Culture For Sale

So you leave Europe, leave behind your family, your home town, your country, to come to America and make your fortune in the "New World". Two or three generations later, you have some land, some money, maybe a lot of money, but, no culture. You can't take it with you. Culture is something a group of people creates cooperatively, unconsciously perhaps. When the group scatters, the culture scatters with it.

So you have cash, but no culture. What do you do? Buy a culture! Rockefeller bought several castles from Europe and had them shipped to the US (now the Cloisters in Manhattan). Mrs. Havemeyer bought up collections of art from Europe, though many have turned out to be fakes. Now you can own a piece of someone elses culture too! Just look into any of the growing number of "Ethno Tsotske" shops in trendy urban areas, to find a fine selection of some exotic culture's cooking utensils, trinkets, jewelry, icons and religous artifacts. These objects all have (had) a purpose and significance within their original context. A spoon is a spoon in Ghana. In Soho, NYC, it is a wall ornament worth forty dollars. Most of these "religous" objects are in fact made to be sold. Some Native Americans live off the sales of "fetishes", originally created for spiritual value, now made to be sold. By being traded for cash, these things have lost value for both cultures.

The American gets the "look and feel" of the African. The African gets some cash, and takes a step towards the consumer culture himself.

It is a kinder gentler form of looting and pillaging. We have evolved and become more efficient, no longer requiring an army to attack and destroy a culture to steal their artifacts. Today, we just buy them.