Sunday, August 16, 2009
The term “postcolonial” brings with it many different meanings to both the colonized and the colonizer. The idea of being free from forced rule and ideologies is the immediate impact on the colonized peoples, while the colonizer has lost the ability to use their colonized people as they see fit for the greater colonial society. Yet, while it seems this to be the end result of the evolution from colonialism to post-colonialism it in turn is not. The continual use of the colonial institutions around the world extends the influence of colonialism throughout all cultures. The film Lost In Translation shows how the world is still colonized through a continual use of colonial institutions. The use of Marxist Theory, and Gender Studies also allow for a clearer understanding of the misrepresentations of cultures that still remains in the post-colonial world. With a closer look at post-colonialism one can see that it is only an altered form of colonialism that continues the use colonial institutions by forcing ideologies that shape cultures to fit in with westerns society.
With the wide-ranging areas of influence that colonialism had on the globe it comes across as difficult when trying to search for a specific example to show how colonial influence is still present in postcolonial times. Language is seemingly at the core of forcing one’s ideas on another. With the teaching of western language to colonized peoples it helps establish “a more literate, and one might argue, docile class of colonized subjects”(Rivkin 852), which in turn allows for a voice and creation of ideas among the colonized peoples that closely resembles that of the colonial rulers. With the continual use of the colonial language in a postcolonial society establishes the face that these people are still under the rule of their former conquerors. This continual use of a language forced upon them allows for colonialism to continue placing people into certain preconceived ideas that conform to western cultural beliefs.
Likewise, the idea of controlling another culture through such institutions as language is described in Edward Said’s Orientalism, which focuses on the West’s aim to control the Orient by “dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient”(Said 46). Taking Said’s idea and using it to view how the postcolonial cultures continue to operate under the aims of their former colonizers shows that post-colonialism is in fact colonialism at heart. Said shows how the West is able to control the development of a cultural identity by creating images of other cultures through the literature and art in western society. He does this by noting that Aeschylus’ play The Persians transforms the Orient, “from a very far distant and often threatening Otherness into figures that are relatively familiar”(Said 21). With the influence of ideas and culture from the West still permeating around the world it is placing a limitation to the formation of a sense of cultural identity. By not having a sense of identity it allows for the West to have a strong influence on how these cultures create their own identity.
Additionally, an example of how this altered form of colonialism exists today is captured in the 2003 film Lost In Translation. In various scenes Bill Murray’s character Bob Harris is faced with the conflict of communication between himself and the Japanese people. While there is a constant use and attempt to use English, Bob Harris makes no attempt to communicate in Japanese. The communication that does take place between him and the Japanese is either through a translator or in broken English by the Japanese. A better understanding of this is seen when a Japanese photographer tries to direct Bob for a photo shoot, but he cannot convey his ideas clearly. The direction “Can you put your hand close your face please?” (Lost In Translation) creates confusion between Bob and the photographer, but what this shows is how the use of colonial language reduces the ability to properly convey ones idea, thus limiting the freedom that come with postcolonial life.
Likewise with the continuation of underlying colonial influence in the post-colonial world can be seen how capitalism shaped the post-colonial identity by creating social divisions based solely on economic strength. With the departure of colonial rulers the people once enslaved by western ideas for so many years were now depending on them in order to attain their own identity. In Deniz Kandiyoti’s article Post-Colonialism Compared: Potentials and Limitations in the Middle East and Central Asia he describes the goal of the West in the post-colonial era as being aimed at, “ Practical concerns about promoting rapid economic growth” (Kandiyoti) in the former territories to help fuel economic gains of the West. By working to promote economic growth the West is “providing a supposedly universal set of ideas for proper living”(Rivkin 851), which creates a disparity between the economically strong West and the impoverished people in the post-colonial territories. Both Kandiyoti and Rivkin address the fact that colonialism had established a groundwork that would ensure the West’s continual influence over other cultures through economic might.
At closer look, this economic order that is being created is the same binary the Karl Marx describes between the bourgeoisie (colonizer) and the proletariat (colonized). Marx states of the bourgeoisie, “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere”(Marx). Like the bourgeoisie in Marx’s eyes the western colonial powers have established capitalist markets around the world that will continue to lift the West above other cultures while keeping these lesser poorer cultures in the same subservient position as the proletariat. With this hierarchy determined by tying down the post-colonial cultures to a capitalist economy limits the ability to determine the development of how they create a post-colonial culture. What this does is, “It compels all nations, on a pain of extinction to adopt the bourgeois mode of production”(Marx), and if a country is forced to adopt another’s ideas, either by physical force or by the illusion of choice, it remains the exploited and conquered culture that is shaped to fit the West’s economic hierarchy.
Going back to Lost In Translation, this same sense of identity loss through capitalism is seen with the importance placed on the image over the individual. Bob is seemingly devoid of all human worth and seen as a source of revenue by the Japanese. In the opening scene of the movie, Bob sees a billboard of himself advertising whiskey his reaction to this is one of bewilderment because it is not Bob the man, it is just another advertisement among many that serve one purpose, which is to serve the capitalist desires of the upper class. Even with his interaction with the representatives from the Japanese companies they remove any sense of identity his liaison, Ms. Kawasaki (Akikio Takeshita) quickly states after meeting Bob, “We will pick you up in the morning. See you tomorrow” to which Bob replies, “Okay, great, short and sweet. Very Japanese”(Lost In Translation). This short statement shows how capitalism, which is represented by Ms. Kawasaki, functions to reduce the lower classes to, “a class of laborers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labor increases capital”(Marx). By operating within the confines of capitalism, colonialism tightens its grasp on to the cultures of the former colonies and choking out any notion of having the freedom to develop any cultural identity.
The post-colonial identity is shaped greatly by the confines of language and the way it is connected to the machine of capitalism. Likewise the West’s superiority over other cultures in colonial times could be viewed as a patriarchal hierarchy. The West resides in the dominant male position, while the East or other cultures are forced into a subservient feminine position. A culture forced in to this binary relationship with the West not only has the cultural identity taken away from it, but also the gender identity in said culture. The function of this relationship seems to echo Michel Foucault’s reasoning for a discourse on sexuality in The History of Sexuality. Foucault states that distinguishing proper sexual behavior is, “to ensure population, to reproduce labor capacity, to perpetuate the form of social relations: in short, to constitute a sexuality that is economically useful and politically conservative”(Foucault 683), which resembles the same aims of the colonial powers when they expanded their influence over the “other” cultures around the globe. The subordinate relationship to the West automatically turns everything female in postcolonial cultures, thus depriving the male voice from helping the formation of a unifying cultural identity.
Moreover, this complex issue of the feminization of cultures deemed lower than the West is discussed in David Eng’s book Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America. Eng speaks of the Asian American male and how, “the U.S. cultural imagery typically results in his figuration as feminized, emasculated, or homosexualized”(Eng 16). An example of how the West views other cultures such as this shows how the West readily and easily formulates a cultural identity that does not allow any room for the culture to define itself. This notion of male supremacy ties in to Said’s view of the binary between the West and East. He states, “There are Westerners, and there are Orientals. The former dominate; the latter must be dominated”(Said 36), and views like this work to justify the use of the male/female binary relationship between the West and other cultures. If the West continues to place an effeminate stigmatism or continue the practice of this masculine/feminine binary when dealing with other cultures, then there is no possible way for postcolonial theory to properly locate and distinguish a cultural identity in the cultures that have been impacted by this western way of thinking.
Consequently, we find this practice of the dominant male western society being tended to by the lower feminine East in Lost In Translation. The situation between Bob and the female escort sent to his room by one of the representatives of the Suntory Corporation shows how other cultures are in a position where they wish to serve and please their western superiors. We can see Bob as being in the position of the dominant male while “Mr. Kazo” is in the lower female position in their relationship. Knowing that he cannot bring physical pleasure to Bob, he has instead enlisted the use of an escort to do so. The actions of “Mr. Kazo” enforce the western ideas that there is a sense that the other cultures beside the West in this binary relationship feel the need to bring pleasure to their superiors. Even upon the insistence of the escort to give Bob a “premium fantasy” this shows that pleasing the West is the only role for what are considered to be subservient cultures in the West. So with the continuing view by the West in this manner changes the identity of not only the culture itself but also that of the sexual identity of the culture.
Yet, with all these influences on other cultures by the West there is still an impact within western culture. The West begins to develop through these ideas of other cultures that are familiarized and made less hostile or foreign to westerners. This formation of acceptable perceptions of other cultures in the West can be seen in the lyrics to the America Fu*k Yeah. The song captures the elements of American culture, which seem to imply why it is great to be from America or the West. We can see how the West makes other cultures acceptable by accepting certain cultural imports while rejecting others. We see the song promoting sushi and Taco Bell, which are two ethnic food types that are seemingly on every other street corner in America. The West has come to accept and slightly alter Mexican and Japanese food that is more likable by westerners and this creates an image of other cultures in the West that is not entirely correct. The distorted truth that the West has of other cultures does nothing to help with the development of a cultural voice that will give people their true ethnic identity.
Looking back, the postcolonial world brings the idea that there is finally an equal representation of all cultures and peoples on the planet. With the lasting affects of colonial influence still maintaining their hold over the former subjects of imperial rule, this idea of freedom is nothing but an illusion created by the strength of the West. While post-colonialism is believed to finally bring freedom to colonized people it in fact continues to strengthen the western influence over the globe. In order to reach a sense of freedom to define one’s cultural identity the only options seem to be the rejection of all influences from the West, or to make the West step down from its throne on the world stage and humble themselves by actively learning and understanding the cultures that they presume to be below them.
Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Blackwell Publishing. Malden, MA, 1998. (851-855).
Lost In Translation. Dir. Sofia Coppola. Perf. Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson. Focus Features, 2003. Film.
Said, Edward W. Orientalism. Vintage Books. New York, NY, 1978.
Kandiyoti, Deniz. Post-Colonialism Compared: Potentials and Limitations in the Middle East and Central Asia. International Journal of Middle East Studies
Marx, Karl. The Manifesto of the Communist Party. London 1848. 10 August, 2009.
Foucault, Michel. "Literary Theory: An Anthology." Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Blackwell Publishing. Maldon, Ma,, 1998. (683-691).
Eng, David L. Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity In Asian America. Duke University Press. Durham, NC,
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Self-determination and a sense of identity are wiped from cultures through colonialism. The notion of superiority developed in western civilizations lead to the practice of spreading western beliefs and ideas over cultures that were weaker or below western culture. Edward Said’s Orientalism captures the oppressive nature of colonialism and shows how misrepresentations of cultures are created through colonialism. These misrepresentations silence the voice and erase the original identity of people within a colonized culture. This aggressive and erroneous nature of colonization can be found the song America, Fu*k Yeah, as it seems to force the ideas and culture of America on to the listeners. Said’s ideas applied to the video montage from of the Team America theme song nicely capture how imperialism works to alter conquered cultures in to an “ideal other” that fits in nicely with their already established society.
To begin, Said proposes the idea that the image of the “ideal other” is emphasized by “a common human failing to prefer the schematic authority to the disorientations of direct human encounters with humans”(Said 876). The inherent desire to learn from texts and not through experience only aides in the creation of ideas of cultures that are distorted and slanted truths. Said uses Aeschylus’s The Persians as an example to show how “a highly artificial enactment of what a non-Oriental has made in to a symbol for the whole Orient”(Said 877). In the video we can see a wide array of images of American culture and they work to form an image of American identity as being a nation of people who live on fast food, sex, and consumerism. In the same manner of Said’s beliefs of relying on schematic authority, if one were to believe that America was comprised only of the ideas in the video images then that would allow for a generalization of Americans in the context of their culture. By using this Said is able to show how textual ideas distort the truth of cultural identity and replaces it with an idea or image that is more acceptable to the imperial rule.
Additionally, an idea of superiority filters the view of imperialist nations which leads to the thinking of other cultures that, “everything in it was, if not patently inferior to, then in need of corrective study by the west”(Said 880). Said explains that the imperial powers saw the cultures in their colonies as being inferior to theirs, and they needed to be helped by being taught the ways of their rulers. This way of thinking allows for the muting of an original cultural voice and in turn it is replaced with the voice or ideas from the imperial rule. Looking at the video we can see how America is forced upon the viewers. With the repetition of “America, Fuck Yeah!” the intense delivery of the words, and the fast flashing of icons in American culture create the feeling of being forced to accept American ideas and values. This need by imperialists to guide inferior cultures to their teachings ensures the creation of the ideal other that they want to incorporate in to society.
As powerful nations in Europe once competed to colonize as much of the work as they could it came at the expense of the cultural identity of each nation that was trampled. The destruction or alteration of culture was often seen as a necessary happening during the colonization of the world. The misrepresentation of cultures in the minds of the Europeans lead to the creation of incorrect ideas of what other cultures were like, and without a proper understanding of another culture there is no way to conquer it. The notion that one can force another culture to behave in a manner that they see fit is to erase any form of identity of ever existing in their culture.
Said, Edward. Literary Theory: An Anthology." Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Blackwell Publishing. Maldon, Ma, 1998. (873-876)
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Bourgeoisie: Business as Usual
Karl Marx’s attack on the aims of the bourgeoisie is apparent in the Communist manifesto, and this same criticism appears in the film Glengarry Glen Ross. This disparity between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat appear in the form of Alec Baldwin’s berating motivational speech to the salesmen who are failing to meet the expectations of their company. In the same manner of the bourgeoisie, Alec Baldwin shows how a ruling class thrives on the backs of the working class. This clip creates a visual example of how the bourgeoisie function on the oppression of the proletariat to continue the ever-widening division between the classes.
The establishment of a ruling class brings with it a set of ideologies that are aimed at providing benefit to those who fall in to this elite group while ensuring the oppression of the lower class. The assertiveness and glorification of what Alec Baldwin’s character has achieved in terms of material possession shows the different classes that he and the other salesmen belong to when he states, “That watch cost more than your car. I made nine hundred and seventy thousand dollars last year, how much did you make?”(Glengarry). By establishing this difference between himself and the other salesmen, Baldwin is creating making clear the difference in class and establishing the superiority of the upper class. Marx identifies how the equalization of the lower class damages their living conditions when he states, “The various interests and conditions of life within the ranks of the proletariat are more and more equalized, in proportion as machinery obliterates all distinctions of labor, and nearly everywhere reduces wages to the same low level”(Marx). The creation of division between the classes serves to provide a means to ensure the survival and further ideas of the bourgeoisie.
The easiest area for the bourgeoisie to exploit the proletariat’s lower status is in the way in which they work. Marx termed this idea as “division of labor”, and he describes it as, “the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him”(Marx). The alienation of the worker from his work can be seen in the way Alec Baldwin simplifies the objective of the sales men when he says, “ABC. A, always. B, be. C, closing. Always be closing. Always be closing!”(Glengarry). The oversimplification of the duties of the salesmen in the office places Marx’s criticism in practice. Baldwin is breaking down their job to a simple and mindless form that will ensure they keep producing for those above them and to earn enough to sustain their living.
Looking back at how Karl Marx viewed the division of the bourgeoisie and proletariat, the intentions of the bourgeoisie become clear. The bourgeoisie’s desire to keep the masses in a subservient role in order to further their plans and to maintain the status quo through division and exploitation allow for the bourgeoisie to hold their position of power. Just like the bourgeoisie, Alec Baldwin uses the same tactics to maintain his superiority over the other salesmen. So it seems no matter where the bourgeoisie appear; they carry on in the same manner since their existence. To them the exploitation of the lower class is business as usual.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
I would love to make this post sound intelligent like most of myclassmates do. But, I just am not that bright. I do however have have very honest and cynical views about Karl Marx and Marxism. Let me firststate that I do believe Marxism is a beautiful ideology. The idea of everyone coming together in a community for the common good and distributing the goods of that community evenly is a noble cause filled with enormous amounts of integrity and character. For these reasons alone I respect Karl Marx as much as anyone in history. But there are some problems that I see with the reality of this.
First where is the accountability for the assets and distribution of such assets evenly. It says in The Ten Steps of Communism that the state will handle these affairs. Which then brings me to my second point.
Greed will eventually rear its ugly head. Greed is a natural instinct born into every human being . Sharing with one another is a learned behavior and inevitably someone will want more than their share. What do we do in that case? Keep starting over and over and over? I said in the outset that my opinions are cynical and a bit dark. My experience has been the selfish cream always rises to the top and as much as it pains me to say, at least if we know the selfishness is out there we can keep an eye out for it. The motto in a capitalist society is, " he who has the most wins the game!" At least right now we know what game we are playing. In a Marxist or Communist society the rules of the game can change at any moment, but where will the referee be to call the foul?
I can't help but agree. As much as I idealize a communist model, I also feel it would not be sustainable.
Unfortunately, I cannot remember where I read a comparison on the communist government with that of a capitalist government, but I will never forget the point that was made. The comparison focused on manufacturing and production and pulled a few examples from the Soviet Union and the United States. Specifically, it illustrated how resources and manufacturing processes were constantly under research and development, as the capitalist factory structure perpetually sought to find the most efficient method of production. This was done either by improving production technology, increasing labor efficiency, finding economic substitutes for raw materials, or any other multiple means, which would lower the cost per unit of production. Whereas, the communist plant, lacked financial motivation to find a more economic and efficient means of producing the same product. Their interest was to maintain the production of a certain amount of units, not a more efficient means of production per unit.
This was one of the examples, but in my opinion, one of the most prevalent.
Speaker 1 brings up a very good reason for unsustainability, one that is not easily measured. The human factor. Whenever a discussion of communism occurs, I am always reminded of “Utopia” by Sir Thomas More. Their structure was communist/socialist and as their community pastime they would tend to their communal gardens and compete with other communities as to who had the best garden. Of course, the account of this society by Sir Thomas More is fictional, but it does bring up a point that human nature varies. Interest, desire, fears, pursuits; how tangible is it for an entire society to be molded into only one form of thinking, with limited options? Although communism has many positive, social benefits, as mentioned in class, ultimately someone has to make decisions that go against someone else’s desires.
Communism or Capitalism. I seem to fall between the two at least in theory. It seems that everything is great in theory, but it becomes all screwed up once the human element places it in reality.
Speaker 1, the question you pose, “where is the accountability for the assets and distribution of such assets evenly” is a great one but just to simply ask where is the accountability in an all-encompassing manner would suffice. The idea of who will control the controllers always struck out in my mind. The idea that the State would watch over everyone is something that sounds like a nice plan, I mean hey if the State takes care of everything it should make life easier because of the less stuff that an individual would have to worry about right? Just as you say “Greed will eventually will rear its ugly head”, and that is the issue with the State overseeing things because the State is comprised of individuals with their own agendas and ideologies. The State is not some object and does things behind the scenes to make the country function, it is people and people are selfish. So it is inevitable for the failure of the State because of the inability for people to stick to ideas of Communism.
To say that your ideas are cynical and dark might not be true, I would say that your ideas are on par with the reality of human nature. I think that it is the abuse of power or intelligence that allows for the failure of Communism when taken from theory and put in to practice. I also think that the less educated do allow for greed and corruption to run rampant because they need an idea to follow to keep them in a civil or orderly manner.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Part II: A semiotic lens
Looking at this picture with a semiotic lens over our eyes provides an opportunity for a different interpretation on the same image. Looking at the way the people are spread out in this image it seems that the storm of commotion has passed for today. The people clustered off in their respective groups and the laid-back posture of the man in the middle signal that the time to relax has come. The discarded papers all over the floor give a small insight to the hectic atmosphere that had filled the area before. The wide array of monitors located everywhere indicate that people are never far removed from the information that is needed to complete their work. Additionally, the attire that is being worn by the people here indicates that there is nothing but business within the walls of the NYSE, something that separates the people who work on Wall Street from the people who live on Main Street. The dichotomy that exists between the stock broker and Americans casts a feeling of distrust because of the stockbroker's seemingly endless greed, which is now even more evident considering the current economic disaster. The individual in the middle of the picture signals that it is every person for themselves in the world and one needs to do what it takes in order to get ahead (stepping on the backs of weak to climb the socio-economic ladder). His being by himself while other are huddled around talking to each other indicates his strength and superiority to others not only in his industry, but also his superiority to the common man who has not gained the status or wealth that this one stockbroker apparently has
Thursday, July 16, 2009
The creation of truth comes from knowledge and the creation of lies or non-truths comes from the lack of knowledge. In Plato’s eyes the biggest culprit of lies came from the artist, or more specifically the poet. The lack of familiarity or first-hand knowledge of the topics in their poems distanced the poet from the reality of what they write, and therefore give no benefit to society. Without poets being based in reality or exhibiting a sense of knowledge on the topic they write all truth and moral value disappear from anything created in such a manner. Plato establishes the notion that for any idea to hold value to society it must not be based upon the idea of appealing to emotion, but having a connection with knowledge to establish itself as a truth.
Foremost, the lies that are created from poetry are, “art of imitation… far removed from truth”(Plato 44), which implies that imitation is only regurgitation of what one sees from a distance or through a filter that prevents a clear understanding of what is before them. The rant of Montgomery Brogen (Edward Norton) is not one based in reality as we see that it takes place in the mirror’s reflection. This signals that his ideas are, “distant from the throne of truth”(Plato 43) because these ideas are an imitation of reality and not a truthful representation of the people and groups that he attacks. Without any real knowledge of what he is talking about, Monty’s reflection is creating something “only in appearance, not… as they are in reality”(Plato 42). The ideas that his reflection has about all the individuals is one that is capturing only the outward physical appearance and nothing to show any concrete knowledge that gives him grounds to speak as an authority about them. When looking back at Plato’s goal for establishing truth one can see that the words coming from the mirror are in fact not backed with knowledge but fueled by ones emotions.
Conversely, at the end of the tirade put on display by Monty’s reflection the audience is placed in the viewpoint of the mirror looking in to the real world and the real Montgomery Brogen. It is at this point where truth takes hold. One can see that Monty in the real world has the ability to not let these lies take over his emotions and change his own opinions in to those of the reflected Monty. Plato states, “…that which urges him to resist is reason and custom, but that which pulls him towards his sorrows is the experience itself”(Plato 51), and this seems evident in the reaction of Monty in the real world as he rejects all that was said to him and realizes that he is the reason for his life being messed up and nobody else. The control over his emotions ensures that Monty is rejecting, “the very part which the poets satisfy and please”(Plato 53). By rejecting what the poets appeal to is to reject lies and seek out truth and knowledge, something that Monty has after realizing who is to blame for his own misfortunes.