Wednesday, April 3, 2019

What is Culture?

From Dr. Pearce at The Imaginative Conservative:
What do we mean by “culture”? This perplexing question was asked recently by Manuel Alfonseca in his thought-provoking blog, Popular Science.[*] “Politicians and the media do not seem quite clear about the meaning of culture,” he writes. “When people talk about the world of culture, they usually refer to issues as diverse as pop music shows, bullfighting, opera, theater, cinema, museums, university….” Mr. Alfonseca complains that such loose-talk is “an abuse of language that mixes four things quite different, though related: culture, shows, entertainment and education.” 
Proceeding logically and scientifically, he seeks to define his terms by citing the Cambridge dictionary:
  • Culture: music, art, theatre, literature, etc.
  • Education: process of teaching or learning, or the knowledge you get from this.
  • Show: a theatre performance or a television or radio program that is entertaining rather than serious.
  • Entertainment: public shows, performances or other ways of enjoying yourself.
Having made the necessary distinctions, he asserts that a cultural act “should be a public celebration where attendees try to increase their culture, to get knowledge that will improve their critical judgment.” Such cultural acts would include a classical music concert, the presentation of a book, or a visit to a museum. Conversely, watching movies is not a cultural act but entertainment, says Mr. Alfonseca, because, with few exceptions, “we do not watch a movie to increase our culture, but to enjoy ourselves.” Similarly he states that “a pop festival or a bullfight are not cultural events, but shows.” 
“We can go to the opera or the theater to improve our culture,” he concedes, “but the performance itself may not be a cultural act, but a show, especially when the stage directors distort a classic work to express their originality or to shock the public.” 
University professors can be considered a part of the world of culture, he says, “if they perform popularization.” Since, however, this is not their main activity, which consists primarily of education and research, they are not, properly speaking, part of the culture.
“When the media talk about the world of culture and put there actors, pop musicians (some of whom confess that they do not know music), and even DJs, they are really talking about the world of entertainment.” So says Mr. Alfonseca in clearly plaintive mode. “Let us call things by their name.” (Read more.)

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