October 28, 2002

Jones Presents Ideas on Culture in Bailey Lecture

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Hundreds of Cornell students, parents and faculty packed Bailey Hall Friday night as actor James Earl Jones delivered a lecture entitled “The Culture Quest: How Culture Affects Us and How We Affect Culture.”

The acclaimed actor, who has starred in films such as A Field of Dreams and whose notable voice has helped create characters such as Darth Vader in Star Wars and Mufassa in The Lion King, visited Cornell thanks to the Cornell University Program Board (CUPB).

Emphasizing the necessity and vitality of culture in any given society, Jones’ brief lecture was anecdotal, humorous and intellectual.

He stressed the ability that culture has to influence a community’s tradition, customs, heritage, philosophy and religion.

Jones contended that worldwide cultures, although vastly different, have a lot to offer to one another and are strengthened when they encounter each other.

“Some of the greatest periods in our history occurred when cultures merged,” he said.

He further argued that provincial cultures that choose to isolate themselves from others will shrink into tribal communities and will eventually perish.

“[It is a] challenge to communicate with what is not like you,” he added.

Jones’ lecture was followed by a question and answer session during which students asked a variety of questions that addressed topics ranging from his own favorite performance to cultural clashes in the Middle East to his lifelong battle with a speech impediment.

“It’s a bitch, you know?” he commented, addressing his tendency to stutter. “But you’ve got to propose [marriage] some day.”

When asked about the legacy he feels he has left on the film and theater industries he declared, “I’m not finished yet.”

And while he shied away from specifically addressing the current crisis in the Middle East, he did comment that “the fact that Israel and Palestine are going to have to work things out will make both cultures stronger.

Audience members appreciated the charisma with which Jones delivered his message.

“[Jones] is such a superstar but the way he connected with the audience brought him to a personal level with each audience member. This made his message even more applicable,” said Rachel Scher ’03.

Other members of the audience were pleased with the cultural insight that Jones’ lecture conveyed.

“He made me think about culture in ways that I never [considered]. I often take culture for granted,” said Iris Rogers, who was in Ithaca visiting her son.

Matt Rogers ’06 agreed with his mother, adding, “[Jones] gave us a forum to understand other people and to learn how to get along with them in a better way.”

Archived article by Ellen Miller