When a Scot sees Tintin in a kilt entering a Scottish pub we are amused. What we observe contradicts what we know because he is not Scottish, he is Tintin, and (in the original) he is speaking French. Cultural norms are being transgressed, but—or rather and—the effect is enticing. The reader based in Brussels or Paris might have a different reaction. The scene shows Tintin embracing the exotic: a less threatening exotic than that of Tintin’s previous trips to the Wild West, the Congo or the Far East, but exotic none the less. In knowledge of this reaction, our Scottish reader could then reflect back on Scotland and on how others see us, as we tease ourselves with the images we project elsewhere, displayed only too well as we opened the Commonweath Games with Tunnocks Teacakes.
In short, the image is universal, but it gives different meanings according to the contexts of different languages and milieux, and of the cultures they carry. This may seem obvious to those who know Roland Barthes Mythologies, or failing that simply to those who have watched English friends in bemusement before an Irn Bru advert. Cultural education is all about making the most of this process.
In this case the process might be enabled by an exhibition, or even, in the long term, a National Comics Academy bringing together historians, sociologists, linguists, but also book sellers and artists. Alternatively, a project on the Italian Mamma can contextualise the generations of Italians who form part of Scottish enterprise and culture, a music performance might enhance our understanding of emotive responses to commercial tunes, or a film screening could bring the culture of others to a new market audience.
In all of these instances cultural education allows us to reach out to others, not just physically, but in terms of communication and seemingly shared common experiences. It is through cultural education that we can understand, accept, enjoy and profit from the fact that these common experiences might not be as entirely shared as we first thought.
Text by Prof Laurence Grove, Professor of French and Text/Image Studies and Cultural Education Theme Lead.
To find out more about Cultural Education visit http://www.gla.ac.uk/colleges/arts/knowledge-exchange/themes/culturaleducation/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org