Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Loving would be easy if your colors were like my dreams (Culture Club)

Dear PJ

Many thanks for sending your article on culture. A most interesting topic that I’m drawn to from both a schooling context (school cultures are fascinating) and from a pakeha Nu Zild point of view. As you point out I’m also super keen on pop music.

So pull up a chair, reach for a cokerama and a slice of Pav. and consider my response.

Clearly you’re not writing about 'culture' in terms of your taste in high (fine arts) or low culture (the Blue Mink song Melting Pot would be an example of low culture of course).

Nor were you appraising culture as it relates to language and custom I don't think.

Instead you consider culture in terms of national identity, as in Nu Zilders supposedly have a shared culture (a set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that shape and influence us).
Equally as clearly, your basic reaction to this notion is poppycock, fiddlesticks and 'is not'.
Instead, because modern Nu Zild is such a diverse place, you see a 'brave new cultureless world'.

Okay so…my two cents:

Short version:

Are we headed for a brave new cultureless world? No I don’t believe so.
Long version:
NZ icon - Jeanette Thomas
If I think about NZ culture I tend to think of kiwiana (buzzy bees, pavlova, Footrot Flats, Phar Lapp, weetbix kids), iconic kiwi personalities (Barry Crump, Tim Finn, Ginette MacDonald, Ed Hillary, Fred Dagg, Billy T, Jeanette Thomas, Patrick Cameron, Mayor Tim et al), men-in-black sports heroes (‘Pinetree’ Meads, Jack Lovelock, ‘Buck’ Shelford, Waka Nathan, Mark Todd, Don Clarke, the 1972 Olympic rowing 8), national disasters (Wahine, 1981 Springbok tour, Gallipoli, Cave Creek, Pike River, Erebus, various devastating earthquakes), national successes (1987 and 2011 Rugby World Cups, 1982 and 2010 World Cup Soccer teams), great NZ music (Split Enz, Bambino Beats, Daggy and the Dickheads) various holidays/commemorations (ANZAC, Waitangi) and, of course, there is Kapa Haka.

Bambino Beats
Is that eclectic mix shared by all Aucklanders?, it’s not. Probably only an aging minority could relate to my list. Auckland houses the largest congregation of humans in NZ and as a bunch they are probably the most diverse ethnically speaking (I'm guessing here). So it’s very unlikely.

Is it shared by my neighbours in Waipukurau and Otane? Yes! Pretty much exclusively. Why? Because the rural heartland is definitely neither a large congregation nor is it like Auckland in any demographic way.

As a middle class, middle aged pakeha, I think that cultural history binds me towards my neighbours in many ways. We share some things, in much the same way that Muslims share some things. It does give us (for good or otherwise) a cultural identity.

Whenever I meet other NZers in my work in the Middle East, who also tend towards middle age and middle class status, we immediately have a shared history, shared work ethic, and a similar perspective on the world.

NZ is small, isolated, and, to the rest of the world, inconsequential. The tyranny of distance has meant that we do emerge with a real sense of culture, not a fake one. Gandhi thought 'a nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people'. I think that’s right and it is constantly evolving.

The NZ culture is a cross pollinated mix that resides in all New Zealanders (including you PJ) - whatever they sound or look like. For me, it exists, it’s real and it's useful. We don’t all have to share aspects of my own cultural makeup. We are different but equal, as you originally thought.

My paternal great grandfather brought my grandfather from Rochdale (just north of Manchester) to NZ when he was a young boy. My mother’s side of the family includes aspects of other celtic origins but was essentially of pioneer King Country stock. Where ever I go I take that mixture with me. By a fluke I was born in NZ and started off life wanting to kick a ball like Don Clarke. When I return to Rochdale I immediately feel home but I'm not a Brit and I don't share a British history aside from the legacy that NZ was left with.
Having suggested that cultural identity doesn't really exist anymore, you then appear to want a bob each way and contend that 'cultural identity does more harm than good'. I'm not sure why you think that but George Orwell would be inclined to agree.

In his essay on the sporting spirit George writes:

I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn't know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

For me, you and old George are overstating things somewhat. I definitely feel my cultural identity far more when I am away from home. My latent cultural baggage seems to well up and become more obviously part of me. Maybe because of the stark juxtaposition with the Muslim culture that exists all around me. When the world cup was on, it bound me together with fellow kiwis in a very positive way. When I saw the scenes in NZ at the Viaduct Basin I felt a real kinship with a disparate bunch of ethnicities and age groups. All bound by that All Black victory. We were all together, sharing the cultural moment that will continue to link us in the future.

The final words belong to Frank Lloyd Wright (quasi subject of  the great Paul Simon farewell song to Art Garfunkel – hey I needed one arcane pop reference);
Noble life demands a noble architecture for noble uses of noble men. Lack of culture means what it has always meant: ignoble civilization and therefore imminent downfall.

It continues to be fine and hot at this end!

Love and peace - Wozza

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