Cultural Imperialism is a crock

15 08 2009

Just came back from taking the kids to see an exhibit on anime cels at the Academy for Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (Yes, the Oscar people). It was really enjoyable and a little eye-opening. The exhibit was fairly small and mostly covered the most popular anime that’s made the crossover to Western audiences — Pokemon, Vampire Hunter D, Gatchaman, Robotech, the work of Studio Ghibli. Still, what I found really fascinatring is how familiar with all of this stuff my four-year old son was. I realized that looking around the exhibit, that this wasn’t terribly different from what he sees when he watches Saturday morning cartoons. Like it or not, much of American kid’s TV and kid’s culture in general has become an outpost for Japanese culture.

That got me thinking about the people who scream about “cultural imperialism” when a McDonald’s opens in Paris. Why are these people never equally concerned when a big chunk of America’s youth culture is dominated by the output of a single foreign nation? Why when the threat of violence shuts down one of the pillars of Western culture (as it did during the Muhammed cartoon controversy) do we hear that we need to be “sensitive” rather than calling it what it is — cultural imperialism? Forcing one culture to bend to another and compromise some of its most cherished principles at the point of a sword seems to me to be the very definition of the term. Everything else is just “life” and “marketing.” And no, I do not consider “marketing” to be evil.

I believe in diversity and multiculturalism. More than that, though, I also believe in the somewhat outmoded idea of the “melting pot.” The classic Schoolhouse Rock video naturally whitewashes much of the unsavory history of this country of course — particularly our treatment of Native Americans — but I believe that there’s a truth at the core of this video about the healthy transfer of ideas and goods between cultures and how they impact and alter one another. Indeed, I believe that the genius of America is the idea that we are not “ein volk.” You don’t have to have blood ties to the land to be a true American. You don’t have to have a particular skin color or religious belief to be one. To be an American is at it’s core, is to be a subscriber to an ideal. True, the genuine nation of America often falls far short of the ideal, but that doesn’t mean the ideal isn’t important as something to shoot for.

The idea that a culture must somehow be kept “pure” strikes me as remarkably racist and bigoted. A “pure” culture, one that never changes, is never tainted by “outsiders” is a dead culture. More than that, it treats denizens of those other cultures like stupid children as if they aren’t fully responsible beings making their own choices. They perversely buy into the idea of American cultural superiority by treating American culture like a virulent plague that will just wipe out every indigenous culture it comes across. It often seems like those who cry loudest about “Diversity” mean it in the sense that hothouse flowers are diverse. They’ve got all kinds of pretty colors, but if they cross-pollinate with one another, then they become hopelessly mongrelized. At the risk of losing this argument before it begins, it’s the kind of fascist thinking that frankly scares me and it’s not the kind of thing I’ll allow my half-Jew/half-Mexican all-American-except-that-they-really-like-Transformers-anime-kids to be victim to.

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