Sunday 25 September 2016

'Culture' keeps life interesting, but maybe it's time for a rebrand

Published 19/09/2015 | 07:00

There's been an awful lot of shouting this week about culture. And identity. And handing out flags. And Skellig Michael. And the unsung beauty of the Aran kilt. And aren't we great altogether?

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But there doesn't seem to be a great deal of agreement on what exactly constitutes culture.

The organisers of Culture Night 2015 have relied heavily on words such as "inclusivity", "connection" and "the community", which all sounds very open and democratic.

But Aosdana - our state-sponsored "community of artists" - seems to take a different view. This week, one of the newly appointed Saos or "wise ones", Imogen Stuart, kicked up a fuss about 'Star Wars' being filmed off Kerry.

"Everything is not as important as tourism," Stuart warned. "Maybe our country needs money, but it needs culture first and foremost."

What Ms Stuart has failed to understand is that 'Star Wars' is culture - popular, but just as important as the "high brow" variety.

In past centuries, it is true that "culture" primarily appealed to a highly educated elite. The rest of the population was too busy trying to put food on the table.

Thankfully, that is no longer the case. These days, even academics spend most of their time trying to understand popular culture.

There are university cour-ses analysing the 'Game of Thrones' invented dialect of Dothraki.

Redundant

In 2003, academics at the University of California held seminars on whether Nietzsche's rejection of traditional morality justified Bart Simpson's delinquent behaviour. And they came to the conclusion that it did.

Academics at Oxford University have claimed the notion of a "cultural elite" has become totally redundant.

Instead, we can be divided into new categories. These include univores, who like popular culture; omnivores, who like both operas and soap operas; paucivores, who absorb little culture; and inactives, who absorb no culture.

It seems that "artsy" crowd who sip dry Sancerre while discussing the works of the D'Oyly Carte Company are a dying breed.

"It's funny," says Wille White, the director of the Dublin Theatre Festival. "People take issue with the term 'The Arts', but no one has an issue with 'art' itself.

"People love art and want to engage with it - whether that's going to a gallery or looking at a printed tea towel. It's the perceived pretension people don't like.

"Culture is not elitist. It refers to anything people like to do or see. We all need to relax and enjoy it."

Perhaps rebranding "culture" could help; science used to deter people by its image, but events like the Festival of Curiosity have made Bunsen burners cool again. Focusing on a trait we all wish to possess was a smart way of raising national interest.

"Packaging is important," says Aimée van Wylick of Culture Night, "making arts and culture sound playful and fun rather than staid. We need to impress audiences, remind them of all the talented peo- ple out there and encourage them to invest in artists and culture. It's what keeps life interesting."

Irish Independent

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