Domination To Reciprocity: The Evolution Of Popular Culture

1521 words - 6 pages

The historical study of popular culture is distinct in that it diverges from the elitist perspective that governs much of our reflection on past events. Although, certain groups may face subordination in a given society, that does not imply a deficiency in their cultural achievements. From the Native people of the new world to the uneducated peasants of later years, their inferior social status in society often led their unique cultural practices into relative obscurity; dominant groups were the societal dictators of culture and the practices that future generations would deem as applicable to that time period. However, neglecting outranked cultural practices of past societies deprives historians of a more complete and accurate depiction of past societal realities. Contemporary accounts of early modern popular culture such as works by Ginzburg, Yassif and Bakhtin allow the reader to witness a shift in the earlier Romantic emphasis on the fascination and domination of the subordinate cultures [Herder] to a notion of cultural reciprocity between the elite and popular strata of society.
The imposition of European culture on Natives during the colonization of the New World entailed not only the desire to dominate/convert supposedly inferior Natives but also an accompanying fascination with their contradictory way of life. Europeans saw Native culture as uncivilized and comparable to a primitive state of European existence. Despite this view, Herder’s account in Reflections on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind reflects a Romantic European fascination with the natural and simplistic facets of Native culture. According to Herder, nature has favored Natives by providing them with “no idle fast of pleasing poisons, [nature] has presented to them from the hard hand of labour, the cup of health, and in internal invigorating warmth”. The warmth Herder discusses related to his belief that happiness is a unique internal, yet universal capacity that can only come to fruition through the cooperation of body and mind in conjunction with the environment and natural resources integral to human sustenance. Emphasis on one’s active engaging with nature combats the era’s emerging Enlightenment ideals of cold calculated reason and isolated contemplation. Herder felt that by tying the body and the mind together like a knot, Natives exercise both at the same time through interactions with nature thereby fostering intrinsic health and happiness. Another Romantic resistance to European intellect entails “[t]he savage…[who] glows with limited activity for his tribe, as for his own life…[is] a more real being, than that cultivated show, who is enrapture with the love of the shades of his whole species”. Herder believes Europeans divide their thoughts among too many areas in an attempt to attain the highest spectrum of overall knowledge. In response to this, Herder advocates the Native tendency to limit their attention to their tribe and their personal/familial...

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