Culture, it’s said, is like an ocean. And we are the fish swimming there. For the most part, we’re not really aware of the water around us. It’s just there … always there. It’s where we swim and live.
That comparison is helpful, I think, because it reminds us that our culture—that vast vortex of ideas and images and values and habits and preferences and beliefs—swirls constantly around us, whether we’re aware of it or not. And it’s constantly transmitting a steady stream of information.
Even if we’re trying to pay attention and think critically about the metaphorical water we’re swimming it—which is one of the things we’re trying to do here at Plugged In—it can be challenging to recognize where and how our culture’s values seep in and begin to influence the way I see the world.
When it comes to my children, however, culture’s influence is much more apparent. Because my kiddos are so young—Henry’s nearly 4 and my daughter, Annabeth, isn’t quite 2—it’s pretty easy to spot when something new turns up.
Like, say, a song about lollipops.
A couple days ago, my wife came back from a baby shower with a bunch of baby-themed lollipops. Henry, of course, wanted one. And we eventually relented to his pleas.
After plopping the sugary confection in his little mouth, Henry did something that caught me utterly off guard: He started singing the song “Lollipop”: “Lollipop, lollipop/Oh lolli lolli lolli/Lollipop!” As the lyrics tumbled out of his sucker-filled mouth, he danced delightedly through the kitchen, as happy, it seemed, to be singing this silly song as he was about the candy itself.
Here’s the thing: I have no idea where he heard this song. Usually when some new cultural influence pops up, I can identify its origin. But I was stumped on this one. All I know is that my child, who’s not yet 4, knows the lyrics to a song first made famous by the Cordettes waaaaayyyyy back in 1958—48 years before Henry was born.
To me it was a breathtaking illustration of how cultural influence works. This song has been floating around in the cultural current for 52 years now. And now that particular current has swept by my son—somehow, without me knowing it—as he happily swims about in his little world.
Thankfully, this example of culture’s influence on my family isn’t one that I need to spend too much time brooding about. But it is a sobering reminder that the oceanic currents of culture really are swirling all around us, whether we’re aware of them or not. And my little “fishies”—as well as me, a bigger, older, and balder “fishie”—swim in that water every day.