Thursday, June 30, 2005

Cultural Observation

Whilst in the Zitadelle in Spandau today (of which more later), I was browsing the historical museum of Spandau exhibition there. It wasn't a brilliant collection, but did have some points of broader interest - especially the exhibits regarding the development of cultural life in Spandau - for example the growth of the Vereine, or clubs, in the 19th century so that by 1874, even in a small area like Spandau, there were 90 different clubs one could join. This is of particular interest to me because the growth of associational life in Germany at this time has been used by historians as evidence that there was an active middle class, in response to accusations from Marxist historians that much of the reason for the First World War (and thus, by implication, the rise of the Nazis) was due to the "feudalisation of the bourgeoisie" and their lack of participation in everyday activities.

The point that I really wanted to make here, though, was to do with another cultural point. When talking about the arts in Spandau, the display made the comment, apologetically, that Spandau had very few famous artists or musicians. In fact, they have no famous artists or musicians, because in the small time that has passed since I looked at the exhibit, the names have completely passed me by. (This recalls an embarrassing moment I had as a sixth-former when, translating a speech by the local mayor to the rest of the exchange group, I said "and Werther is also well-known for being the hometown of famous artist... err... what's his name again?")

Both these anecdotes raise the same cultural point, though. I'd never even think twice about the fact my home town has no famous artist or musician of note. I somehow doubt the local tourist board would, either. Yet countries on the continent are universally proud of connections with artists, no matter how small their impact on the wider world has been.

This, I feel, can also help to explain a lot of the anti-Americanism that I've been discussing in other posts. Europe seems to identify itself a lot more with high-culture - with good reason; it's where their impact has been strongest, and indeed highly valuable. The fact that the most recognisable American names are associated with pop music, or the cinema, or even "pop-art", allows there to be a degree of cultural snobbery from those who value high culture more.