Back last winter, nearly a full year ago, I tried to take a more "serious" approach to my critiques and observations of our culture. I loved what I did on Landshark but felt more thoughtful insights would require a newer venue.
Hence was born "Rolling with Culture."
Here's how I came up with the name:
To define the blog, let's look at the second component: culture.
Merriam-Webster defines culture as, "the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations b: the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group ; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time c: the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization d: the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic ."
Head spinning yet? Just think of the magnitude that has with regard to America.
OK, so how about rolling? I'm going to have to take a step back and explain this one outside the dictionary pages.
See, "rolling" in this sense refers to the art of sparring in ground-based martial arts like Jiu-Jitsu and Sambo. I'm a follower of MMA (mixed martial arts) and began studying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu late last year.
To spar with someone, in a combat sport, means to simulate fighting for the purposes of training and practice. Notice this is a "simulated" fight rather than a real one. I don't suggest we actually fight our culture, but to understand its quirks and idiosyncrasies, is it imperative to wrap our hands around it and figure out what it's made of. And, unlike stand-up martial arts like boxing or Muay Thai, when you fight for real, you tend to end up on the ground.
However, one term that does retain relevance from stand-up is "rolling with the punches" from the world of boxing, which refers to the practice of stepping back or to the side as you are being attacked so as not to absorb the full impact.
Additionally, there is all the slang version of the term, "let's roll." Let's tackle this. Let's roll with this culture and figure it out. Or, let's get friendly and "roll with the crew." Let's roll with this culture and have a good time.
It's a multilateral term that fits perfectly.
However, it quickly became clear that certain narrow minds were not going away quietly, and there would be a need to continue to vent in my long-standing forum on this blog. Soon, RwC became a distant memory.
When I log in to Blogger, I see absolutely zero need to have multiple blogs. I think I considered Landshark's eclectic nature to be eratic, which was, of course, silly. So I'm back here and have been for a while. But I can't just throw away what I wrote. So before I delete RwC from the books, here are my two only legitimate posts. Be forewarned, this is a long'n. Enjoy.
American Drive, Part 1 (published 2/18/09)
One of our most primal traits as Americans is the need for success in our lives. Whether it's as simple as reaching for the proverbial brass ring or as intricate and daunting as climbing the corporate ladder, there are dozens of metaphors for the notion of striving to be the best.
And everyone has something they yearn to excel at. Whether it's in a professional or personal sense, we are brought up with the notion of goals, sacrifice and determination. These are some our most essential values.
We are taught the value of hard work, the challenges that come with it and the benefits to be reaped. However, what becomes of us when drive trumps our personal lives? Does it evolve into obsession? Or something more?
Growing up, I was not a massive fan of most professional sports. I did, however, develop a love for combat sports like boxing and even the flashy world of professional wrestling. Learning more about the lifestyle of these competitors (particularly in wrestling), it really struck me the lengths they were willing to go to just for their dream.
A dream begot the life. Life begot the pain.
Recently, I took in a viewing of The Wrestler with Mickey Rourke. I have to say, I don't normally get moved by even the most emotional of films. But in this case, I walked out of the theater feeling absolutely drained. Watching the main character's journey was exhausting. The film did such a great job of blurring lines between positive and negative traits, there was no real way to call Rourke's character a protagonist or an antagonist. One thing that remained constant in his character was the overwhelming drive to perform and excel, even though he was well past his prime and his "passion" infringes on his health and relationships.
Professional wrestling offers a unique metaphor for the practice of pushing one's self to the limit. As a new student of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu myself, and a die hard fan of mixed martial arts, I know what it means to push yourself beyond the limit. I've found myself going to the gym twice daily before hitting the academy to train for what becomes a very grueling 90 minutes after multiple bouts of physical activity.
But this drive not only permeates the realm of combat sports. Conventional athletics are also subject to this level of intensity, along with professional goals. Many of us reach for the "brass ring" even when we're inches from falling off the horse.
Where does it come from? And how does it manifest itself? I'll examine these qualities in my next entry.
American Drive, Part 2 (Published 3/23/09)
In my previous post, I detailed the qualities of intense drive and determination exhibited by Americans in our everyday lives. Whether it comes in the form of climbing corporate ladders, going the extra mile or simply pushing one beyond his or her means, there are many of us who stand accused of going to lengths greater than our reach.
Are these really American values? Is this merely obsession masked under the guise of something called "passion?" I have to wonder.
It definitely seems that the concept of growth and progress is ingrained in our culture. Just look at how our technology has evolved over the last five years alone. We went from a hardwired society of cable modems and PDA's to being completely unplugged, jacked into our iPhones and BlackBerry's nationwide.
We try to instill this very same hyper-evolution within ourselves, and there is no way to mask it. We have been taught from an early age the importance of going beyond our means.
Exhausted on the baseball diamond? Suck it up, no pain, no gain. Tired after a long work week? Gotta tough it out, those extra hours will pay off. We are taught the benefits of having a good work ethic, and told sometimes, you just have to give it a little extra. But how much extra do we have to give? What will be the ultimate expense?
Last year, a documentary was released entitled Bigger, Stronger, Faster*, which covered the topic of steroid use in professional sports from the perspective of a former powerlifter tempted by its physican gains. I highly recommend watching this for anyone with an interest in sports, bodybuilding or American values in general.
In the film, director Chris Bell details his youth growing up as a fan of professional wrestling, bodybuilding and action films. With heroes like Hulk Hogan, Arnold Schwarzennegger and Sylvester Stallone, the bar was set for Bell and his brothers to go all out in hopes of attaining their individual dreams. As they grew and matured, each of them wound up experimenting with steroids, something the aforementioned heroes themselves stand guilty of. Bell examines the history of anabolic steroids in sports from an objective point of view, offering interesting examples of bodily modifications in sports and medicines that offer arguably similar benefits that are still perfectly legal. He also wrestles with his own morals on the topic, standing clearly conflicted on whether he should take them again while his own brothers are both open about their steroid use.
The opening montage of the film does ring particularly strong of patriotic propaganda... Hulk Hogan defeating the Iron Sheik to the tune of "Real American," Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa draped in the American flag, even Ronald Reagan referencing Rambo in a speech on Iran during his presidency.
Some of the cases Bell observes are quite startling, illustrating just how far some are willing to go to achieve and excel. In the case of his own brothers, they are both caught lying about their drug use to their parents; one even goes so far as to state he'll probably go back on steroids after agreeing with his wife to stop.
Sadly, Bell's older brother Mike died late last year at the age of 37. It is difficult to not draw conclusions on his cause of death even though it has not been publicized to the media.
But the Bell brothers serve as an interesting case study as to what these values can do when not properly tempered. Yes, it helps to go the extra mile when called to do so and yes, it can reap benefits. However, going too hard or willingly putting oneself at risk are dangerous biproducts of this mentality. It is something that needs to be observed, acknowledged and challenged.
Our goals should not come at the expense of our livelihoods, nor should they infringe on the lives of those we care about. The moment our passions or wills supercede our well-being is the moment we lose control.
No brass ring is worth that sacrifice, and no value or ideology should view such disregard as noble.