What is “culture,” really? We use the term a lot. When I lived in Italy, I learned that to call someone “cultured” meant that they were well-read and appreciated the arts. On Twitter, #rapeculture has become a shibboleth for those see sexual violence against women as part of a widespread negative societal attitude towards women’s sexuality. Nazi playwright Hanns Johst penned the famous line, “Whenever I hear of culture… I release the safety catch of my Browning!” (“Wenn ich Kultur höre … entsichere ich meinen Browning!”)
“Culture” can a difficult thing to make into a cause without seeming elitist. But these ads for Fondation Cultura did catch my attention. They’re definitely trying start a conversation, but what else do they want me to do?
The organization’s mission is to “facilitate access to education, help with the cultural development of the poor,
and assist in the dissemination of culture.”
How, you might ask? By selling you stuff. That’s right, Cultura is a store that sells books, music, movies and art supplies.
They fooled me. Did they fool you too? I probably shouldn’t even be writing about them here, but I’ll file it under “corporate social responsibility” because the ads are still issue-based and the company does do good outreach.
But what is the issue, exactly? Everyone has culture. Even chimpanzees have it. LiveScience defines it as “Culture is the characteristics of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.”
Threats to a contemporary, collective, culture include the negligent or deliberate loss of archives, art, languages and traditions. When I first saw this campaign, the first thing I thought of was the controversy over cuts to the National Library and Archives in Canada, where I live. I thought it might be a campaign to save cultural programs or institutions, like the brilliant “Save The Troy Library” campaign.
But this campaign is really about the consumption of culture. Creativity, sure, but also commodity.
I have nothing against this business. I really love music, entertainment, and art supply stores. But asking such big questions really set this campaign up for what we call a “lunchbag letdown” over here. At the end of the day, they’re just teaser ads. Kind of cool and effective, but I’m left unsatisfied. Perhaps even a little annoyed at how patronizing it all is.
Is “culture” only for artists and art consumers? Do “the poor” not have a culture of their own? Are our cultural guardians in it for the money, or the ages?
I’ll leave you to come up with your own answers.