The Algonquin Hotel

The month of March is now in our rear view, and although my work schedule was as busy as ever, I made sure to find time for celebrating my birthday month just the way I like it — with a little arts, a little culture, and a dash of owning my fabulousnessness. 🙂

Just kidding. … Or am I?

For a few days throughout the month, I found myself taking in a new Broadway play, visiting the Eldridge Street Synagogue for a tour, enjoying a marathon journaling session in a new-to-me coffeeshop in Greenwich Village, and delighting in a little pre-show cocktails and appetizers at the famed Algonquin Hotel’s Blue Bar. But in the course of enjoying my celebration, I found myself wondering about this only-recently-considered idea: Can a person become more cultured?

Of course, before we can determine the answer to this question, we first have to decide what does it mean to be “cultured?” I’ve addressed this idea before, and I know where I landed may not be the universally accepted meaning of the concept. But for the most part, I think many of us can agree that certain activities and pursuits are considered more “cultured” than others. For example, most of us would think attending the opera is something cultured people do. While at the same time, many would think attending a monster truck show is not something cultured people do.

Now, as an arts and culture blogger, I obviously see myself as a person who enjoys delving into the world of cultural expression and ideas. From film festivals to poetry nights to theater productions to museum exhibits, I write about some of these cultural events and artsy fare that often fill my calendar right here on my blog. For me, to attend a screening of the French documentary Les Français, c’est les autres at Maison Française on the Columbia University campus is my idea of a fun Thursday evening. Well, maybe not fun, but certainly fascinating.

But was I always this way? Was I born a culture nerd? Or did I realize that some activities were considered more “cultured” than others, then chose to deliberately expose myself to them more until I learned to like them?

The truth is I don’t know the answer to those questions. Sure, I’m aware that some people act impressed when I tell them about “discovering” Philippe Quint when I decided to venture out to my first Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra concert in years, then immediately bought one of his CDs afterwards and followed him on social media. (He really does make the violin sing in a way I haven’t heard in years.) Conversely, I’m also aware of the mockery and incredulous sneering that follows when I mention my excitement about the upcoming matches at Wrestlemania 35. (I find Finn Bálor and Ricochet equally as mesmerizing as Quint.)

Yet, with the former, I am labelled as an enthusiast of arts and culture. With the latter, I am not.

Now, for me, appreciating these two forms of cultural expression are not contradictory, but are merely a sign that I’m not someone who believes in limiting myself to what others consider “acceptable” or “respectable.” But what about those who say, “I would like to become more cultured. How do I go about doing that?”

Rose window at Eldridge StreetWell, a few other bloggers and websites have tried their hand at this topic, and I have to wonder if anyone found their advice helpful. As well meaning as they may seem, the assumption they make is that it is indeed possible to become more cultured. The reader is given the impression that we each can be our own Henry Higgins, and with a little time and effort, learn to pass ourselves off as a member of high society. Of course, like Eliza Doolittle, we still run the risk of exposing our working class roots at any moment. Which begs another question: Do we ever actually become cultured? Or do we just get better at disguising our rougher edges?

I suppose the true answer falls under the philosophy of Glinda the Good Witch. If you “believe” you can become more cultured, then you can. However, if you believe that, in the end, the “cultured you” will only be a poseur in more expensive clothes, pronouncing foreign words with the precise inflection, and commenting on topics where you once had little knowledge as if you’re now an expert, then you may always feel like the “real you” is just around the corner, waiting to be exposed.

I believe that if you are pursuing an idea, activity or event because it has genuinely piqued your interest, then at the end of the day, what does it matter if others consider you “cultured?” Like our tastes in food and music, our interests in arts and culture changes throughout our lives. For example, I’ve always loved museums, but over time, that interest has grown to include not only art museums, but also history museums, car museums, fashion museums, etc.

And yes, when I was a kid, I didn’t much care for professional wrestling. It wasn’t until the WWE’s Attitude Era came along that I ever truly gave it a chance. Now, I’m proud to say I’ve met Mick Foley 3 times, and I’ve once had my photo taken with him, which I cherish a great deal. (And yes, I will be sporting my new Finn Bálor T-shirt all-day leading up to and during Wrestlemania 35.)

But I digress.

Being cultured is not something you will successfully develop if you’re only seeking out cultured events and activities for the sake of passing yourself off as “the right kind of person.” In the back of your mind, you will always feel disingenuous and unfulfilled. But if you find yourself wanting to check out a Pedro AlmodĂłvar retrospective at a local cinema because you would like to learn more about his work after seeing Volver, then by all means, pursue it. It is that genuine interest that will make you feel more cultured and engaged than any advice a blogger or journalist can recommend.

You don’t have to give up your love of monster trucks, snow globe collecting, and Married with Children reruns to develop that idealized concept of cultured. As a matter of fact, I would say it is only when we are as passionate about those concepts we considered cultured as we are about everything else that brings us joy that anyone can claim to truly be cultured.