7 January, 2007

I know I've ranted and raved here in the past about culture and high and low art so I'm not really planning on saying much over again on the subject now, but I read something recently that nagged at me. It's always something that nags at me that gets me writing here. Anyway, I finally got my hands on a copy of Neal Stephen's essay In the Beginning was the Command Line. Actually, what I got a hold of was an annotated version of the essay entitled The Command Line in 2004. The annotations having been done by Garrett Birkel. I'll try to remember to provide a link to the annotated version when I covert this rant from the word document into HTML.

Anyway, the essay starts out pretty good, and there is an extremely funny but accurate description of different computer operating systems using the analogy of your computer as a car and your computer's operating system as the monkey driving your car. It's really funny. Especially the description of Microsoft Windows XP.

Unfortunately, the essay takes a rather depressing turn to the insane when Stephenson begins talking about American culture. The point of this digression appearing to be to generally trash American culture. The good news is that Birkel really takes Stephenson to task for the ridiculousness of this digression. But, all in all, I was left with the impression that Stephenson doesn't have a very high opinion of American culture, which I know I just said two sentences ago. But, to go into a little more detail, I felt that Stephenson really tried to show there was high culture and American culture. At least that was my impression. Maybe, he was trying to show that America had a high and a popular culture, but there really seemed to be more of a kind-of Seattle high culture and an American popular culture.

Now, this whole notion of high and popular culture just makes me break out in a rash. I mean, look at it. Built into the very names of this division of culture shows that one is good and the other isn't. Guess which is which. Go on. Guess.

It just. Really. It just makes me sick. It's all about putting people down and trying to make oneself feel superior to others. It really makes me wonder if this whole notion of high versus popular culture, which you are much more likely to hear described as low culture, is a product of the aristocracy. No, seriously. You've got a bunch of aristocrats, and they basically run the show. Everybody looks up to them. Or, at least, they think that everybody looks up to them. Then, suddenly, you've got the merchant middle class springing up out of nowhere and generally expecting to be treated nice. Well, now, the aristocracy still wants to consider themselves special, and yet people are really starting to wonder whatever is the difference between the aristocracy and the middle class. Why people just might start to think that you don't need the aristocracy to run things. The middle class just might be up to the task. After all, they've got these great big commercial empires running pretty well. So, the aristocracy hit upon this great idea. Chivalry. Yes, that is it. Chivalry makes the aristocracy better than everybody else. It makes the aristocracy special and shows how they care about people, which the money grubbing middle class obviously do not.

Hey, you think I'm pulling this out of my ass? I remember all of this from history class. Yes, I did learn something in college. Can you believe it?

So, anyway, my thought was that if the aristocracy invented chivalry to show how they were better than the middle class then maybe they also invented high art to also show how they were better than all of those common people.

Which isn't even my point. I mean, sure, I am just trying to show the absurdity of the difference between high and popular culture with this digression, but it isn't my point. My point about high versus popular culture can be summed up really quick.

Have you ever noticed that if one person likes something that other people do not then that one person will say it is high culture and if the one person doesn't like something that other people do then it is popular culture?

In other words, it is sour grapes. Yeah, I know. I'm sorry. That sure took me a long time to say, didn't it?

But, isn't that what it boils down to? I mean, sure, you can drag in a lot of examples. You could claim that potty humor is automatically low culture, but there is no actual reason for that to be true. It really boils down to the fact that you don't like potty humor. On the other hand, it could be true that you don't want to admit to liking potty humor. Or, you don't like the fact that you laugh at farts. I don't know, and I don't care.

If you like it, then it's high culture. If you don't like it, then it's popular culture. Oh, yeah, and popular culture is code for low culture. Just in case you hadn't noticed that yet or were about to argue that you like popular culture. I had started this rant by using low culture but realized that wasn't how the essay had described it. So, I figured I would run with the word popular to kind-of show up the fact that popular was secret smart person intellectual code for low.

Okay, that took far longer than I had planned to go over. It wasn't even really the reason I sat down to write. Now, watch the real subject I wanted to bring up will probably just take two sentences to cover, and then I'll be done. Just watch.

I don't know how this happened but thinking about high versus low culture got me thinking about evolution. Maybe, it was because I have finally seen the first couple episdoes of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's short-lived television show That's my Bush, which is really funny. No, I mean it is seriously dementedly laugh-out-loud funny. Anyway, I figure just about everybody in the universe would consider the show low culture, and since the show was hitting such wonderful topics as abortion and gun control, my mind wandered to other issues. Like evolution.

And, you can't think about evolution without remembering that wonderfully ill-informed rallying cry of "I'm not related to a monkey!" To which I say, "you're not related to a monkey! That's not how evolution works! If you would bother to let science teachers actual teach the subject in school, then you might actually know this!"

Which, of course, reminds me of the greatest explanation of evolution that I have ever heard. It may not exactly be the most accurate in all the little details, but it definitely hits the broad strokes, which is only my not really science based opinion. It is also laugh-out-loud funny. I am, of course, referring to Mrs. Garrison's explanation of evolution from a recent episode of South Park. I'll try to get the link to the video clip and put it here.

But, South Park is probably not the kind-of shorthand description that most people would like to use. The most common one I hear, of course, is the constantly evolving strains of flu example. You've probably heard it. The fact that diseases become resistant to drugs just shows how the disease is adapting and evolving to its environment. This is a pretty good example. Diseases evolve so quickly you can show the process, and everybody worries about getting sick.

Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine. After all, a disease is hardly the same thing as a monkey.

So, anytime the subject comes up, I usually yell back at the TV. Yes, this topic is most likely to rear its ugly head on the news or some such program so I would most likely be bitching back at the television. Anyway, I usually remind the poor defenseless television that anybody who doesn't understand or want to accept the existence of evolution should go to a dog or cat show. It's probably easier than finding a scientist.

Yes, I did say dog show. Just in case you hadn't noticed, a dog show usually involves the judging of different breeds of dogs. If you've gotten this far, then you probably have in fact noticed that there are different dog breeds. Ever wondered how they got that way? Yes, through selective breeding. I'm glad you are still with me. Now, get ready because I am about to wallop you over the head. The application of selective breeding for the purposes of preserving or changing the characteristics of a type of dog is an evolutionary process.

It is. It really is. Samantha's uncle is a vet so Samantha will occasionally say something interesting about different breeds of dogs. Here is one such example, German Shepherds have become inbred to the point they have developed serious hip problems. Attempts are being made to rectify this situation by breeding pure blood German Shepherds with other dog breeds in the hopes that this new strain of German Shepherd will have better hips. Unfortunately, I cannot remember what type of dog the German Shepherd is being crossed with. Sorry. Now, yes, this is all about selective breeding and genetics, but the thing to understand is that selective breeding and genetics are both evolutionary processes. As I said in the example, we are trying to improve the German Shepherd and fix their hip problem. This is evolution in action.

Now, this still isn't what prompted me to write this little rant of mine. Man, I really should just get to the point or shut up.

The amusing little thing that occurred to me this morning is that there is still a simpler example of evolution. You don't need viruses. You don't need dogs or cats. You just need television.

Well, unfortunately, for this example, you need a television, a DVD player, and an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, which was one of the best damn television shows that was ever made. But, that is not important right now. Now, look at two of the actors. Specifically, look at Yaphet Kotto and Richard Belzer. Notice anything? Yes, for the purposes of this example you are allowed to notice the fact that Yaphet Kotto's skin is much darker than Richard Belzer's pasty white body.

You ever wondered about that? The fact that some people have darker skin than others. Ever wondered why? I understand that it has something to do with climate and heat and sunlight. Something about skin tone becoming darker as a way to help retain moisture and also to help against the harsh light of the sun. Now, the key words here are skin tone becoming darker. Meaning the human body adapted to its environment. Meaning that people evolved.

Yes, they evolved. It is evolution in action.

Now, imagine that Richard Belzer and Yaphet Kotto had a babby. Yes, I know. I'm sorry. They are both guys. Bad example. Okay, let's take another cast member.

Okay, here we go. Imagine that Yaphet Kotto and Melissa Leo had a baby. Would it surprise you to discover that their baby's skin tone was not quite a match for either parent? The skin is still probably pretty dark but nowhere near as dark as Yaphet Kotto's own. That's evolution.

No, seriously. And, I know what you are going to say. It's genetics. But, see, the thing to get. The thing to understand is that this application of genetics is an evolutionary process, which sounds a whole lot better than talking about retarded baby fish. Yeah, that's how Mrs. Garrison described it on South Park.

Oh, wait. Maybe, people don't like to talk about evolution in people because it sounds too much like a breeding program or superior humans or master race or some such malarkey. Using Yaphet Kotto and Melissa Leo to demonstrate an evolutionary process is in no way meant to indicate that the kid is superior. Evolution doesn't equal better. That's just another one of those stupid notions. Evolution is simply a way of describing the fact that children are different from their parents and that given a lot of time descendents may be so different as to be completely unrecognizable as having come from those ancestors. Which is very simplified, I know. But, enough.

copyright © 2007 by keith d. jones – all rights reserved
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