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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Column: Be cultured

Going home for spring break was glorious for two reasons: copious amounts of sleep and really good Mexican food. Other than being struck by the hurricane weather that seemed to wash away all my hopes of frolicking in a sunny wonderland, I also had another unpleasant encounter.

Running into that high school classmate that you never wanted to see again? Nope. Being roped into cleaning the garage for a week straight with your dad? Thankfully, no. This event lasted for all of maybe thirty seconds, but it got me thinking.

After mailing away my old textbooks to their new owners, I was bombarded by a man at a table outside my local post office. Unfortunately, he was not selling cookies. He also didn’t seem like he was trying to get me to go to a party at The Grad or join his pre-health co-ed fraternity.

Some 40-something mustached man holding a clipboard eagerly asked me if I had any time to spare. My eyes took in his posters of the Tea Party logos and President Obama sporting a Hitler mustache. My brain lit up with a neon “he cray cray” sign. My mouth curtly said, “I don’t have any time to spare for you.”

As I walked away into the concrete jungle of a parking lot, he screamed after me: “Help me put a stop to Obama and the earthquakes.”

Really, mustached man? Yes, Obama hasn’t been doing too great of a job. Yes, those earthquakes are terrible. But, how are Obama and the earthquakes related, and how are you going to put a stop to them?

I wanted to go scream in his face and ask him if he ever graduated high school. I wanted to go tear his posters in half and curb-stomp his clipboard. You can think what you want, but don’t offend me by shoving a poster of Hitler Obama in my face. There’s a big difference between the man who killed my relatives and the current leader of the free world. Also, how can an African American be a Nazi?

Because I didn’t feel like getting sued for infringing on his First Amendment rights, I ignored him. But, as I drove home, I couldn’t stop thinking about this guy. I like to pretend that we all respect each other and don’t pass judgment on people, but let’s get real. Am I really that hoity-toity with my big university education and liberal ways that I thought he was extremely uncultured?

What does this term “uncultured” even mean? Seeing the misused symbols on his propaganda led me to assume that he could care less about being educated. Yet, my lack of enthusiasm to learn about what he believes in might be interpreted the same way. To him, I’m probably just another one of those left-wing elitists that preach for free speech yet won’t believe anything broadcasted by Fox News. “To be cultured” is a strictly relative term. Everyone has their own idea of who should be revered and who is a Philistine.

Flashback to my first-year Sociology 1 lecture. Definition of culture: the set of values and ideals that help us draw the line between good and evil, right and wrong. Culture is represented through symbols and actions like language and art, hugs and wars.

The subcategories of culture exist as a continuum: high culture, pop culture and low culture. Think of this like an OREO cookie, the “Heads or Tails” version, which is made up of one chocolate cookie, the “cream” center and a golden cookie. (Whatever flavor “golden” is.) Different groups of people accept the different cookies as high or low culture, while the majority of groups can agree on one thing: the cream center is delicious. This is pop culture. Whether you feel guilty eating this part, accept it as amazing or refuse to eat it, you at least know what it is.

This quarter, I want to take a bite out of that cookie and ruminate over the natural and artificial flavorings. Why did I get so irked when I saw Hitler Obama? Why did I immediately question the man’s education? Why is there such a heated divide between political parties?

Being critical of the culture around us is what sets us apart from the blind citizens of 1984 or the soma burnouts of Brave New World. Question authority. Question the people you meet on the street. Question what it means to be cultured.

CORRIE JACOBS thinks President Obama would look great with a milk mustache. If you agree, reach her at cljacobs@ucdavis.edu.

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