The Question of Culture: Definitions and Discussion


The overarching question of what constitutes a culture is typically met with a variety of definitions and conclusions, with some variance between them, but generally settling on the key concept, as established by Tylor in his 1871 work Primitive Culture, that a culture is a collection of the following:

  • Knowledge (and/or the idea of “received wisdom”)
  • Artistry (via a multitude of media and spanning several genres)
  • Belief systems (be it organised religion or received spirituality)
  • Law and order (a recognisable and understood code of conduct, with sanction for those in violation)
  • Morals and/or ethics (often heavily tied into either beliefs or laws)
  • Custom (events and/or observances traditional to culture, tied in with knowledge, belief and/or ethics)

The debate surrounding cultural artefacts, and what constitutes them, is what brings the discussion of cyberculture to light – internet and gaming cultures, as well as spinoffs such as meme culture/”weird social media” and accelerationist/anti-consumerist art like the musical micro-genre of vaporwave, are all inherently tied into the idea of cultural artefacts, if not reliant on a medium that thrives almost entirely on the production, marketing and sale of goods, primarily in the unit of social engagement (the costs of internet bills, the per-unit cost of games and/or memberships), and secondarily in the resale of a burgeoning received wisdom, in the case of cybercultures, the most prominent of which is retrogaming, which began as a counter-culture within videogaming.

Part of the extended cultural hangover of Thatcher-era austerity in the UK, retrogaming saw avid collectors pick up the consoles of their childhood years, partially to relive old memories, but also to catch-up on aspects of their hobby they missed and share them with (variously interested, to be fair) families, beginning in earnest the conversation in cyberculture of cultural transmission – that is, the generational passage of ideas, such as the case with the infamous “ghost car” story from 2014. Eventually dramatised as short film “Player Two”, the story saw a young player revisit the driving game of his childhood to find his father’s last laptime saved on the machine, ready for him to lay challenge.

Player Two from John Wikstrom on Vimeo.

World 1-1 of Super Mario Brothers on the NES is the most recognisable sight in videogaming, with a theme tune that has become one of the most-recognised pieces of music in the world in any medium. The ubiquity of this piece of music and indeed, the Mario Brothers series is a direct result of cultural transmission in many cases (albeit aided by the co-option of a counter-consumption movement in order to create sequels, remakes and updates for current, more child-marketable hardware).

A fair amount of cultural change has been driven by the onset of new technologies. The printing press led to mass media and gave rise to a wider dissemination of ideas, while the advances in transportation over the past few centuries facilitated the spread of these ideas. Each time, misplaced and unsubstantiated threats of alienation and isolation from the generation before haunt the new medium in the mainstream conversation while enthusiasts slowly build their discourse around it. However, up to the dawn of cyberculture, the means and method were continuances of old discourses, passing down old information and adjusting communication for new idioms.

Cyberculture, however, represents a departure point – the pace of change accelerated exponentially from the 1990s, and the signifiers of a culture are still emerging from its ever-turbulent waters – a culture created, subverted, reclaimed, co-opted, and elements of which have been resold, in our lifetime.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Charlie Jones. 2017. Comment: Vaporwave and the pop-art of the virtual plaza | Dummy Mag . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.dummymag.com/features/adam-harper-vaporwave. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

FCJ-075 The Past as the Future? Nostalgia and Retrogaming in Digital Culture | The Fibreculture Journal : 11. 2017. FCJ-075 The Past as the Future? Nostalgia and Retrogaming in Digital Culture | The Fibreculture Journal : 11. [ONLINE] Available at: http://eleven.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-075-the-past-as-the-future-nostalgia-and-retrogaming-in-digital-culture/. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Full text of “Primitive culture : researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, language, art, and custom”. 2017. Full text of “Primitive culture : researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, language, art, and custom”. [ONLINE] Available at: https://archive.org/stream/primitiveculture01tylouoft/primitiveculture01tylouoft_djvu.txt. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Mario Games. 2017. Mario Games. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/mario-games#. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Road & Track. 2017. How a Boy Found His Father’s Ghost Waiting in a Vintage Video Game. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.roadandtrack.com/car-culture/videos/a28918/player-two-short-film/. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Select All. 2017. The Rise of Weird Facebook: How the World’s Biggest Social Network Became Cool Again (and Why It Matters). [ONLINE] Available at: http://nymag.com/selectall/2016/02/weird-facebook-became-cool-again.html. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Stephen Totilo. 2017. Why A Man Plays Mario. [ONLINE] Available at: http://kotaku.com/5458678/why-a-man-plays-mario. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

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