Revising Personal Culture

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After listening to the Pop Culture Happy Hour segment about breaking out of a cultural rut, it has brought a lot to my knowledge. I realize that it is very easy to remain in ones own comfortable bubble when it comes to a lot of things. This can be applied to my own life when it comes to a lot of things. I know that I am drawn towards friendships with people who share similar interests as me, and that sometimes leaves me missing out on experiences with people that are different than me. I watch TV shows and listen to music that I like and don’t deviate much from my favorite genres. The hosts of the Happy Hour talked about how we as people curate what we let influence us, which is something that I agree with. It seems like the culture we experience is the one that we create for ourselves, or at least the one we allow ourselves to be influenced by. I believe that this limits how I experience life. I don’t necessarily believe that to truly live life to the fullest you need to experience culture in a well-rounded way, but I do think it has value. Breaking out of a cultural rut is important because it allows you to better see the world through numerous different lenses.

Through this blog I am going to talk about an experience that was unfamiliar to me. I looked for a piece of media that was not configured to my personal culture. I decided to go with a few episodes of a podcast.

The podcast that I chose was Revisionist History, hosted by Malcolm Gladwell. I am a big visual learner and most enjoy experiencing life through my eyes. My popular culture does not involve a lot of audio entertainment other than music. I didn’t necessarily think that a podcast would be boring; it just wasn’t something that I thought would be as entertaining as a TV show or movie. I binge watch shows on Netflix all the time, so listening to a podcast seemed like the appropriate route to go seeing as it is a different sensory experience.

If you would like to listen to the podcast or learn more about it, check it out here.

I won’t even beat around the bush. I absolutely loved the episodes of Revisionist History that I listened to. The episodes were very engaging and talked about relevant topics and the way that the host approached them was very intriguing. I was forced to pay more attention to his voice and the ideas he was communicating with word verses visual seeing what is happening in a TV show. The episodes that I listened to had a lot to do with low-income students and their being admitted into different universities. Malcolm Gladwell compared two different schools. He focused on their dining hall food. One had high quality food, and a lower population of low-income students. The other had lower quality food, but a higher population of low-income students. He dove into each school’s values, and it really had me thinking about my University of Illinois. I realized that I was definitely part of the target audience he was reaching out to. This experience did expand my view on popular culture in a lot of different ways; that being that I discovered a new form of entertainment, and that I was enlightened to things going on in this country when it comes to the upper education system. It made me aware of my own economical status and the status of the people that attend this university. At the University of Illinois we are diverse not only in ethnicity and nationality, but also in income and financial stability. It made me aware that we as students come from different ways of life, and that has a heavy influence on how we live our lives here. I notice people who don’t have to worry about financials and can simply focus on their studies, and the other side where people feel pressured to find work at school and worry about loans.

So the first thing that came to my mind as I was listening to these few episodes of Revisionist History was the idea of the Ideological State Apparatus, specifically the education ISA. In his article Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, Louis Althusser presents a thesis that says, “Ideology has a material existence” (Althusser p.340). I believe that this thesis can be applied to what Malcolm Gladwell spoke about on his podcast. He talked about one school whose dining hall put forth great food, but didn’t have a very high population of low-income schools. Here we can see an ideology materialize. Gladwell points out that this one school valued a higher form of living in which the food they ate was higher quality, and more expensive to prepare; all of this coming at the expense of lower-income students not having as much of a chance of receiving an education there. The other school on the other hand had an materialized ideology that had more of a value on giving education to those low-income families that don’t have as many opportunities; all of this at the expense of higher quality food in the dining hall. Gladwell uses his podcast to present this idea that all schools value different things, and that those values reflect a schools ideology.

Gladwell studies the cultures of these two schools when it comes to their student populations. He contrasts two schools different cultures and how they reflect their schools ideologies as mentioned before. In his article The Analysis of Culture, Raymond Williams says, “I would define the theory of culture as the study of relationships between elements in a whole way of life. The analysis of culture is the attempt to discover the nature of the organization which is the complex of these relationships” (Wiliams p. 55). Gladwell uses relationships between dining hall food and the population of low-income families to in some way analyze the culture of these two different schools. The podcast serves as his medium through which he discusses these aspects of the two schools popular cultures. He points out that these two schools have different values that stem down from the people in charge of the university. The two different ideologies of the dominant class at these schools determine the aspects of the culture at these schools.

 

Williams, R. (1961). The analysis of culture. 32-40.

Althusser, L. (1971). Ideological and ideological state apparatuses. 336-346.

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