Sunday, November 30, 2014

Cultural Choice or Cultural Marketing

In recent decades we in the industrialized world have a variety of cultural experiences available to us which we consider a form of recreation and entertainment. It usually involves an immersion into a different way of life, one that we would never see other than as cultural tourists. We buy the clothes that we wouldn't normally wear and try to talk the same way and about the same things as the people where we're going. But we're outsiders pretending briefly to be a part of the world that we've only read about or watched in the movies.

One example is going to a honky-tonk blues or nightclub. It's a gritty scene and to fit in we wear leather jackets and black boots, smoke cigarettes and drink straight bourbon. But when a white-collar professional changes into that costume and tries to blend in to the dimly lit environment, it's only a matter of time before it's clear he isn't a member but a visitor. It's simply not who he is. He may have listened to a lot of Eric Clapton and Muddy Waters and he knows the names of the famous clubs in New York where these guys go their start. But he's never been to one and is essentially at a costume party, dressed as a rock-and-roller.

Another example is the dude ranch vacation. In the late 1980s and 1990s it was a popular trip. College educated intellectuals from back east would fly out to Montana or Wyoming and spend a week being broken by real ranchers who tried to teach them about cattle and horses and how to start a fire and cook coffee over an open fire. Before the end  of the week, these greenhorns inflated their confidence enough to start saying things like "I think that heifer will go for a decent price at market," even though they had never bid on any animal much less been to a livestock auction besides the one that was staged for them as part of their exorbitant resort fee.

A similar experience is a fantasy baseball camp where major league ball players spend a week or two of their off-season enduring with a smile the attempts by desk-sitters to impress them with their athletic ability.

Others travel to a place like Middleburg, Virginia to join the fox and hound set in horse country. We sip white wine and the ladies wear gaudy hats that they'll never wear again, talking loudly about exotic vacations they might intend to but realistically will never take.

Although middle class incomes have stagnated for the last quarter century or more, it is affordable for an increasing number of us to have a meal in what once might have been an off-limits restaurant or a stay in an equally exclusive hotel or resort. And when, for example we rent a limo for a party it really amounts to little more than pretending ("playing", we used to call it as kids) we are a part of the limousine culture.

We can afford to participate in these cultural experiences now and we can pretend we are part of the group we are immersing ourselves in. But the truth is, most of us are merely voyeurs, looking at a lifestyle that we've heard about and that has been marketed to us in popular movies or music.

No comments: