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Culture: A matter of preference

Published : Saturday, 28 November, 2020 at 12:00 AM  Count : 185
Rassiq Aziz Kabir & A R Tahseen Jahan

Culture, frequently pampered by people belonging in a particular society, is one of all the abstract social constructs. As it encompasses more or less, a wide spectrum of things, its ever flowing nature is quite explicitly visible. Throughout human history, culture--being a complex whole of a society, has been the tool through which we have come to conclusion about the values, morals, etiquettes and sources of pleasure for a particular person, group and even society as a whole.

We have been successfully able to categorise mainstream culture into two groups which are namely "High Culture" and "Low Culture" (also known as "Popular Culture"). Throughout the entire duration of human existence, culture followed by individuals and groups considered to be positioned in the higher social class was considered as the "High Culture", unlike "Low Culture"- which is present among masses.

"High Culture", a jargon, refers to the culture that has forces of moral goodness in it and has a higher aesthetic value. High culture is not necessarily understood by the masses and practitioners as well as adherents of high culture are generally revered in all possible social spheres. One of the most common examples of high culture is that of visual arts and opera which are esteemed to be of a superior aesthetic value and therefore not understandable by a huge chunk of people. On the other hand, popular culture (also known as low culture in contrast with high culture) is the set of cultural norms and aspects which is popular among the masses and it doesn't necessarily need to have things which have a higher moral and aesthetic implication.

A popular example in this case can be that of the musical pieces of legendary German composer Ludwig Van Beethoven which are considered to epitomize the pinnacle of human achievement. To a lot of people, his compositions may appear very vague and monotonous, and at the same time these people would have a very perfect evening going through marvel comics and having a cheeseburger. A lot of movies that are critically acclaimed do not have a large set of audience due to the exact same reason.

Socio-economic background of people has a huge role in determining the type of culture people find themselves in, for example. But this doesn't necessarily turn the whole assumption into a rule of thumb. Generally, people who belong to a higher socio-economic strata are considered to be subscribers of high culture, but there happens to be a few exceptions in this case as well. A lot of people who are not well off economically but are thought to have a seemingly good social background align themselves with the whole high culture thing.

Other than socio-economic background, age has a pivotal role in determining the culture a person wants to align himself or herself in. Generally the rich urban upper class millennials are the biggest consumers of western popular culture. They like anime, comics, thriller and action movies which come mostly from Hollywood and partly from some East Asian countries. On the other hand, the millennials from a more rural upbringing like to watch soap operas produced in this subcontinent, South Indian movies as well as a few cartoon series which have their roots in this subcontinent as well.

As it has been already asserted, it's not a rule of thumb but this is the most common scenario that is prevalent in Bangladesh. A group of millennials from both the socio-economic background do follow the aesthetically pleasing culture from both the East and West as per their respective backgrounds but they are a pretty small minority. But as the age goes up, denouncing popular culture and accepting high culture becomes more of a norm. There is another notable trend that needs to be addressed which is the association that people want with high culture no matter whether people like it or not.

Stereotypically, cultures of a few countries are considered to be aesthetically and morally superior to the culture of a few other countries. For example, the French movie industry is famous for churning out movies which are considered to be of higher sophistication and aesthetic value, even the Hollywood portrays France as a sort of cultural paradise and generally France is shown as an extremely romanticized notion which is responsible for propagation of the idealistic and superior notion about the French culture as a whole. Even the French eating habits are glorified and any deviation from it is considered to be quite inappropriate.

Cultural snobbery is prevalent in all the social spheres of most of the countries in this world which have created a very high and unrealistic standard in front of a lot of people and to fit in. A lot of people coerce themselves to conform with the intricacies of high culture. But as culture is a very subjective aspect of civilization. The superiority or inferiority of one culture over another or a specific form of a culture over another doesn't necessarily go hand in hand with the advancements of this century and it is more of a notion which has totally worn out with the passage of time.

In the previous century, African culture as a whole was considered to be extremely inferior when it was compared to European culture. But this had more to do with the racist views and beliefs of twentieth century and the colonial outlook that was imposed upon the people by the colonists. Today, the very proposition that high culture is objectively superior to the culture that is liked by millions of people is just a branch of the extremist ideologies of the previous century and it is nothing but a tool to marginalize and subjugate one social strata over another.

Culture is not always supposed to create a moral awakening and an aesthetic sensation among people as it might be suggested by the proponents of the notion. Culture can simply be for pure recreational purpose, for giving people instances to laugh at after a hard day's work, so denouncing these aspects of human life in favour of a few cognitive aspects in no way can be a rational decision.

With the tide of globalization, we have come in contact with the culture of people throughout the world which can have a different aura and essence than that of ours. This just exemplifies the rich tradition of the human race as a whole and there is no superiority or inferiority objectively. It is as a whole, simply a matter of preference. So it is better for all of us to eliminate the chauvinism regarding culture of the last century and to embrace, strengthen and glorify the culture of all possible social strata, creed and race.
Rassiq Aziz Kabir is a student of Economics and A R Tahseen Jahan is a student of Development Studies at the University of Dhaka

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