Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “popular culture”

Cultural pitfalls

About 20 years ago, when online discussion forums were relatively new, a forum for discussing Christian mission puiblished guidelines for participants, which included the following tip:

Write with an international audience in mind. Don’t assume the reader is necessarily familiar with your culture,  especially popular culture (eg food products, TV shows & personalities), current events, and politics. This doesn’t mean you can’t refer to these or discuss them as appropriate, but you may need to explain them as you go.

Perhaps even now such tips could be useful.

Recently an Orthodox Christian poster on Facebook posted the following picture:

DuckDyn

In view of who the poster was, I took it for a picture of a group of Orthodox monks, dressed for gardening.

The one second from the left looks most like a monk, and the next one, in the baseball cap, looks least like one, but could be a novice or a visitor.

I later discovered that they were characters in a TV show that is popular in the US, called Duck Dynasty, about which there has recently been some controversy.

Fortunately, unlike in 1993, we have the web, and search engines, which makes it possible to look up such things and find enough of the backstory to discover what is going on, but in spite of the globalisation of culture, there are still cultural pitfalls, and we still haven’t arrived in the global village that Mashall McLuhan foresaw.

But it still raises questions for me.

Why would a TV show in the US have characters dressed to resemble Orthodox monks?

And what cultural images come to the minds of people in the US when they see real monks, particularly when they have been influenced by TV shows like Duck dynasty?

 

 

 

 

What’s trending on Twitter?

This morning I noticed that the “trending” box on Twitter had changed, and was now “tailored” for me, and these were, preseumably according to whatever algorithm they are using, the trends that I would be interested in watching:

Most of those meant nothing to me, so I changed it back to “South Africa, Johannesburg”, which is what it was before.

I wonder what the difference is.

The one “tailored” for me lacks #RASA but includes Bar9, neither of which mean anything to me. I have heard of Tom Cruise, but have little interest in him, and have heard of MNet, but have little interest in that either.

Perhaps I’m just too out of touch with popular culture, even when its especially “tailored” for me.

Am I missing anything important?

The seeds of time: book review

The Seeds of TimeThe Seeds of Time by John Wyndham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In my youth I liked John Wyndham’s science fiction stories, and when I picked this one off a dusty shelf to catalogue it on GoodReads, I decided to re-read it before putting it back. The seeds of time is a collection of short stories, and I had forgotten some of them, and had only vague memories of the rest, so it was almost like reading them for the first time. And I enjoyed them just as much as when I first read them some 40-50 years ago.

And that made me wonder.

When I was in my teens and twenties I read quite a lot of science fiction, both short stories and full-length novels. Now I hardly read any. On the rare occasions that I browse the science-fiction shelves of book shops I usually don’t come away with anything. On the even rarer occasions when I have bought recently-published science-fiction, I’ve usually been bored, and abandoned the book.

Have I changed, or has the genre changed?

At first I thought that I had lost my youthful taste for science-fiction, and that it was probably something one grew out of, but re-reading these stories by John Wyndham showed me that that isn’t the case. So the genre must have changed, or everything that can be said has already been said and the new stuff is just boring repetition. Or else, most likely, popular culture has moved on and left me behind. What a drag it is getting old, as the Rolling Stones (anyone remember them?) used to sing.

View all my reviews

The devil in popular culture

John Morehead has an interesting article on Satan in popular American culture on this blog at Morehead’s Musings: Satan and America:

W. Scott Poole, an associate professor of history at the College of Charleston. He has written a book titled Satan in America: The Devil We Know (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), and the following essay is adapted from that book. It originally appeared in The Post and Courier.

Quite a lot of the things mentioned in the article have also affected popular South Africa culture, so the article makes interesting reading. The films mentioned in the article, such as Rosemary’s baby and The exorcist were also shown in South Africa, and so influenced the perception of the devil in popular culture in South Africa as well.

Back in the 1980s there was an “occult” unit of the South African Police, which dealt with “satanists”, very much as perceived in American popular culture, and there were indeed some self-described satanists whose own self-understanding appeared to be shaped by the prevalent images in popular culture.

But the most striking example of the American cultural influence on South African popular culture in my experience was back in 1977, when we were in the Anglican Church in Utrecht, a small mining town in Northern Natal. In the town there was a big Dutch Reformed Church (NGK), and a small Anglican Church, and nothing else, so at the Anglican Church we had ecumenical services on Sunday evenings which were for anyone in town who wasn’t white Dutch Reformed. The services were multidenominational and multicultural. There were Anglicans, Assemblies of God, Afrikaans Baptist, and many others, black, white and coloured.

One evening the Assemblies of God evangelist from Newcastle, Piet Joubert, brought a film that that been produced by American Evangelicals, called The burning hell, and this was shown to the congregation. It struck me as a crass materialistic spirituality. Val and I sat at the back and giggled the whole way through, and especially at scenes where middle-class white suburban Americans in dressing gowns were swallowed by holes in the earth in a crude re-enactment of Numbers 26:8-11. The symbolism of the book of Revelation was interpreted in crudely materialistic terms.

But at the end of the film there was an altar call and a very big response, and nearly all the black and coloured teenagers went up, many of them weeping and sobbing. The film had obviously had a profound effect on them in spite of its shortcomings. And it wasn’t simply a short-lived one-off emotional response either. Some of those who had come to the church that evening for the first time returned regularly afterwards, and became active in the Anglican youth group. In this way images from American pop religious culture seemed to have considerable influence in South Africa as well.

I was in three minds about it.

First, I was repelled by the crude materialism and bad theology of the film itself. Secondly, I welcomed the enthusiasm that it engendered in the youth in Utrecht. Thirdly, I was concerned that it was entirely disconnected from the experience of other youth in the country who were being treated to the rocky rioter teargas show in Soweto and elsewhere.[1] In those days, the main sphere of demonic activity was in the implementation of the apartheid policy itself, and the white, middle-class American interpretation in the film did nothing to help the youth in Utrecht or elsewhere to understand that.

And then I compare it with Charles Stewart’s study of folk theology in rural Greece, Demons and the devil, which has perhaps not been quite so strongly influenced by American popular culture. Stewart summarises his findings as follows:

The Orthodox moral world emerges as an arena in which good struggles against evil, the kingdom of heaven against the kingdom of earth. In life, humans are enjoined to embrace Christ, who assists their attainment of Christian virtues: modesty, humility, patience and love. At the same time, lack of discernment and incontinence impede the realization of these virtues and thereby conduce to sin; sin in turn places one closer to the Devil… Since the resurrection of Christ the results of this struggle have not been in doubt. So long as people affirm their faith in Christ, especially at moments of demonic assault, there is no need to fear the influence of the Devil. He exists only as an oxymoron, a powerless force.

____

Notes

[1] Hopkins, Pat & Grange, Helen. 2001. The Rocky Rioter Teargas Show. Cape Town: Zebra. ISBN: 1-86872-342-9

The Rocky Rioter Teargas Show was the title of a satirical theatre presentation performed by Cape Town students at the time of the 1976 Soweto uprising. The book goes inside the events and their causes, and recreates the drama and excitement of the events. The narrative is illustrated with photographs and documents, many of which have hitherto been secret, such as cabinet minutes giving explicit approval of “more deaths” through police action.

Darkies discuss darkie English on Facebook

A friend of mine drew my attention to a Facebook discussion where darkies discuss darkie English.

Some terms they discussed there I was familiar with, others not.

One of the interesting ones was “at least”, meaning “not so bad”, and one person mentioned getting quite annoyed when it was used in other senses, such as in news reports about a road accident that say “At least 10 people were killed”.

What no one mentioned, though, at least (hmmm) so far, was the use of “at least” on its own.

“How are you?”
“At least”.

In that context “at least” means “Can’t complain”.

And no one seems to have discussed taxi terms like “short right”, which I think, though I’m not absolutely sure, means “stop where the next road turns off to the right”.

There was some discussion of “cold drink”, but no one seemed to mention that when used by darkie traffic cops it means “Make it worth my while not to give you a ticket.”

There are some expressions in darkie English that have spread to the general population, and have become part of general South African English. One of these is “Eish!”, or is it “Aish!” or “Aysh!” which means “That’s painful”, often uttered as an expression of sympathy.

Another, which hasn’t fully caught on yet, perhaps because it is excessively wordy, is “next of next week”. A native speaker would say “Friday week”, as in “I’ll come to see you Friday week”, which means “I’ll come to see you a week from next Friday”, whereas in darkie English it is “I’ll come to see you Friday next of next week”.

And then there is “sharp”, meaning “good”. And “sharp sharp”, meaning very good. That one seems to be spreading into general South African English as well.

The world’s 50 most powerful blogs | Technology | The Observer

When I see this list of the most influential blogs in the world and realise that I’ve not read any of them, I know how far out of touch I am with popular culture.

Of course I’ve always thought being countercultural was better, but being countercultural when you don’t even know the culture you’re being counter to is rather difficult. So over the next fortnight or so, time and Telkom bandwidth caps permitting, I hope to go through this list and fill in the gaps in my education.

The world’s 50 most powerful blogs | Technology | The Observer

From Prince Harry in Afghanistan to Tom Cruise ranting about Scientology and footage from the Burmese uprising, blogging has never been bigger. It can help elect presidents and take down attorney generals while simultaneously celebrating the minutiae of our everyday obsessions. Here are the 50 best reasons to log on

The world’s 50 most powerful blogs | Technology | The Observer

When I see this list of the most influential blogs in the world and realise that I’ve not read any of them, I know how far out of touch I am with popular culture.

Of course I’ve always thought being countercultural was better, but being countercultural when you don’t even know the culture you’re being counter to is rather difficult. So over the next fortnight or so, time and Telkom bandwidth caps permitting, I hope to go through this list and fill in the gaps in my education.

The world’s 50 most powerful blogs | Technology | The Observer

From Prince Harry in Afghanistan to Tom Cruise ranting about Scientology and footage from the Burmese uprising, blogging has never been bigger. It can help elect presidents and take down attorney generals while simultaneously celebrating the minutiae of our everyday obsessions. Here are the 50 best reasons to log on

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