Category: Culture

The Reasons For The Season

(Original posted on my blog December 23, 2002. Emphasis is added.)
Journalists have postulated on the “holiday blues” before, but to my knowledge none have ever gotten to the root of it all. Even those who dispute the spiritual element should appreciate my sociological observations.

While Christmas is officially a celebration of the birth of Jesus, for much of the Western world December 25 has come to be a celebration of family and community. No other time of the year is so thoroughly saturated with images pointing to our highest hopes for such relationships – and no other time of the year so effectively highlights the difference between our ideals and the world as it really is. Jesus came to Earth to bridge not only the chasm between humanity and God, but also that rift that separates people from each other. Christmas reminds us that we live in a broken world, and it seeks to encourage us by showing us through religious and even many secular trappings how that brokenness can be fixed.
Best of holiday wishes to all my readers.

And to Sasha and all her readers.


Everything you always wanted to know about the USA

For my own amusement, I decided to have a look through Culture Shock! USA, which purports to be a guide to the manners, customs and culture of the United States.
It didn’t take long before I was boiling over with rage. The author, Esther Wanning, claims to be American, but the entire book is written from the point of view of a Guardianista Eurosnot. Hardly a page goes by without some sort of casual leftist slur, pop psychobabble, or anti-American and anti-corporate whining. I present to you a selection of quotes from the paperback edition. Emphases, alas, are mine.

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Orange Lemonjello

That’s a Bill-Cosby inspired false name we used to give to people when I was a kid. We didn’t invent it – some countercultural hollywierd type or writer – maybe Hunter S. Thompson did.
Regardless, we always liked Bill Cosby in our middle to upper-middle class mostly White & Asian burb. (Lotta engineers and lawyers where we lived. There were Blacks, too – wealthy Blacks. They were just like us, so the gulf between the ghetto and the Blacks where I lived was never apparent to me, until I joined the Army a little later in life).
Bill Cosby spoke to us kids, even as teens. He always sounded like our dads, except a bit cooler. Most of the kids I grew up with were good kids – smart, worked hard in school, stayed reasonably drug free. We weren’t nerdy or anything; it’s just that when you grow up in a suburb filled with successful technocrats, that’s mostly how it is. Disturbingly white bread, yes indeed.
Cos got through all that in his humor, and somehow, our parents didn’t mind him quite the way they minded our George Carlin albums. The reason, in retrospect, was that Bill Cosby in many ways is quite conservative, probably moreso than our indulgent parents. Hell, he probably came across to our parents as if he was one of their parents, for all I know. And he was right.
So Cos is getting some negative press now, for telling the truth that is too harsh for most to tell: that Blacks, like everybody else, have to bootstrap themselves to success; that standing on the corner and hooting at women won’t get you a corner office, or any office; that hip hop is mostly shite; and that the civil rights establishment, while it has done some good things in the past, is mostly counterproductive these days.

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In the comment thread to this Samizdata post there’s been a debate over what it means to be an elite. Nina D. uses the term to describe those who have an economic advantage over the majority of the world – which means the vast majority of Westerners.

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Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive!

A couple of weeks ago Alice Bachini wrote about accents. She made the point that accents can affect the way people behave.

If you’re used to a loud, swearing-laden, metaphorically-poor, mostly monosyllabic, heavily generalising, strongly expressive of emotional negativity but weak when it comes to finding any words for “happiness” or any kind of sensitive or gentle human interaction kind of dialect, the whole world seems different than if you speak the language of an Upper-Class Englishman. When you talk to people, they are responding to an entirely different set of inexplicit ideas inherently buried in your language (and I don’t just mean their own prejudices and associations- that’s not it at all, as I mentioned above- it’s the real inexplicit content, I’m talking about).

And in this weekend’s Spectator, Theodore Dalrymple says that bad pronunciation is being encouraged by the middle classes to keep the poor in their place.
These things matter to me. I hate my accent as it is a ‘crocodile hunter’ which I worry will have people associating me with Steve Irwin.
On the Internet, no one knows you are a dog; or a hick from Dingo-Woop-Woop. I like this.

Language and perception

Alice Bachini‘s got a marvelous essay on her site about languages, accents and dialects. It’s a subject that’s (unsurprisingly) near and dear to me.
Funny story: when I used to work at a major arts management agency in New York, I had the odd feeling that foreign callers would somehow understand me better if I mangled my English similarly to theirs:
–Ehks-cooze me, eez posse-bal to speak to Meestah Smeet?
–I’m bery sorry, he no a-beel-a-bull rye now. Can I geef him a may-saj?

I don’t know why I thought that would work, but oddly it made no difference.