Culture is the environment and practice of striving for excellence, refinement and formalization of social or group expression, education, art, and symbolic expression and behavior. Values are the group or social expression of that which is right and wrong, good and bad, acceptable or unacceptable, encouraged or discouraged. Values and cultural standards do not have the force of laws and government sanctions for not adhereing to commonly accepted values, but are generally reinforced by ostracism or social disapproval.
In a diverse society, such as most developed urban and suburban societies, there are wildly varying standards as to what constitutes both culture, and the values that are commonly agreed upon. In poor neighborhoods, culture can be that which is passed down from generation to generation of individuals from a hundred different national, ethnic, and regional origins. Values can be as common as neighbors freely interacting and helping each other out, or neighbors who avoid each other and cluster in their own ethnic and racial groups.
An example of how culture develops and reaches excellence, while challenging values is in the Hip Hop community. Beginning with African American youth who had no money and nothing else to do, who began to organize dance steps combined with complex musical, rhytyhmic, and acrobatic moves, this dance genre is now a multi million dollar industry, with the top dancers earning good money as backup dancers for the biggest rap, pop, hip hop and other stars. The best dancers train for most of their lives, work hard on a daily basis, and continue to innovate and develop their skills. Formalized after school programs, competitions, and social groups continue this art form as social mechanism.
As a result, even “formally” or “classically” trained dancers who are supposed to represent the cultural pinnacle, find it hard to break into the specialized and complex dance forms of Hip Hop. The same goes for clogging, Celtic dance, and other traditional folk dances that have maintained standards of excellence and specific and complex forms that must be adhered to.
Values, however, favor the negative attitude toward African American youth, and Hip Hop was initially criticised, discouraged and looked down upon with no real understanding of the complexity, hard work, intelligence, and richness of the genre. The related value was bigotry, which is a result of prejudice and ignorance, and which is generally accepted in the mainstream as well as the general society.
Culture, however, is far more powerful than values when it reaches popularty from excellence and is generally accepted into the mainstream. Now, Hip Hop dance is accepted even in segregated White and upper class communities as part of a standard commercial dance school curriculum.
Extreme skateboarding came from the play of children on skateboards. Now, this is a multi million dollar industry, with organized sports competitions and even urban and suburban planning that incorporates facilities for skateboarding.
A more complex example lies in the treatment of returning soldiers from Vietnam, as opposed to the way in which soldiers are treated now. While there are still some civilian values that result in avoidance, judgment and disparagement of the soldiers on the basis of fear that they might have serious mental illness in the form of PTSD, the legendary mistreatment of Vietnam era, and even soldiers from earlier eras, has changed to overall support, gratitude, and far more positive treatment.
The American claim to a culture of social excellence was challenged during and after the Vietnam War by conflicting values about war, drugs, society in general, and social misfits, and manifested in the generally or negligent treatment of it’s veterans by individuals from all aspects of society. Most of the veterans went on to live normal lives, but many dropped out of society and into drug and alcohol abuse. As a result, the clashing values of those who were traditionalists versus those who wanted an improved and modernized social order led to the Vietnam Veterans being caught up in the middle.
Cultural excellence became a national imperitive and was expressed in the form of vastly improved support for and attitudes towards our all volunteer military. The catalyst for this enormous cultural change was the act of terrorism in 2001 that threatened the nation as a whole. But, at the same time, a concerted effort to polarize Americans based on their moral, political, social, racial, and ethical values was even more successful.
As a result, the national unity in terms of cultural excellence in the treatment of volunteer soldiers is now juxtaposed with a great social fracturing, passionate disagreement, and dissonance in national values.
In contrast, the “Jackass” style of stunts and activities has never been considered to be culturally excellent, but more of taking extreme risk and of thrill seeking that indicates mental dysfunction. There is no social value seen, beyond disturbing entertainment. The activity is so harmful and has resulted in so many major injuries and deaths that it is now subjected to ridicule and sanction through programs that point out the “world’s dumbest…”, as well as legal, financial and other sanctions.
In summary, culture exists, reaches excellence, and functions in spite of values which call for rejection of the particular cultural activity. Values are more malleable and can be changed to incorporate new areas and expression of cultural excellence.