Questioning the Prescriptive Vs. Descriptive Nature of our Culture

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”

~Albert Einstein

This “Real” Harlem Shake video was posted on Facebook today.

It’s always interesting to me to see people on their soap boxes, mostly because I am an eternal Devil’s Advocate. I love to disagree. I think I’ve been like that since I was very small. My poor mother hates it when I pull out the “Nuh-uh!”

Here’s my argument: just because it is different, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Aks (yes that is there on purpose) any Buddhist what they think about change, and they will probably tell you that nothing is permanent and everything is in a constant state of flux.

It actually seems a bit unnatural to even attempt to stifle change. Enter our terms: prescriptive and descriptive

The first thing I loved about my linguistics class in college was learning that most linguists are descriptive linguistics, because forcing things to stay the same is not nearly as much fun as learning and observing them as they change!

I could almost write a book about my thoughts on this single video, and I’m trying to restrain myself and get to my main point.

So, may I be so bold as to propose these questions: Isn’t the Harlem Shake (either one) less about the prescriptive, formal system and more about a descriptive, cultural idea? Change is normal, right and wrong aren’t applicable, and this phenomenon is just another part of a larger dialogue. Everything has worth. (And I am including that video, because  I mean it, everything.)

The facebook post I saw also made mention of an issue of getting educated. It cited another example of a ballet step being “renamed” in the competition dance world. As far as the “getting educated” thing goes, I, personally, feel like education is less about facts and history and more about open mindedness and continuing rational conversations. The cultural appropriation and history of the Harlem Shake is an important aspect of this conversation, but, stop with Harris-Perry’s argument (and all of its fallacies) and you aren’t exploring the idea fully. It is educational, but it’s not education.

We must question everything, but rule nothing out.

On that note, check out these other interesting and completely valid takes on the topic. Like this one, or this one.

(A simple Google search will provide many more opinions.)

Also, enjoy this guy, that I first saw on George Takei’s facebook page, though talking about that sort of thing (not really copyright, but similar) is a WHOLE other topic.

‘That is not said right,’ said the Caterpillar.

‘Not quite right, I’m afraid,’ said Alice, timidly; ‘some of the words have got altered.’

‘It is wrong from beginning to end,’ said the Caterpillar decidedly, and there was silence for some minutes.


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