Cultural and Generational Differences

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.

Generational Differences

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.

Cultural Differences

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.

3 responses to “Cultural and Generational Differences

  1. Nice. I am jealous of you seeing Avenue Q in London. I take a similar view on generational and cultural differences. They are very important.

    I’ll try and add another layer to this. You also have to think about “Period Effects.” Period effects happen when masses of people experience a game-changing historical event, and the relationships between period, cultural, and generational effects are complex.

    The easiest and most recent example is 9-11. Everyone who lived through it and had an emotional response to it, even if they only watched it from thousands of miles away, shared an experience. But here’s the thing. People who experienced it when they were 12 years old had different responses than people who were 40 at the time, etc. And people from different cultures also had different responses. The reason I am throwing it out here is because I think period effects influence the way people understand texts, broadly defined as any work of art in any medium.

    You can also find period effects associated with things like wars, the assassinations of important figures, and important milestones like the Moon Landing.

    I love your work, Holly. And I am so glad I discovered y’all as early as I did. I can tell you two apart now without reading your bylines at this point.


    • Period Effects are huge and do have a large influence. I was recently reading a short study on millenials and one of the points was talking about just all of the events that have happened in their lifetime. 9/11, corruption scandals, terrorism, religious scandals, and it really is amazing what they have gone through and how that has shaped their perception, which in turn will likely change the type of things they create and consume. Another example of a period effect that I discussed in a class on anime is the dropping of the bomb on Japan. We looked at anime where you can clearly see some of the effect being displayed in that particular medium.

      Thanks for reading us by the way. I wanted to start this to kind of through my ideas into the ether and see what came back. I love reading other people’s opinions on subjects and always try and be open to other ideas.


      • Yeah, the bomb is huge. I took a seminar on political communication that was really about the effects of television ads on elections, but we talked a lot about those various effects. It turned out to be one of the most useful courses I ever had.

        I do the same thing throwing things out and seeing what comes back. The things that get comments are usually not the ones I expect. It’s fascinating.


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