Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Ministry of Culture in the US?

Sevenwinds wrote a post this morning that got me thinking.

The Thai government is launching a PR campaign to discourage young people from wearing revealing clothing, disrespecting elders and displaying morally corrupt attitudes. Sevenwinds quips, "Can you image the stink that would cause in the US? --government control of clothing!!!!"

He raises a good point. I don't think it would be tolerated here. The squalling and complaining would probably be heard on Jupiter. At the same time, I do believe people want to see some sort of consensus on acceptable behavior among young people. Personally, I've often joked that I would like to see a Ministry of Culture in this country, with Lee Kwan Yew at the helm. I will be thinking about this Thai initiative a lot today and it seemed to be a good idea to put it out on the table here for discussion, especially since a good number of parents read here. Not being a parent, my opinion doesn't hold as much weight in the short term. As a member of the community however, the long term outcome matters. I am equally, if not more, invested in the outcome in Thailand, given that I plan to spend the rest of my life there.

Do you believe that controlling some of that behavior in the schools here would be effective? Plenty of schools have adopted a dress code ~ and they are trying to control media that comes into the schools. Does it need to go further?

Do you believe the US should have a similar Ministry of Culture?




Anonymous said...

What exactly do you call "culture" ???

Thailand Gal said...

Hi Mayou :)

In the strictest context, I guess it would be in its broadest sense cultivated behavior; the totality of a person's learned, accumulated experience which is socially transmitted ... behavior through social learning.

In a more general sense, it would just be "way of life".

Thanks for the question :)



Pam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

You don't have a ministry of culture in the USA ? here it cares for arts, music, architecture, language, museums, media, etc, but of course not for how to behave or be modest in the dress code....
I think that instead of "culture" you should say "behavior" or "moral customs", and I would find it very dangerous, as much as the fundamentalists in some countries..
Anyway, everything is relative : in some countries of Africa women have nude breasts but would not show their legs at all. Think of the paintings of the XVIII century, when women were low-necked ( until the son, as we say, because when you do on yourself the sign of the cross, in the name of the father is on the forehead, and the son on your navel..)So depends on the era and the area.

jen said...

I am going a bit wide on the topic point here but it made me think this:

Sure, if the US did this there would be all sorts of outcries. Because the US has been VERY, VERY smart at coverting controlling our behavior and consumption through making it SEEM like we have all kinds of choices. 132 bottles of shampoo. 271 kinds of beer. We have choice!

They (don't you hate it when people say they, as if they is holed up in a room somewhere chainsmoking and making maniacal decisions) allow the essence of choice, certainly more than the overt ways its controlled in some countries...but i find that far more insulting and insidious than just coming right out and doing it. The more they dumb us down, the more we'll roll over. We keep doing that all the time.

Smart ones, those They folks.

Anvilcloud said...

I'm sure that most schools have dress codes and behaviour codes. Whether they're all acceptable or well enforced is another matter.

Anonymous said...

I think it would be very difficult because we have a lot of regional differences and cultural differences within the US that we may want to flourish rather than squelch.

Additionally, over the past several decades, our culture has become more and more liberal. Some of the changes have been beneficial and some, not so much. Who gets to winnow the "good" from the "bad" in defining our culture?

Even if it comes down to parents teaching and enforcing values with their minor children, there certainly does not exist a consensus among the most conscientious parents.

meno said...

What? You are tired of seeing "dorsal cleavage"?

Me too.

Em's school has dress guidelines, which are routinely ignored. I so wish the school would enforce them. I am sick of seeing 12 year old girls dressed like harlots. But we are fighting TV and the consumer culture. I don't think it would work.

My Heart Runneth Over said...

I believe kids should wear uniforms. I don't think it stifels creativity but broadens it because kids will have to think out of there style of dress to express themselves.

There is such a lck of basic maorality around the world and especially with today's youth.

Maybe I'm wrong...but than if I am there is a lot of explaining to do. Parents & society make it to easy for kids to do and get away with everything...

It's sad.


Sevenwinds said...

The problem with the US is that there is no real agreed upon definition or 'image' of American culture. Through immigration, litigation, social activism, and evolution, everyone has a different view, depending on their background. So if everyone views things differently, it would be very difficult to develop common customs we can call our very own. I don't think we know where we are going, nor do we really care - too much individualism and not enough nationalism here.

In Thailand, its culture and history has been fairly stable and lengthy compared to our meager 200 years. That provided the opportunity for institutional behavior and structures to be built into the country to support the country's culture.

Pam said...

I believe in freedom of expression but also think there is a time and place for everything. Cleavage, belly buttons and exposed underwear do not belong in school.

Good manners and respect belong everywhere.

Melissa said...

Jen, who is "they" and how are "they" controlling you? That doesn't make any sense.

My choices are my choices, and nobody is making me do anything. I certainly am not a puppet on a string.

One choice we make in America is: Do we take responsibility for our actions, or do we choose to blame our actions on others? I prefer to take responsibility.

As for school uniforms, that would be great. I have long been an advocate as it provides a level playing field regardless of economic background and can encourage discipline.

As for a Ministry of Culture, I don't believe we need on as we have plenty of large national bodies whose mission is to promote the arts.

As for a Ministry of Morality? Ummm, maybe not.

Thailand Gal said...

This is awesome! I love to see people talking with each other here, too. I hope it will continue. The answers will be very interesting. :)



Thailand Gal said...

Melissa :)

One of the things I find most fascinating about this culture is the absolute dependence on dualistic thinking.

You say: One choice we make in America is: Do we take responsibility for our actions, or do we choose to blame our actions on others? I prefer to take responsibility.

First off, it is obvious to me that you are definitely one of the sharper tools in the shed. All of your comments here reveal a huge intellect. It is the same with Sevenwinds and Jen. You're all very smart people, much smarter than me.

Still, I would have to disagree with your statement to a degree. It assumes that we are not influenced by our environment, that we make all decisions based on independent research and conscious thought.

Most people do not have the time, the inclination or the intelligence to do that kind of analysis of everything they allow to filter into their brain. If that was the case, acculturation would fail.

In that respect, Jen's "they" are those who make a deliberate and conscious effort to exploit that. "They" use cultural influence to promote their own self-interest. "They" are those who exploit the public consciousness to convince us that our choices are substantial or meaningful. After all, we get to choose between red shoes and blue shoes ~ but does that really improve our quality of life or our meaning?

A large degree of what I am doing in my own personal project, my adoption of Thai culture, is "relearning". Quite literally, I am retraining my brain to another way of thought, another way of life.

I'd daresay though that most people don't have the luxury of engaging their own personal re-education program. I'm lucky because my educational background and personal inclination lead me to examine cultures and their meanings, their fundamental underpinnings. Most people though are too busy trying to survive daily life, feed their kids and keep themselves employed.

So, responsibility.. absolutely.. .but within the context of real life. "They" are quite real.

Just my humble opinion :)

Thanks so much for your presence here. You make me *think*!



Thailand Gal said...

Mayou, social mores, morality are an integral part of culture. It is just a compartment. :)

Everything at the root speaks to a moral or ethical principle. One way or another. We can't avoid it by compartmentalizing it but recognizing it at least gives us an upper hand.


Jen, the dumbing down is to benefit only one segment of the population ~ and it ain't us!


Anvil, to the best of my knowledge, they do the best they can to enforce it ~ but with the student/teacher ratio, it's pretty overwhelming.


De, as to "winnow", my preference would be a roundtable of the wisest people any culture has to offer, whether American, Thai or otherwise. People of various persuasions; political, religious, ethicists and so on. Those people would have to decide what would be most beneficial in terms of culture and our place in the world.

Just an off-the-top thought. I will think more about this. It's important.


Meno, I'm tired of it, too. I'm tired of the sexualization of children before their time. It sends a destructive message both to the young girls and the society at large.


M, I hear you. There's very little emphasis on larger issues of morality and ethics. Kids aren't taught to think critically because critically thinking adults don't maximize the efficiency of workplaces.


Sevenwinds, I understand what you're saying.. but would also mention that Thailand didn't become "Thailand" until 1939. It became a constitutional monarchy after that. The US has been around longer but still has not established a real culture. (Well, I take that back. It is a marketcentric culture, one with which I disagree but I can't say it's not a culture.) I do understand that Thai culture, Siamese culture, whatever you want to call it, has been around for generations and generations and, yes, they have more foundational history to call on.

I'd like to hear more from you about nationalism in Thailand and how it would benefit Thai people to become any more nationalistic than they already are.

I believe nationalism harms Thailand. :)


Pam, exactly. There is a time and a place for everything. Dressing that way between a husband and wife for sexual playtime is one thing. Having it splashed all over the TV, movies, books and school hallways is yet another.


Peace all :)


KateMV said...

I would like to know what sorts of choices people think they don't have in America? Ok, you've pointed out that you can choose red shoes or blue shoes. But I think you have far more choices than that. What do you think you're missing out on?

Living in a country (Thailand) that does not have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, or many of the other freedoms Americans take for granted changes your entire perception of what it means to be American. Sure, America has consumerism, but it has lots of other very good things too. Thailand also has consumerism. Few places in the world don't these days. Americans just have more money to spend, so it's more noticeable.

Someone pointed out that parents need to teach their kids values. The same is true in Thailand, and I think that's why the government is making noise about it. Many Thai parents these days are not taking care of their children at all, much less teaching values. (Yes, extended family might be caring for the kids, but they aren't teaching values either.) Many Thai kids are growing up in a big morality void, and the higher-ups try to fill the void with uniforms and ceremony.