Recent Entries
This form does not yet contain any fields.
    « Bad News, Richard Posner and New Media | Main | Learning from Popular Culture (1) »

    Learning from Popoular Culture (2)

    Chris makes the following point:
    "What strikes me about these debates is that the center seems so western and middle class. I don't think the phrase "popular culture" has any meaning at all and by extraction maybe popular culture itself is meaningless."

    This is an interesting point. Popular culture as a term is probably too broad and overly general to mean that much. Nevertheless, from a social and societal point of view, the term has become a "category" that is both provocative and a continual part of debates about the direction in which most cultures are headed. India has a strong base of "popular" cultural activity in film, if the measurement for that — millions of viewers — is acceptable. During my recent visit to Shanghai I was amazed at the proliferation of popular cultural artifacts from Western DVDs to local shows on television many of which were built on soap opera principles. The more profound question is whether people are learning from the experiences that they are having. And, this question needs to be at the center of debates about culture in general. There is a superb article by Joel Garreau in the Washington Post on this debate. It was reprinted in The Vancouver Sun, Saturday, July 16, 2005. This is the link to the Post


    Reader Comments (2)

    Chris’s observation that “I don’t think the phrase ‘popular culture’ has any meaning at all and by extraction maybe popular culture itself is meaningless��? strikes a chord with me. I was just writing about it as follows:

    I haven’t read Johnson’s book and I may not read it. There are still too many books on my shelves that await thorough exploration, which is why. However, I’d like to make a couple of observations and raise a number of questions.

    I’ve always struggled with the concept “popular culture.��? The available definitions relate it to mass appeal, mass industrial production, and ease of appreciation, i.e. the level of appreciation most people are capable of. The concept is also connoted with that of “low culture��? as opposed to “high culture.��? The latter distinction seems to run parallel with the distinction between low and high socio-economic status. It also considers the delights of the elite, who indulge in listening to Beethoven’s string quartets, superior to those of the masses who get excited about a football game. I find all those notions utterly confusing and in fact irrelevant.

    In a sense, what everyone does – or what most of us do – may not be very interesting. To sustain ourselves we all want to eat. We also all have the urge to procreate, and we display the same fight and flight responses that other animals do. Much, if not all, of our entertainment seems to build on those primary responses and doesn’t go much beyond it. Video games seem to fall in that category as well.

    The question of what we learn and don’t learn in the context of being entertained is in my view indeed relevant. To approach that question we must first agree on what learning actually means, or at least what levels of learning we wish to consider. I guess there is little doubt that by playing video games one increases one’s ability to display certain responses. This may be an ability that, for most people, is otherwise of little use, so why should we care? Compare the average video game with a game of chess. Responses in the case of a game of chess are less immediate and involve more complex considerations before one makes a move. For a certain category of chess players the development of the latter ability may transfer to domains that are useful in other contexts. It’s a different kind, a different level, of learning that has taken place and it may have greater relevance in the sense of contributing to our ability to interact constructively with our world.

    Beyond what we learn as a consequence of playing the game as such, there is the context in which games take place. This may be a more important aspect than the game itself. Lots of social interaction may surround the playing of a game and, obviously, one learns in the context of such interaction. Some settings in which video games occur, involving for instance social interaction via the Internet, may provide more interesting opportunities for learning than those in which games of chess tend to be played. I don’t see much culture yet in the way attention is being given to the setting of video games. This contrasts sharply with, for instance, the highly developed culture in many societies that surround the ways in which we eat (another popular culture), socially interacting while we do so.

    What I’m trying to say here is that, even in popular culture what appears to be of interest are those things that start dissociating themselves from the common substrate, not the substrate itself. The substrate simply reflects what we already know. If video games are violent it’s because violence is everywhere around us. The philosophical assumptions behind a chess game are not different from those that underlie most video games. It’s all about kicking someone else off the board or the screen. Yet, chess is less popular.
    July 16, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJan Visser
    And an additional comment to what I just submitted: The issue is probably not "learning from popular culture" but "learning beyond popular culture."
    July 16, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJan Visser

    PostPost a New Comment

    Enter your information below to add a new comment.

    My response is on my own website »
    Author Email (optional):
    Author URL (optional):
    Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>