Sunday, March 1, 2015

Cultural Touchstones

Our world is becoming more homogenized everyday.  The "universality" of an ever-shrinking planet is replacing the authenticity of language, accent, tradition, and uniqueness.  What was once known as "local color" is quickly disappearing.

The immediacy of and universality of communication and travel are accelerating the homogenization.  One can commit a thought to words and, at least in theory, instantaneously communicate with every other human on the planet.  Having so communicated, a follow-up visit to the recipients in any of the far-flung corners of the Earth would require only a few hours' journey.  Time, space and separation are losing their influence.  Is the result healthy?

Every year about this time, a local cultural phenomenon takes place which, in its infancy, was a landmark event:  The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.  The pioneers who tamed the vastness and diversity of this iconic state gathered to compete, to compare and to party together in an annual event steeped in the richness of a unique time and place.  An annual trail ride marked the opening of the event with participants on horseback and in horse-drawn covered wagons traveling hundreds of miles from all over Texas to converge in the city of Houston.  Such an iconic, uniquely Texan event needed an equally iconic home.  So the Astrodome, one of the marvels of the modern world, was soon pressed into service.  The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo achieved national recognition and acclaim, recognizable on par with events such as The Calgary Stampede.  Even today, it is a huge event, drawing thousands to its multi-week, rodeo-themed pageantry and top-rung star-studded entertainment, contributing millions to the economy of the City of Houston.

Yet when I, as a dutiful transplant to the State of Texas, announce the Rodeo and invite friends and acquaintance in social media with a friendly "y'all come!", my invitation is met with derision and condescension.  "I would never consider attending an event which is a patent endorsement of cruelty to animals", "that has no place in a modern world", "it's so cheesy", etc.  On some level, I suppose I understand the protestations.  How could I not?  I'm as susceptible to the authenticity-eroding forces of the modern world as the next person.  But then I smell the woodshavings and sawdust, taste the barbecue, catch the telltale sounds of the old West (yes, ANIMAL sounds) and feel the excitement from the nosebleed section seats as my family and I prepare to see and hear "the real Vince Gill" take the stage and cast a spell that only the dulcet sweetness of his voice can cast on a crowd of thousands of eager fans and I'm hooked.

It was worth the traffic, parking, bus ride and crowds.  It was worth the cost which grows exponentially every year.  It was worth the derision of far-flung friends who've never experienced the blisters caused from new boots only to be worn once this year.  It was worth the feeling that somehow, by participating in something so cheesy, one has somehow slunk away from the homogenization that so dominates the zeitgeist, something so against the prevailing tides of the time.

Authenticity is worth it.  The Rodeo is a cultural touchstone, like a Turkish Bath, the Japanese Taiko, the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, and so many local, much lesser known but no less significant culturalities, like a county fair.  We who experience these things only in virtuality have the mistaken impression that we have "experienced" them.

We haven't.  But our self-assurance that we have is eroding our appreciation for the real thing.

What a loss.

Follow the link for a quick look:  Trail Riders Arrive in Houston

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