For a lot of last year I was producing a weekly radio show all about the Arts Scene in Northern Ireland. It was a mixed bag, regularly featuring interviews, reviews, and exhibition notices. As part of it I spoke to poets, authors, painters, and singer/songwriters, not to mention a range of people involved at various levels in the organizing of Belfast’s many cultural events and festivals.
One group of people I didn’t initially seek out were the city’s many talented comic writers and graphic illustrators, however. A good friend kept insisting I do a feature on comics, but I dismissed the idea. Comic books are for kids, I kept thinking, they’re not particularly cultural. Needless to say, my friend challenged this thinking, and he was right to, because I was wrong. Let me break down why, for a second:
- Comics are not just for children (Watchmen, anyone?)
- Even if they were, that wouldn’t make them inherently less valuable to society
- Who even gets to decide what culture is? Everyone and no one. My friend’s definition was as valid as mine (except for the fact that mine was wrong).
I think it was 2013 that Belfast Culture Night had a wrestling ring set up in the middle of town, doing a celebrity match. At the time I raised an eyebrow at the idea. Sport isn’t culture, I thought. And again I was wrong. Sport is a massive field* that encompasses so much. What about ballet? Is it a sport, or an art form? Well, it’s both. There aren’t clear lines, and why do there need to be?
Why is it that visual art – drawings, paintings, and sketches – are culture, and the written word is culture, but if you put them together in a printed book suddenly half the population look down upon it? From a purely logical point of view, it’s nonsense. If anything, having the two mediums of art working together should make the combined work more culturally significant.
I guess culture is what you make it, and I endeavor to make my cultural experience a bit less arrogant in the future.