Cultural Capital is more important to your writing than you think

Cultural Capital is defined by McLaren as being, “the general cultural background, knowledge, disposition, and skills that are passed on from one generation to another.”

It’s why when I was sitting in a room of 150 students and the professor was showing an old Bing Crosby/Bob Hope Christmas show, I was the one who was laughing so hard I was actually crying. For the entire show. I understood the Judge Crater jokes. I knew why the joke about the Swedish vet of the Tiger on one side and the Leopard on the other was funny. Those were news stories of my childhood and the generation before me. The kids in the room [everyone under 35] just sat there and wondered what I thought was so funny.

That is a prime example of Cultural Capital.

I also don’t watch American TV. I may live in America but I usually watch Australian, Canadian or British TV. I devote myself to British. Is this the end of New Tricks with the cast changes? Most of you who aren’t British, have no clue what I am talking about.

Most reading for pleasure will not bother to look it up even if the Internet is right at hand. The work has to deal with their cultural capital. When you insert names you run into problems. e.g. “She was just like Paris Hilton” You run into problems with your writing because you aren’t showing me anything. You are telling me something and I may or may not know who Paris Hilton is. That immediately dates your book and in a few year time, it will be meaningless as this generation dies off.

The statement about Paris is like a 1930s author writing “She was just like Irene Purcell.” I bet half of just clicked on Google.com. We will rule out the old film buffs of the 30s. Even if you look her up, you aren’t going to know why the author said she was just like Irene Purcell. You don’t have the Cultural Capital to know what the people in the 1930s knew about her. As a person in 2013, you are missing a big part of the puzzle and you can’t hope to regain that cultural capital because you can’t live in that era. You will never fully understand the meaning behind it.

We can get a conception of the idea but we will never fully understand it.

If you plan for your work to be read once and then thrown out or deleted, go for it. If you want it to stick around, maybe you should rethink that.

Cultural capital also carries over to other countries in the same era. Trust me there are places where the majority will go “Paris who?” I don’t want to write in a way that limits my audience. Do you?

And the final fact is you are telling not showing me who this person is by saying “She’s like Paris Hilton” Show me because if you tell me she’s like Paris, all I know is she is like an example I used in writing.

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