Socect’s Weblog

Unsettled Thoughts/Works in Progress

Culture’s Deep Currents

Culture involves deep currents of symbolic meaning. One imporant point in learning and understanding how culture operates is that anything we say, anyway in which we communicate with others, is bound up in these systems of meaning. They enable our communication; but they also constrain what we can say because we have to operate within the system as given (the system changes, but we cannot change it by fiat; rather only through discourse – which no single person ‘controls’). Symbolic complexity is also the basis for mis-communication and ambiguity. Here is my latest example (in a political rant sent to a couple friends; the main point here is in the last paragraph):

“I don’t want to be mean, but, let me put it this way…
 
Obama and Bidden are running against a crotchety old Vietnam-war vet whose running mate is a clueless beauty queen with a knocked-up teenage daughter.
 
Can the Democrats seriously lose this year?
 
That’s all I could think of when I woke up to the latest on the Sarah Palin fiasco this morning.
 
I know that portrayal is deeply unfair to McCain-Palin (even if I am not a fan of their politics). But that seems to be the ‘archetype’ or stereotype of Americana that they seem to be falling into (just as Obama has had to prove to white folks that he is King and not Malcom… the other night, he did that in spades – to use a deeply inappropriate metaphor).
 
Why does so much of the English language have to be so complexly interwoven with the tragic history of racism? For example, the other day as I was watching Barack give his speech, right at the end when the confetti was exploding all over the stage, my five-year old daughter came in. She looked at the tv and asked “who won”? (It DID look like a sporting event, after all.) I laughed and told her “Barack Obama” – pointing him out on the screen. We had a fairly long Q-and-A session about this (of the sort one has with a five year old… her endless stream of questions; my fruitless attempts to find answers that do not lead to another “Why?”). In the course of this, she found “Barack Obama” to be a completely incomprehensible tongue-twister. In the course of the Q-and-A, she finally settled on a moniker for our soon to be President of the United States of America… “Barry Banana” (closest word she knows to “Obama”). I think it is great – utterly hiliarious. Plus, she thinks “Barry Banana” is really wonderful. But then, there is a little nagging voice in the back of my mind remembering ugly episodes involving banana peels tossed and waved at black athletes when I was a little boy growing up in Kansas. And I fret that anyone hearing my daughter and I joking around about “Barry Banana” will take this totally, totally the wrong way. Grrrrr… can’t we all get over it and once and for all relegate racist bullshit to the dustbin of history? Sigh.”
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September 2, 2008 - Posted by | Random Walks, Teaching |

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