A shared cultural language

Having a shared common cultural language – whether it be about food, music, movies, books, TV shows that one grew up with, etc. – is so essential to feeling like one 'belongs.'

A month or so ago, I participated in the 'Ultimate Star Wars Concert' by Siam Sinfonietta.

Apart from the fact that the SiSi is a wonderful youth orchestra and my favorite orchestra yet in Thailand, I thoroughly enjoyed this experience because...well, admit it, I'm a Star Wars fan.

Siam Sinfonietta plays Star Wars from Somtow Sucharitkul on Vimeo.

The original trilogy is so tied up with my childhood that hearing the opening fanfare and the famous Star Wars theme automatically sends a thrill up my spine and puts a grin on my face.

And I love it the more because it's a shared cultural language with others who grew up with the movie series.

We often think about the specific spoken languages that our children are learning – English, Thai, French, Chinese, whatever – but we need to remember that a shared cultural language is just as important for someone to feel that they belong.

My parents believed that TV was a waste of time and scoffed at Japanese pop culture, so even when we lived in Japan, I only knew Doraemon, an occasional half-an-hour anime (Captain Tsubasa, most likely!), and the snatches that I got of comic books, pop songs, TV dramas and video games at my friends' houses.

While I well understand and sympathize with where my mom was coming from, I sometimes wonder if this made me feel even less at home with Japan and my Japanese peers than I may have otherwise.

Yes, you can say that pop culture is frivolous and doesn't stimulate intellectual growth, but it's also undeniable that a bit of it helps establish common ground with others.

So, what am I doing with my own kids?

I confess: Not much.

Frankly, I'm still ambivalent about how much pop culture I want to expose my kids to, and I'm not even sure if it's 'fair' for me to try to encourage them to associate with particular nationalities when it's clear they're never going to actually be purely one nationality or another.

So for now, the kids get exposed to a random collection of videos on YouTube that are available in German, Disney cartoons dubbed in Thai on cable, and a handful of classic Japanese animations (think Totoro).

I guess if they want to 'catch up' when they are older (like I had to with American pop culture from the 60s and 70s when I was a teenager in the US in the late 80s), they will have to do so on their own :p

(But final note to self: Don't get in their way with criticisms about how silly pop culture is, if that's what they want to do to feel more at home with one of their identities...)


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