Sorry this is a little late yesterday just got away from me. David and I went and saw the local high schools production of Spamalot last night and there were a couple of interesting changes that they made to the story and music. One of the main things was that they changed the song “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” to say “if you don’t have any stars” instead of “if you don’t have any jews”. The change could have been for a couple of reasons, one is that it could be seen as racial insensitive or a racial stereotype. The other reason is that the high schoolers putting on the production may not actually understand the meaning behind saying jews and stars makes more sense.
We had a similar experience when we saw the West End production of Avenue Q in London. During the song “It Sucks to Be Me” there is one line where a character laments that “I work in a Korean Deli, but I am Japanese”, but in the West End version they said Chinese Restaurant instead of Korean Deli. It makes sense to change that line if people will not understand what a Korean Deli is. Both of these show where cultural and generational differences can change the meaning behind a statement and might make us want to change how a specific piece of information is presented.
As time goes on meaning of words change and specific prejudices / stereotypes come and go. Unless we teach the history of certain ideas then it is possible as time goes on those ideas could be confusing to a younger generation. Some of it is location specific, but some of it is also age specific. Now some ideas get passed from generation to generation, but how much it permeates in to a specific culture during a specific time period is a different question. Anyone who has sat down and talked to their grandparents can recognize some of the generational differences that they can hear in what they say.
Media is often highly connected to the ideas permeating the culture at the time. As time goes on this can create a snapshot in to a specific time period, but as time goes on will all the references be understood without a historical understanding. Some things endure through time, but others don’t, so it is interesting to look at media that is created with a specific concept that is tied to a specific time period. A younger generation may not understand some of the ideas being presented without a look at the historical context. At the same time these various media give us a great way to see the culture of a specific time period.
Now this is something that is more often experienced on a daily basis. Just growing up in a different area of a country can cause cultural differences not to mention growing up in an entirely different country. The way we use words alone is different, but then how we think of things is incredibly different. The concepts of family, honor, loyalty can mean so many things to different people. This is not even getting down to the basics of what type of immigrant population do you have in your country because that changes what cultures you are affected by. Such as in Avenue Q if you do not understand what a Korean Deli is it will not make sense when hearing it in a musical. It can often be small or subtle details that can really speak to the cultural differences in media.
When we create we usually try to create what we know. We use our experiences and life for the baseline of the stories that we create. This can give incredible insight in to the culture that someone comes from. It does not necessarily come out in the larger story, but the subtle places that we may see differences from our own lives. Do you say soda or pop? Do you call it a water closet or bathroom? How do you greet someone when you first meet or are a friend? There are so many little ways that speak to where we come from and how we lived.
Next time you are reading a book, watching a movie, watching a tv show, go to a show, etc, think about how old it is and where it was written. Look at where differences appear with your own life and think about what that might mean. Sometimes we are too Eurocentric in what we consume, but maybe we need to expand our thinking and go outside our comfort zone. This will allow us to have a way to experience these differences even when we cannot travel.