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Culture - An Empty Word

(this article was written for an essay-writing class, which may explain the overall style)

There are certain words meaning nothing; especially because their meaning would be of way too general a nature. One of those words is "culture".

If one tries to explain what the mere word "culture" means by just looking at its etymology and the concept behind it, the answers will reach from civilization in general to very specific pieces of art. But none of those options is an exclusive one - culture includes all those things attributed to human life, except perhaps our anatomy.

A seemingly very European tendency now tries to limit both the denotations and connotations related to the specific term; creating a difference between "high" and "low" culture and following this line of thought throughout various fields of interest like literature and music; also generally assuming that modern forms of art, entertainment and expression like television, cinema and the internet, as well as computer games, are not worth thinking about.

Such a judgement, such restrictions can be found throughout history; and today such discussion also makes use of historic arguments. But the funny thing is that nowadays artists of the past are considered great which at their own time were seen as populist and epigonic; amongst them Shakespeare, Mozart, Brahms, even to some extent Goethe. And today's "high" art seems to be the one which is least popular.

So should the definition of art and culture be made by criteria such as age and exclusivity? Should culture not represent the culture of the present, of the people? Should it therefore not include areas which are in contrast to a tradition that excluded the masses from it? Who is to make this judgement - whose opinion would be worthier than that of others? If the arrogance of canonization were overcome, we could enjoy a much richer and much more representative culture.

December 10th, 1998

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