The Importance of Cultural Awareness

During office hours, one of my professors told me something that struck me which I have been pondering ever since. To paraphrase, the statement was something like this: it is important to be intimately aware of popular culture; by being aware of how culture moves one can make the greatest changes. Her main point was that popular culture can be a vehicle for the promotion of higher causes, but only through understanding how it works, and knowing the “lingo” and the tropes.

It seemed a little odd to hear this from a professor when I’d encountered the opposite attitude so often (though mainly from friends and family members): the attitude that says basically “modern popular culture is stupid, so I’m not going to bother with it.” Of course, most of us will readily admit to the manifest silliness of modern pop culture, but that doesn’t mean it is completely worthless or ought to be ignored. Yes, there many things about it that are simply not edifying, but whether or not something is edifying should not necessarily dictate our attitude towards it.

This statement from my professor certainly challenged my own view of the topic. I had been leaning more towards the attitude of wanting to be “above” culture. In a conceited way, I thought it was possible to live in the middle of my own culture and somehow not be a part of it. After examining this idea more closely, I concluded that “not being a part of it” seems to be defined as simply ignoring it, which isn’t necessarily correct. It is possible to “not be a part” of something and still not be totally ignorant of it. That was my first mistake, and still only part of the issue.

My view on this was further changed when I considered the teaching style of my two favorite and most effective professors, whose methods include modern cultural references, especially in making analogies. I noticed that these professors are highly skilled in their fields, yet took the time to become conversant with some of the “trivialities” of popular culture; and despite my own bad attitude towards culture, it still made these professor more relatable. They understand that no matter what age, and no matter how disconnected we may try to be, culture is still the uniting factor of our lives.

Further along in my consideration of the subject, I eventually realized that what I was trying to do (and what some of my friends and even family members are trying to do) is disconnect myself from my fellow man while still believing that I was going to accomplish something good for my fellow man. It is completely paradoxical. How can I benefit modern society if I don’t understand it? Trying to escape the trivial or the disturbing aspects of pop culture is not necessarily going to help me achieve my own goals in life. Only by confronting these things can we begin to make positive changes, even in the tiniest way.

I have causes that I would eventually like to promote because I believe they are worthwhile and beneficial to society. But who’s going to take me seriously if I don’t show that I understand my surroundings and my fellow beings?
So the question is this: can there be benefits in taking the time to understand the culture, trivial (and disturbing) though it may seem? I think the answer is yes.

So there you go; yet another one of my big (and now stupidly obvious) revelations about life.


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