Monday, April 10, 2006

Culture vs. Economy

--Who are you?
--What is your destination?
--Who is your captain?

These are three classic questions signaled from passing ships. H. Michael Hartoonian, an expert in the field of American cultural studies, asks these questions routinely while giving addresses.

The point, obvious or not, is to incite the individual to conduct a philosophical analysis of one's self. This is not meant to be a one-time inquiry, however. Instead, the hope is that through careful introspection we uncover who we really are, our wants and desires, and our ability to take control of our own lives and culture.

Speaking of culture, Hartoonian has also proposed that we look at "culture" and "economy" as two entities on opposite ends of a continuum. Like this:


You might remember this continuum from your high school government class:


These two continuums are not (necessary) related to one another, but I digress. Anyway, Hartoonian claims that our society is constantly defining itself along the culture/economy continuum by the decisions we make in our private, public, and political lives.

What does this have to do with anything?

A lot, and anyone who saw yesterday's Paris-Roubaix bicycle race saw this culture/economy battle play out on the biggest stage in one-day bicycle racing calendar. Mere kilometers from the finish line, a freight train forced two groups chasing the race leader to slow, with one group forced to stop completely.

[photo caption]World Champion Tom Boonen, Alessandro Ballan, and Juan Antonio Flecha are forced to yield to a French freight train. (photo courtesy: Graham Watson)

Somehow, some way, the "Queen of the (one-day) Classics" -- an immense cultural event in both the cycling world and in northern France -- was brought to a complete standstill by a train carrying economic wares.

The final score from yesterday's Paris-Roubaix classic:
Economics: 1
Culture: 0
[photo caption] Though Boonen would later say, "Normally you don't have the chance to look around like that. The birds were flying, the sun was shining and a train passed us, it was beautiful," this photo seems to depict Boonen frantically looking behind him in an effort to spot any chase groups behind his own. Awfully nice of him to insult our intelligence after the fact, however. (photo courtesy: Graham Watson)

PS: Belgian racer Peter Van Petegem receives "props" for calling all of France out, declaring, "It was all very strange that in one of the top races in the season and a train is passing that could make the difference between winning and losing. In Belgium for sure they would try to stop the train." Petegem, who finished third, was later disqualified for going around the railroad crossing arms.


Blogger Smithers said...

Maybe he took a break from his admiration of his beautiful surroundings to take a quick spy backwards to see who might be coming up. I’m certain that Boonen has not completely put the race out of his mind while stopped at the rail crossing. He did have a smirk on his face when he made that comment.

I think this is also interesting in the fact that most fans of cycling just shrug their shoulders at this event and say “That’s bike racing.” If something equivalent to this took place during the Superbowl I guarantee you that fans would be rioting in the streets and team owners would be filing lawsuits.

Cycling is the most exciting sport in the world. It does not take place in an arena, it takes place in the real world where our everyday environment can affect racing at any time.

Tue Apr 11, 07:32:00 AM 2006

Blogger AdamB said...

I don't know--sounds like a false dichotomy to me. Culture and economy are not mutually exclusive.

The most readily available example is the entertainment and advertising industry. I read that fully one-quarter of Los Angelenos are employed in the entertainment industry--that's a lot of money!

In addition, many structuralist economic philosophers (e.g. Marx) claim that the economic system can affect the culture, specifically individual tastes and preferences. The American experience with slavery and racism is often cited as an example. The modern MTV youth-driven consumer culture is another. (This is why advertising exists, actually. Culture is a commodity--just walk into Urban Outfitters and you'll see what I mean.)

I can almost guarantee that between the train and the peloton, the peloton is worth much more money. By any rational economic analysis, the train should've yielded to the race, not the other way around.

The fact that the French organizers couldn't control it just shows how lazy and unorganized they are. It's just unprofessional.

Wed Apr 12, 06:40:00 AM 2006

Blogger Tuffy said...

I don't know--sounds like a false dichotomy to me. Culture and economy are not mutually exclusive.

Hartoonian proposes that culture and economy are on a continuum, acting as opposing forces. That in no way suggests that they are mutually exclusive, but rather the opposite -- that they are mutually diametric. Hence, the continuum.

Wed Apr 12, 07:03:00 AM 2006

Blogger AdamB said...

I'm saying that's wrong because culture is commodified. To rip off today's Slate.com: "There is no escaping the inexorable logic of the commodity. You are what you buy, even—especially—if what you are buying is authenticity, in the form of Birkenstocks, exposed wood beams, a copy of Leaves of Grass."

Your example is a great example to prove my point. Pro racing is merely another form of advertising. The Paris-Roubaix represents more money than a few rolls of sheetmetal. If the promoters were rational, they would have compensated the train operaters and still had profit left over--a win-win made possible through the commodification of culture.

I'm going to go read this Hartoonian guy, though. Maybe I misunderstand the argument.

Wed Apr 12, 08:49:00 AM 2006

Blogger AdamB said...

I'm having trouble getting full-text articles without actually going to a library, but from what I've found so far, it appears that by "culture" Hartoonian means the Great American Co-Op Culture of civic duty, public responsibility, and self-improvement, values which he alleges must be ingrained through social science education.

He compares this to the materialistic selfishness and superficiality of our times, what I figure you mean by "economy".

That might make sense in an evaluation of personal values, and perhaps even in an analysis of the atomisation of society or the decline of civic participation. But it doesn't seem relevant for comparing the relative values French society places on the Paris-Roubaix and a freight train. Especially since it seems like an oversight more than an intentional, conscious choice.

That's just from reading through a few abstracts, though. If I could get a clearer idea of what you and/or Hartoonian means by culture vs. economy, then maybe it would make more sense to me.

Or, maybe I should just get back to work!

Wed Apr 12, 09:34:00 AM 2006

Anonymous super wookie said...

this is exactly why i won't go on a cat6 ride with you guys.

talk about important stuff like girls, porn, and beer.

not any of this 'smart' stuff.


Thu Apr 13, 07:56:00 AM 2006

Blogger Andy said...

I think a few captains were caught in the eye of the quick but decisive: Hurricane Sheet Metal Transport

Thu Apr 13, 11:25:00 PM 2006


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