Thursday, February 26, 2009

Saving Culture

If there’s any hope for maintaining a diversity of culture in the world, I think we need to be more specific about the very different types of cultural transference. Off the top of my head I can think of three distinct types that I routinely see lumped together. 1. Absorption. This might look bad on the surface - Japanese festivals populated by Disney-mask-wearing children or South American homes plastered with Bruce Willis and John Wayne movie posters is not what we came to see – but it’s not nearly as bad as it looks. The fact is that every new context produces a new creation. Vietnamese watching “The Sixth Sense” do not see the same movie as when Americans watch it, and the same goes for all music, movies, and McDonalds, for every message and meaning. While it may not look like it, diversity of world-view and lifestyle is still maintained (for now). 2. Improvement. This also looks bad, since we came to see traditional adobe, kimono, and cooking fires, not concrete, levis, and microwaves. But how can we even suggest denying cooling, comfort, convenience, and coolness to people when we wouldn’t dream of giving them up ourselves (think covered wagons, skinning buffalo, and bonnets to get a picture of what that denial would demand of us!). In the end culture was made for man, not man for culture. 3. Craving: This is where the truly negative transference lies. People everywhere, on the most grassroots level, need to realize that what’s obviously better for “them” isn’t necessarily better for “us”. There’s no question that the average quality of life is better in America than in India, but the resulting rush for American products like coke, fast food, and even American art and architecture helps no one except the few Americans behind these products. It’s perfectly understandable that those in less fortunate countries desire the entertainment and comfort afforded by affluent nations. Maybe they’ll manage to move, but more likely they’ll try to adapt those technologies and customs to their own lives. Some of these things will unquestionably improve the individual’s life. Many products, however, are desired simply because of the suggestion of luxury without actually granting any. This results in a waste of financial resources, disuse of indigenous resources, and a general disrespect for elements of the native culture which could stand up to the imported culture in a fair fight. It is those elements which are now being clobbered in a heavily weighted fight that can and should be saved.

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