George Bernard Shaw is famously said to have said that England and America were countries separated by a common language (of course, Shaw was neither English nor American). Here are a couple of very small things that I ran into recently, not about language as such but about little cultural separations. A little off-topic, but it is the weekend ...
A little while ago I was thinking of doing a blog entry about Kylie Minogue and the discussion about whether or not the V&A - self-described as the world's greatest museum of art and design - should be devoting an exhibition to her "evolving image".
This was prompted by what I thought was a somewhat po-faced article by critic and journalist Mark Lawson who was worried that standards were being dropped in several venues to attract audiences.
An obvious moral for both London's theatre and its museums is the recent history of television: a medium which has directed considerable energy to "connecting" with those who were perceived to have an in-built resistance to watching it. As a result, more and more desperately populist projects are announced, including, this week, a sort of wildlife gameshow in which viewers will vote on which nearly-extinct species should receive a conservation grant. [Guardian Unlimited | Comment is free | Mark Lawson: The pimp in the cathedral]The exhibition has now begun, and has sparked some similar follow-on discussion.
I thought that the Kylie exhibition was an appropriate venture. I did not do an entry: I think it is very interesting, but I do not have much context for the wider discussion in the museum community of the general case that this exhibition no doubt raises, so I passed on.
Now, I mentioned this in discussion the other day. I was very surprised to learn that nobody in the group knew who Kylie Minogue was. Of course, this happens from time to time, but I was more surprised than usual in this case. And some investigation revealed relatively different levels of impact.
Although she's only managed a few hits in the U.S. since her arrival as a singer in 1987, Kylie Minogue is both Australia and Europe's biggest selling female pop singer over that period and a pop culture icon in those areas. Her image on the cover of magazines is guaranteed to produce extra sales. [allmusic ((( Kylie Minogue > Overview )))]
And a second example... I was watching an episode of The View, an Irish arts programme presented by John Kelly the other evening (on the web [.smil]). They were reviewing A Prairie Home Companion, the recent Altman movie based on the radio show. Now, this type of program - and Mark Lawson presents similar programs in the UK - obviously depends a lot on the guests. There is something about the structure though that lends itself to smugness, as a group of folks is apparently well-qualified to judge the diverse cultural and media events of the day. In this case, I thought the panel smugly missed the point entirely, as they seemed not to be aware of the position of A Prairie Home Companion, the radio show, in American cultural life. Whatever one thinks of the radio show, one cannot divorce discussion of the movie from it.
The world is getting smaller, and also remaining larger than we sometimes think.