One of the most impressive aspects of the United States is the variety and depth of people’s interests. For lack of a better term, I’ll call these “sub cultures.” Some people like bird watching, others are addicted to golf. Some restore cars, some go to Shakespeare’s plays, some like power boat racing, others enjoy sailboats. Some are baseball fans and some like soccer. Often people spend thousands of dollars each year indulging themselves in their particular interests.
Last weekend I was up in Minneapolis at a huge auto show, featuring thousands of collector cars. There was “thunderbird row” with a bunch of restored 1955-57 Ford thunderbirds. There were hot rods, flashy muscle cars; you name it, they had it. The fellows who own these cars share a deep knowledge of the automobile; they form a unique sub-culture that one can join only with a significant amount of money, hands-on experience, and bloody knuckles.
Likewise there were a bunch of power boat enthusiasts on Lake Winona last weekend. These folks come from all over the country pulling trailers containing their boats and a repair shop. I walked around talking to them and it doesn’t take long to appreciate the specificity of their knowledge, along with their enthusiasm for the sport.
Saturday night I was treated to a performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Certainly Shakespeare enthusiasts are a particular sub-culture. Most of the audience has read the play several times and can repeat most of the memorable lines word for word. This sub-culture doesn’t deal with torque wrenches or boat propellers, it deals with the spoken and written word. I’ll admit that I have a harder time understanding the Shakespearian sub-culture than the “mechanical” or “sports” sub-cultures.
To truly understand any of these sub-cultures you must spend a lot of time preparing. The more that you have studied the Dutch Golden Age, the more you will appreciate a masterpiece by Johannes Vermeer or Dirck Halls. Those that spend a lot of time learning about the history of baseball will find a trip to Fenway Park more enjoyable than those less involved with baseball.
I liken these sub-cultures to an onion. The onion’s skin has many layers, each representing a different level of knowledge. When I watch a powerboat race I’m certainly just at layer one. They are running around in circles on the lake, but I don’t know how the race is scored or how a winner is determined. With baseball, maybe I’m at the third layer of onion skin, knowing enough to appreciate the sport but not nearly enough to know what the players or coaches are thinking. With the Shakespearian sub-culture I’m not sure I’ve even touched the onion and I doubt that I’ll ever really enjoy being in that space. Sub-cultures are so vast and different that no one has the time to enjoy them all, especially at any depth.
One thing is for sure: sub-cultures require a well-paid middle class with sufficient resources to enjoy the activity. I doubt that there are any power boat race clubs in North Korea.