Fame-Shame Culture

Entertainment / Literature / Fame-Shame Culture: The anthropological term for a culture in which masculine behavior revolves around a code of martial honor. These cultures embody the idea of 'death before dishonor.' Such civilizations often glorify military prowess and romanticize death in battle. Typically, such a society rewards men who display bravery by (a) engaging in risk-taking behavior to enhance one's reputation, (b) facing certain death in preference to accusations of cowardice, and (c) displaying loyalty to one's king, chieftain, liege lord, or other figure in the face of adversity. Those in power may reward such brave followers with land, material wealth, or social status, but the most important and most typical reward is fame or a good reputation. Especially in fatalistic fame/shame cultures, fame is the most valuable reward since it alone will exist after a hero's death. Just as such cultures reward bravery, loyalty, and martial prowess with the promise of fame, they punish cowardice, treachery, and weakness in battle with the threat of shame and mockery. A fame/shame culture is only successful in regulating behavior when an individual's fear of shame outweighs the fear of death. This dichotomy of fame/shame serves as a carrot and stick to regulate behavior in an otherwise chaotic and violent society. Sample behaviors linked with fame/shame cultures include the beot in Anglo-Saxon culture, the act of 'counting coup' among certain Amerindian tribes, displays of trophies among certain head-hunting tribes and the Irish Celts, and the commemoration of war-heros in stone monuments or songs in cultures worldwide. We can see signs of fame/shame culture in the heroic poetry of the Anglo-Saxons, where the poem 'The Battle of Maldon' praises by name those warriors who stood their ground with Byrtnoth to die fighting the Viking invaders and condemns by name those men who fled the battle and survived. Characteristically, the poem lists the men's lineage in order to spread the honor or shame to other family members as well. The poem Beowulf also shows signs of fame/shame culture in the behavior of Hrothgar's coast-guard, who challenges over a dozen gigantic armed men, and the boasts (beot) of Beowulf himself. See also kleos.

Other Words for Culture

Culture Noun Synonyms: civilization, mores, customs, lifestyle, way of life, (sense of) values
Culture Adjective Synonyms: cultivation, refinement, sophistication, urbanity, suavity, elegance, (good) breeding, background, erudition, education, enlightenment, learning, taste, discrimination, savoir faire, savoir vivre, discernment
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