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What’s the idea with culture?

Looking at life, large chunks of time seem to be immersed in what’s called “culture” – all the shows, movies, podcasts, literature, productions, songs and performances that, grouped together, become this world of stories we tell, voices we listen to, and experiences or characters we’re letting populate our minds. It’s fascinating, really, because what does it all mean?

It’s not quite reality, but seems related to it and considered worthwhile as an activity. Is this to help us understand life, society, and the relationships we stand within? Is it intended to inform us about the nature of our world and kinds of attitudes that might serve well in navigating it? A sidebar within “real life” where we can safely learn essential lessons.

Almost this condensed version of reality, offering what we’d eventually figure out ourselves by way of living. Following others’ examples or learning from their mistakes; seeing things portrayed and exploring values people might choose to live by; developing this common “code” for what’s deemed admirable, dangerous or justifiable presumably lets us see our community’s thinking more clearly.

All these masks and metaphors through which social meanings are communicated – a valve or flow of ideas, reflections and estimations of the worth we might hold in others’ eyes. The ways things are presented perhaps subtly shaping our own thoughts about life and filtering out into the conversations, interactions and relationships of the real world (Notes One).

Isn’t it true there’s this two-way flow, this reciprocity between culture and reality? It’s where we might find ourselves, our options for expressing who we are from within the definitions on offer. It gives us this shared sense of what those choices mean – how we might or must interpret the image and behaviour of others. This sense of deciphering where each person stands within our collective narratives.

Within all that, there seems a lot of scope for influencing both individuals and society. If we’re “reading” the world around us – and, acting within it – based on what we’re experiencing culturally, there’s this sense in which culture’s doing this constant dance of forms and meanings with the society it purports to serve. Isn’t the hope that, somehow, a community will operate “better” as a result of all this?

But, these days particularly – with the opportunities technology offers and inclination to capitalise on any given trend – it’s seeming questionable where things are headed (Notes Two). If culture’s a sort of mirror that sets itself up to reflect our realities while also distorting or adding something to them, how responsible are we being with all we’re taking in and making our own?

If these are the references we’re allowing in to shape how we’re living and interpreting the world (Notes Three), can we really not consider where they may lead? We might look to culture for the latest trends or conversations, forming our sense of identity and belonging around what we find there, but letting too many of these things trickle out into society, unfiltered, doesn’t exactly seem wise.

Notes and References:

Note 1: Culture as reflection
Note 1: Culture as what we relate to
Note 1: Definition, expression & interpretation
Note 1: Culture as a conversation across time
Note 1: Stories that bind us
Note 2: Economics & the realm of culture
Note 2: All that’s going on around us
Note 3: Reading into social realities?
Note 3: Making things up as we go along
Note 3: Do we know what we’re doing?

For some slightly more timeless thoughts around the question of culture, there’s Plato & “The Republic”.

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