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"The Deal with Airline Food" by Thomas Okelberry

   How does one find meaning in the complexity of existence, how are identities formed? To fit in, to survive, a response to trauma, perhaps even to stand out, or was one born to be unchanged? One thing is for certain, these qualities do not exist in a vacuum nor are they static. Socialization is the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society. Forces of socialization influence us in ways we can never fully be aware of, mixing and influencing one another resulting in the dynamic convulsion of identity. The sociologist Max Weber once said, “man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun”. One can interpret this web as culture, human beings the spider lost in our labyrinth of meaning. Constantly redefining status quo, the overlaid intricacies of our cultural web overwhelmingly define concepts of normalcy and taboo within human qualities such as identity.

   A fundamental concept to understanding this web in which identity is spun, is culture. This term is essentialist and general, open to interpretation and has been defined by multiple approaches to anthropology. One of the essential angles to approaching the ethereal thing is perception. Bronislaw Malinknowski’s definition of culture includes the concept of “cultural glasses”  that provides a lens in which to see the world. Not an attempt at understanding opinions but grasping the realized world of another culture. Culture relates to something one must embody to fully grasp. In a hypothetical fieldwork story, an anthropologist eats a cricket and throws up. The reaction is not a biological rejection of a toxin but of an embodied cultural value the researcher can begin to grasp with time but never quite fully understand whilst retaining the role of an observer. 

    The dimensions of culture could take up a book; however, the emphasis of perception and embodiment are key ideas to help one grasp the elusive concept. Anthropology uses the term frequently despite such limits as not being ground in time or place, its arbitrary nature, and being so difficult to define. But simply no other term can serve as such a broad canopy of understanding what it means to live in a group. Complex terms are relevant to anthropology as humans are complex. The concept of culture relates to understanding how humans think and as a result culture as a concept is biased, complex and contradictory just like the human mind. A clear-cut definition of culture would be detrimental to anthropology. The subjectiveness of the term allows flexibility essential to countless lenses of perception in which to understand the mystery that is humanity. Anthropology’s theoretical strength is not in objective definition like other sciences, but in its confusing and malleable terminology.

    A novel cultural web spins, its ubiquitousness lending to a new unseen hand of influence that is the internet. Its effects will continue to shape us and be studied but the question I posit is, how can the internet act as a digital medium in the formation of identity? Particularly alternative identities that open the status quo, forcing it to become a little more welcoming.

   The internet allows for virtual community, one you can pick. This opens the door for those who do not feel they fit the mold of their culture, they can always find like minded people on the internet who validate a refinement of their own norms, values, and ultimately identities, much easier compared to moving to a new place or culture like one would in the past. In this way digital communities provide a counterbalanced socialization to the socialization dependent on one’s geography.

     In the past the only way to see a new way of life, a new aspect of identity, was through travel, stories, or books. Now the ignorance of the vast differences in cultural identity is largely diminished as you can now view the world quite literally in the palm of your hand. Awareness of such multitudes of identity and virtual community mediate a “cafeteria style” approach to identity choosing particular parts of a cultural identity to mesh into their own. This ultimately characterizes the socialization of identity to allow for a more subjective and individualistic approach, as what is defined as normal becomes challenged or ignored entirely. This too creates a feedback loop, causing others to fully entrench themselves in their meaning as the authority of the status quo begins to shift.

    In conclusion, the web we spin influences us, yet we are a part of its construction. You make culture as much as it makes you. So, when the existential awareness of who am I? pops in your head, consider, who do I want to be?

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authored by the BS b*tches

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