic”
Note 1: Missing something with modern culture?
Note 1: “The Measure of a Man”
Note 2: Truth, illusion & cultural life
Note 2: How many aren’t well represented?
Note 3: Value in being informed
Note 3: Will novelty ever wear off?
Note 3: Playing with fire?

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