Reflection on Social Practices & Taste Regimes
I found Then & Now, Bourdieu: Cultural Capital, the Love of Art & Hip Hop to be the most fascinating piece of media from last week’s assignment. The video showcased the concept of cultural capital, something I had never heard about before, and convinced me of its importance less any halfway through the viewing process.
What struck me most about the concept was how well it described the uniformity of our tastes. It was always something that seemed a bit obvious that people of the same class would like the same things, but the video really explored the meaning behind it and the mechanisms that allowed it to happen, and that brought me a lot of clarity.
The video states that it is a social position that determines what kind of art, literature, and media we gravitate towards. That our style, accents, & taste are the result of our social environment. That cultural capital can be further bolstered through our education as you can only appreciate a cultural artifact as long as your attention is drawn to it. Thus, the more you know about a subject, the more time you will spend thinking about it. As soon as you run out of things to think about, you move on
With the premise set, the video really takes a deep dive into the classist subtext that pervades obtaining cultural capital and determines which subset of cultures is more valued. It states that the reason anything piece of culture is more valued than others is completely arbitrary. It is basically just a social construct built up around a thing and is used by the people that have access to it to exclude those that don’t. An example of this would be going to the opera. A classic example of the elite, opera is not an art form that can be easily understood. It is a subject that needs both economic capital and time to understand and embody. But once a person embodies opera, it becomes a part of their cultural capital. And say this person was a young adult in college, knowing about opera might make it more likely for them to have things in common with their older professors and allow them to cultivate relationships that might lead to better grades, connections, and opportunities through institutional capital.
I thought about Bourdieu a lot while writing my midterm paper. Ballet is definitely a cultural capital that takes a lot of economic capital to embody. Shoes cost $65-$105 per pair. Lessons range from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the age and gender of the person and the location of the school. It takes years of training to understand the full mechanics of ballet and appreciate the difficulty of what is occurring on stage. Also, tickets to the ballet are not cheap, thus creating further economic barriers for anyone who wants to enter. But by being able to dance ballet and knowing how to appreciate it, ballet signals to others that you embody a skill that is a remnant of the upper classes. I find that kind of funny, considering ballet was originally invented as a playtime for the aristocrats in the 16th century, complete with its pageantry and classist undertones. The fact that this subtext has survived and still pervades the 21st century is quite impressive.
The video ends with a section discussing some solutions to equalize cultural capital and recognizing the cultures of marginalized groups. It states that to allow for the most equal opportunity, it must go beyond what we are doing now. We must also allow anyone to gain cultural capital and intermingle between the classes. Equality of access to all cultural artifacts is thus a principal mechanism to get to that state. However, it also states that it is sometimes easier to just create new cultural capital than to partake in existing ones. The example they used is Hip Hop. A soundscape that originated in the inner cities, it has taken mainstream culture by storm. Today, it is listened to by everyone on the class pyramid. I think something that is similar to what I see in ballet is the rise of the hiplet. Originally created in Chicago by a predominantly black ballet school, it is a new way for ballet dancers of color to express themselves using ballet vocabulary and skills. While many in the traditional side of ballet abhor it and call it an insult to ballet tradition, I think it’s a great direction for ballet. All dances will have offshoots, it’s impossible for a culture to stay stagnant forever. Not evolving with the times will only cause it to become irrelevant. I also think it’s a great way for women, particularly women of color, to bring their own voices and narrative to an art form that has been dominated by white males for the last 500 years.