From Katya: My favorite way to introduce Cultural Studies to people is Raymond Williams’ “Culture is Ordinary.” Williams insisted that culture included a person’s or community’s whole way of life. Culture isn’t just the novels, films, games, or general “stuff” of culture but everything that is part of your lived experience. Culture also isn’t dictated from on high, everyone has culture and everyone has their hand in shaping it. “Culture is ordinary” means that culture is everywhere. So life is just an endless supply of candy for us nerds.
Ben Davis, co-founder of a group called 4x4WARD, recently introduced me to the concept of “overlanding.” Overlanding is basically where camping and car culture meet: off-roading to camp and travel, often for extended periods of time. What comes to my mind is British camper vans, awkward RV parks on cross-country roadtrips, and a sprinkle of the #vanlife social media trend. In reality, it’s an international history rooted in Australia with distinct national traditions and several subcultures I’d also never heard of.
I may not know cars, but I do know semiotics: the study of signs/symbols and their uses; or the study of signifiers and signifieds. Intentionally or not, 4x4ward notes that part of overlanding is the collection of signs:
“We don’t have an established date. There’s nothing to establish. We simply make an effort to meet up every so often and drink in the trees. But sometimes you want a sticker – a signifier.”
In semiotics, a signifier (or symbol) is a thing that represents and a signified (an idea). The sticker symbolizes membership to a group of common practice- or in Williams’ terms membership in a common lived culture. Signifiers rarely stop at “I also do this thing.” This episode some of the founders from 4x4WARD are going to join us to talk about all things overlanding, why they have an archive of Mitsubishi Delica price sheets, and what the “tacticool” trend tells us about the construction of masculinity in the hobby. (Bonus points if they can convince me that tire selection has cultural significance.)