Culture (and couture) a la Colbert

14 Nov

The Omnivore’s Dilemma author Michael Pollan offers a pretty accessible and illustrative definition of culture: Mom.

Culture is how you do because that’s how you were raised. And for those who have rebelled against our parents, I wouldn’t discount “Mom” just yet: resisting how we were raised still means we owe some formation credit to all those traditions, beliefs and daily ways of living that we are trying not to perpetuate. (And I, for one, have experienced the deep, unconscious and persistent influence of my mother despite different choices I may make.)

Concise though Pollan’s definition is, I’ve always had to qualify it for its heterosexist and flat-out sexist bias about who raised us. I put his “Mom” in quotes and translate that culture is how you do because of how you were raised by your community.

So I was quite pleased to read an interview with Stephen Colbert (out of character, but commenting on his TV persona: the conservative pundit Stephen Colbert who headlines “The Colbert Report”), offering another great, E-Z to understand definition of culture. In explaining his “classic and preppie” style (it turns out this was an interview with Women’s Wear Daily), Colbert stated:

My default is, “Give me a blue blazer and a pair of khaki pants,” because that’s how I was raised. Nothing ever supplanted it. I flirted with wearing black and having a beard when I was in theater school, but that passed. I went back to my default settings (

There you have it: culture is your “default settings.” And while Colbert’s definition, like Pollan’s, has its own biases (here, that a blazer and khakis is the sartorial default), the difference is that Colbert owns his bias. It’s his, not the default.

And that opens the door for me to consider my defaults.

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