Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Drawing the Line Between Public and Private

As I am browsing through the various news articles for the day, this one caught my eye. Perhaps because it was not about riots or crimes or hate. Perhaps I've grown cold to such stories that seem all too prevalent these days.

Rather, I was drawn to it becase of two words in the written introduction.

American Culture

This has always seemed to me somewhat of an oxymoron. 'America doesn't have a culture,' I think to myself. 'America is a patchwork of little bits of everyone else's culture.'

Do we here in America really have a culture? We who have been here for longer than one or two generations, that is. We who don't live in culturally similar neighborhoods from where our ancestors called home but instead have neighbors we've never met and holidays we observe because we got to get out of school when we were kids... do we really have a culture of our own?

My ancestors came from Northern Europe; Sweden, Scotland, and if I trace back far enough, Flanders in modern Belgium.

I don't speak Swedish, Gaelic or Flemmish. I know some Scottish country dances that I learned in classes rather than in communities. I don't know what holidays my ancestors observed or even what religion they were. So, do I really have a culture?

When peoples of old immigrated, they would travel in large groups often of multiple families. They would settle together and raise their children together and speak their native languages, even if they learned the language and customs of the land they settled in.

But when I was born, my aunts and uncles weren't next door or often even in the same towns. My grandparents came from other states. My great-grandparents came from I do not know where.

I speak English because I was raised in a nation where the native language is English. I have a religion that I feel is right, but do I only have it because my mother taught it to me? I watch old documentaries of World War II and learn about the military units from Hawaii where the men all had the same culture, shared the same songs and dances and same native language.

I could not go next door and find someone who knows the dances I know, or sings the folk songs of ages past. I could find someone who has heard about the latest movie that has been released, rave about their favorite singer and find those who dress in Levi jeans and Kalvin Klein, but how does that bind us as a community into a culture?

Looking around at the nation I live in, I see a culture of superficiality. We may speak English, but we don't speak the same language. We may both buy our clothes from Wal*Mart but we don't share the same fashion. We both have expectations, but we do not necessarily share the same ones. There is nothing that binds me to my neighbors more than the location we live in.

There is no depth to American 'culture'. No history. No reality. It is like smoke, swirling about and always changing, never to be grasped. American Culture is about fitting in rather than carrying on. It is about looks rather than substance. It is about now rather than history.

I lament; for in America, I have no culture.

... I really do encourage you all to listen to the audio article, however. It is amazing how we can be unaware of how differently others can see the world. It is amazing that what we take for granted and just 'know' is utterly foreign to another.


Anonymous Imp said...

Perhaps you are a little too cynical, Elengil. It may be that. living in a particular paradigm, you cannot see its boundaries and neither can you perceive your own paradigm

From the outside, I think people do see - not *one* American culture, but many.

I don't see this as an oxymoron; America is so big - it is unfair to take a country that is yet relatively young, with a vast landbase, wildly differing landscapes and climates; and such a large population - and compare it to one of the European nations - older, more insular, much smaller geographically and in terms of population.

And yet - even then, try comparing a Sicilian with a cultured Roman! Vastly different cultures! ;)

9:14 PM  
Blogger elengil said...

And that may be... that I am too cynical. But from where I stand, I feel that I don't have a culture to call 'mine'... and maybe that's what makes me reach out to other cultures around me and learn about and understand them.

You may be right, it might be like an accent, you hear it in everone else's words but not your own. But right or wrong, it doesn't change the way I feel.

Maybe instead of looking around to everyone else's culture, though, I need to start digging to find my own, hm?

I'll think on that.

9:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No culture?!? Don't you realize that in 2123 Kermit the frog will have been around for half of the republics history.(I counted the Constitution as the start, because the Articles of Confederation were not all that great.)


11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Baseball,hot dogs,apple pie,gospel and jazz music are part of our culture aren't they?

12:19 AM  

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