Friday, 25 October 2013

Culture as Cosplay

This is a real, actual job, advertised in the Guardian a few weeks ago: 

"Head of Explorer Programme

Location: Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey KT8 9AU
Salary: £48,557 - £49,801      plus other benefits.
This is an exciting new role that has been created following the endorsement by HRPs Board of new strategy for Learning and Engagement to 2016. The Explorer Programme Team is one of three main cross-palace learning strands." 

I don't know what a Head of Explorer Programme does or indeed what the other 'main cross-palace learning strands' might be. I'm not even sure I understand all the words in that sentence.

I haven't set foot inside Hampton Court Palace for a few years now. My husband and I  walked there from Richmond on a sunny Saturday afternoon only a few weeks ago, as it happens. But by the time we got there we had neither time nor strength left in our legs for a quick tour. I can confirm that it looked exactly as I remembered it from the outside but, boy, things much have changed within.

Had we joined the crowds of visitors, would we have been instructed to don stiff pleated collars 'for him' and velvet over-gowns 'for her' and drag ourselves around a themed 'cross-palace' itinerary? 'Cooking with Swans', perhaps, or 'Off With Their Heads!'? Would we have been goaded into courtly sing-alongs and lavender cushions-sewing tutorials?

This reminded me of the Beatles-style hotel in Liverpool called The Hard Day's Night. We are not talking about some old Viennese guest house making a fuss about having been patronised by Mozart, once. Nor are we talking about the Hannah Montana Pink Lodge of Hotness at Disney World (I'm sure it totally exists). This is themed accommodation for Beatles enthusiasts, commemorating a group of people half of whom are still alive and whose fan base is significantly older than 12 years of age.

I stayed at that hotel the last time I went to Liverpool, to see the Gustav Klimt exhibition. Had Tate Liverpool offered punters Secession-style ottomans inside the gallery itself -and a Sachertorte Breakfast -as part of the package I have no doubt I would have opted for that instead.

We live in a (still affluent, despite five years of rece/depression) society which increasingly mediates every cultural experience through the personal.

If you are a Star Trek fan who loves turning up at special conventions dressed up as a KIingon they call it cosplay.  It sounds like fun, if that's the sort of thing you like and, after all, pop culture is entertainment.

The question that occurs to me is: should all culture be cosplay? Should every cultural experience be 'immersive'(as the BBC jargon goes), a form of entertainment in which we must actively participate and experience in first person- wear the costume, sing along, bake-it-at-home?

It's a question worth asking, I think, if nothing else because, what with the cuts to everything, the worsening education system, the dwindling numbers going to university and the commodification of academic learning itself, we are headed towards a point where only the culture that can be served up as entertainment will survive.

Goodbye philosophy, ancient Greek, lengthy but wizard-free books of any kind, symphonies without short, famous bits that can be harnessed to do a honest day's work as mobile ringtones.

And maybe that's ok. I myself studied ancient Greek for five years at secondary school and I can't remember a single word of it. It hasn't done me any good, particularly, and I don't miss it now it's gone. I actively dislike most classical music and War and Peace is still gathering dust on the back pile by my bedside - the pile of books I should want to read but curiously don't want to read.

That said, 'Culture' is probably a bit more than 'stuff that's interesting to me' or 'stuff I personally want to know about'. It's a piece of DNA of our shared humanity. Knowledge of it is an end in itself, a vessel carrying it forward into the next generation, ensuring it is preserved and, in time, improved upon.

Maybe by giving up on it altogether unless I can 'explore' it through an interactive 'leaning strand' or knit it from a pattern is not such a good idea.

Goodbye Dante. You should have cheered up, mate!

1 comment:

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