Culture. High culture. Folk culture. Popular culture. Mass culture. Counter culture.
Let’s leave all these topics aside and just focus on one aspect of our American culture. By which I mean, of course, basketball.
I have lived in three states (not counting, as a very small child, Illinois), and each one had a special connection with the sport of basketball. For example, can you guess how many games UCLA lost during the four years I attended grad school there? The answer is three, less than one game per year, culminating in Coach John Wooden’s sixth through ninth national championships.
Iowa State was more of a wrestling & football school, but while there I also learned about the state’s fabled high school basketball championships. In Iowa, that means girls’ basketball, the most popular, most avidly followed sport in the state, going back through many decades.
And then there’s Indiana. In how many old-fashioned gyms, in how many small towns, would you find banners of long-ago sectional championships? Not so many since school consolidations, probably, but the heroes of those triumphant encounters still gather to tell their enthralling tales.
Traditions of excellence, traditions of joy, traditions of hope – these make up a culture. Culture is a set of shared beliefs, values, behaviors, experiences. David Kyvig and Myron Marty (in Nearby History) again: “Culture is what you need to know to be one of the folk.”
So when we explore culture, as we often do at Indiana Humanities, we tap into the heart and soul of people who live together in a society. Unfortunately, the best part of a culture may have its mirror image in the worst; the inner circle always defines and excludes the outer. And yet – the first two teams enshrined in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame are the 1954 Milan state champions and the 1955 Crispus Attucks state champions, both legends, both exemplars, but for very different reasons. That is why it is necessary to examine culture from all sides, to understand how we got to be who we are.
Now, however, it is time for March Madness. For Hoosiers, for Americans, it is a yearly ritual that we share, a gift from the gods of sport to their passionate followers, a cultural reflection of e pluribus unum. Time to fill out your bracket!
This blog is part of a blog series, All Good Things. The series, written by Nancy Conner, will run throughout the year to reflect on topics that have been central to our work at Indiana Humanities.