Cats & Dogs: Two stories about kids and culture

As I walked my dog on a blistery January morning, I noticed that every block or two, bundled up children were being dutifully escorted to their street corner. Waiting for the bus to take them to elementary school.

It would be impossible to know the exact political orientation of the parents and grandparents who had risen early and braved the cold that morning.  But given that particular Pennsylvania town’s voting history, one might surmise that it was divided politically. 

Yet here they were, united through the love of their children and belief in public education.

There is nothing extraordinary about putting your child on the school bus, except as a subtle expression of our culture, which Seth Godin often refers to as “People like us, do things like this.”

Two weeks later, I sat in a New York City movie theatre with thirteen girls between the ages of eight and twelve. It was my oldest daughter’s birthday party. As a musical theatre buff, she was desperate to see the movie adaptation of Cats – so much so that it required trekking into the city as low box office numbers ended its run closer to us. Despite its poor reviews and to my great surprise, this NYC theatre was packed – largely with high school students. My presumption was that they too were theatre buffs. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Within minutes, through their jeers, laughs and loud jokes, it became apparent that they had decided as a group to come see Cats for the express purpose of making fun of it.

Our group, despite the films shortcomings, were enthralled by the blend of classical and modern dance and moved by the music.  And while many of them shed more than one tear during Jennifer Hudson’s gut wrenching version of Memory, the high school students, as well as other adults, chose to laugh and yell at the screen instead.

After the credits rolled, my daughter and her friends could not fathom why people would pay money to come and make fun of people whose only crime was to use their talent for the purposes of trying to entertain them.

Regardless of the merits of the film, they asked, “Didn’t they have anything better to do with their time and money?”

Initially, I shared their frustration, trying to chalk up the high schoolers behavior to a lack of maturity and kids just being kids. But then, I thought, “People like us, do things like this.”

We reside in a time where our culture encourages and rewards those who spend their time and money, criticizing, scoffing, trolling, or lambasting others.   

In private conversations and public discourse, it is not just accepted but expected that people trying to do something good, will be met with people decrying those efforts. And like moths, even spectators flying about, are drawn into this same crackling flame.

People like us, do things like this.

We love our children and believe in education. But we also rage against the machine more often than we try to fix it

As these two examples show, culture can be a powerful force. How that force manifests itself is up to us.

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