A question of culture: in High School Musical

“The music in that show isn’t hip hop … or rock…or anything essential to culture.”

So says one basketball player to another in the otherwise yawn-inducing  High School Musical. At that piece of dialogue, my brain was finally roused from the torpor into which it had slumped, driven there by the film, and emerged into the light of reason with the promise of something actually interesting to contemplate. (Such moments in the film are rare indeed: then again, I may not be its target audience).

What culture does he mean ? Contemporary youth culture ? Urban culture ? His own culture ? Or, more likely, anything connected with the Culture of Cool ?

Even more interesting is the idea of what is ‘essential’ to culture: what’s ‘cultural necessity’ ? Is it something that allows culture to thrive, to develop, to progress, to evolve ? Or something that allows culture to protect, to venerate, and to preserve ? Or is it something that allows culture to communicate, to be handed down from one generation to another, or across national divides ?

It’s probably a mixture of all of the above: as teenagers (perhaps even most of us as adults) do, they define culture perhaps in terms of their own interests, of peer pressure and their own growing and developing experience and tastes and what’s seen as cool, or hip.

Culture is what we define it as: what we read, watch, write, paint, listen to, indeed create. It’s also how we view our own society, our fellow citizens; it’s how we define our beliefs and creeds, what is important to us socially, morally, educationally and intellectually. It’s the ways in which society entertains itself, deals with its dead, dresses itself and raises its children.

It’s the mirror in which we view ourselves, define our values and judge our own actions. I wonder what the music in that show Chad was talking about actually was

(Oh wait: this all took place in High School Musical: no, I don’t).

Posted by Dan Harding, Deputy Director of Music at the University of Kent. Click here to read his music blog, ‘Music Matters.’

Author: Daniel Harding

Head of Music Performance, University of Kent: pianist, accompanist and conductor: jazz enthusiast.

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