Archive for the ‘Experience & Identity’ Category

Orientalism

Posted: February 3, 2014 in Experience & Identity
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ImageI’d never heard of the term ‘orientalism’ until studying on this course. I’d heard of the Orient and I knew that the suffix ‘ism’ was an ideology or philosophy so I could have probably guessed. But what I don’t think I was aware of was the discourse and social negativity surrounding the word and how it still impacts on our views and understanding today.

In his book Formations of Modernity (1992) Stuart Hall, using Edward Said’s book Orientalism (1977) basically says that how we represent the ‘orient’ stops us from really understanding the Far East. We almost have this romantic view (think of the luxurious train the Orient Express) of the Orient. The Far East is seen as mysterious, strange, brutal and we put our European slant on it. It’s the ‘West and the Rest’ kind of thinking. Unless a country (and therefore its culture) is similar to ours then it must be different and difference is to be feared and as a result not understood or trusted. Although I don’t share these beliefs, there are many who do!

Said (1977) refers mainly to the Middle East as the orient and unfortunately over the years the term ‘Middle East’ has come to mean repression, war and terrorism and let’s not forget belly dancing and fanatical religious beliefs (according to some of the media).I think as a result of that, few people bother to look under the surface to understand the true facts about this vast area of the world. If we do (and I mean the British) attempt to find out more, maybe on holiday, then we tend to visit the more ‘acceptable’ face of the Middle East – usually Turkey or Cyprus where there’s always an English pub around the corner! Picture from Tripadvisor – Paphos.

Our views of the Middle East are deeply rooted in what Said describes ‘western imagination’ and the caricatured discourse does not give opportunity to understand the region and its complexities.

During the reign of the British Empire, orientalism was a handy mechanism for justifying and vindicating Britain’s rule over such countries. The clouded views and beliefs allowed our dominance to be more acceptable. This view to some extent remains because as we continue to view the Middle East as barbaric and uncivilised, it allows for military action either directly (the war in Iraq and Afghanistan) or indirectly through supporting alternative political groups who would overthrow the ‘tyrannical’ regime (e.g. Syria). Thinking further, I began to think about how we (the West) are viewed in the Middle East and Asia – and of course there is a term!

Occidentalism is the term used to describe the view of the ‘East’ towards the West. Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit in their book – Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies,(2004) give quite a damning account of the cultural discourse of the West. Although this term originated in the West, it was believed that this stereotype has been used in a reaction to the rise of Western modernism. The West is seen as a “machine civilization,” with imperialism at its heart. It describes:

“ the sinfulness and rootlessness of urban life; the corruption of the human spirit in a materialistic, market-driven society; the loss of organic community;” Buruma and Margalit (2004)

Buruma and Margalit give no answers as to what the West can do to change this discourse and similarly, until both cultures begin to accept, understand and appreciate their differences and diversity, then these cultural stereotypes will continue to drive political and social agendas.

 

Having written this blog, we went down to Mezze Palace, a Lebanese restaurant in Bristol. Great food, great traditional music, great atmosphere and a belly dancer – positive orientalism at its finest!

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This week David Cameron has said that he plans to toughen welfare rules for EU migrants, saying he was sending a “clear message” to people that the UK was not a “soft touch” for claiming benefits. He also hinted that there were great public concerns that we would be overrun with Bulgarians and Romanians next month. They would overpopulate our schools and burden our NHS! 

Are the doors to Britain closing? Is this the only way to protect our National Identity? This is odd when just over a year ago we were welcoming the world to Great Britain and one of the most amazing Olympic ceremonies ever seen. I have to say, I was so proud to be British that night. I watched as the history of Britain was laid out in front of me, from the farms and countryside of long ago to the leaders and workers of the Industrial Revolution, to the rather strange celebration of the NHS, the Beatles, The Spice Girls and even Mr Bean! Danny Boyle said that the show would create “a picture of ourselves as a nation.”

I know that, once again my national identity and how I feel about it, is linked to my gender, my class, my ethnicity as well as where I live and study and the cultural capital given to me by my parents. My parents have always been keen travellers. I was travelling around America before I was one and over the years I have been to many different countries. In the future I am looking forward to a free world where I can travel and work. 

I have always thought I was open minded about my National Identity. Living on the Gloucester Road in Bristol, you can meet people from all over the world. In fact I live next door to a Vietnamese supermarket, an Italian barber and a polish café opposite. Maybe I should be feeling that my national identity is under threat but I don’t. I don’t feel any less British and in fact I think it’s great that people can come to this country and enjoy the privileges I have. I don’t need to walk around wearing a bowler hat to keep my sense of identity. Our history doesn’t lose its power or its influence on the future because there is an Indian restaurant on the corner. 

I agree with Sunder Katwala’s piece in Our Kingdom magazine about ‘Britishness’ as the ‘warm ability to adapt, to absorb, and to include’. I think the sign on the door to Britain should read “Welcome – but just give us a minute to prepare!”

The Human Zoo

Posted: November 26, 2013 in Experience & Identity
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This course is driving me nuts! Just when I thought it was ok to be myself and not question anything, I now find I have something else to think about! It’s not enough to worry about the image I am portraying every time I have my photo taken, or to question my masculinity and the role of advertising, to think about my cultural capital and how I’m going to make sure my own children have plenty of it or the decline of DIY skills and whether that makes me less of a man than my dad. Now I find I am living in a human zoo and there is really no hope for me! I thought Bristol was a pretty cool place to live (and still do) but now I’m looking at the city with a different perspective, one that Desmond Morris outlines in his 1959 bestseller, The Human Zoo. In the book, he argues that:

 

“many of the social instabilities we face are largely a product of the artificial, impersonal confines of our urban surroundings. Indeed, our behaviour often startlingly resembles that of captive animals, and our developed and urbane environment seems not so much a concrete jungle as it does a human zoo.”

 

I must admit, late at night in Bristol can be a pretty scary place and I find myself being much more aware of my surroundings and my safety, but at the same time I love the buzz of city life and the thought of living in a cottage in the middle of nowhere fills me with dread.

But maybe it’s because I am a student living in a big city, that I feel differently about being ‘caged’ in this human zoo. Increasingly we are being herded into massive urban areas and we are having to adapt our behaviours and our ‘humanness’ to suit these environments. For me at the moment, Bristol is just an exciting, vibrant city but perhaps as I get older, the walls of the zoo will become increasingly smaller and I will begin to feel trapped. Already I am wondering if I am adapting my behaviour to suit this way of living (getting up earlier to beat the traffic, being aware of pickpockets in large crowds). But isn’t that what makes the human race so successful – our ability to adapt to our environment? What is worrying I guess is the impact that will have on our humanness in the future. There is even a condition now called ‘Zoo Human Syndrome’, where it is believed that people who suffer from depression, frequent illness, obesity, and a lack of energy, do so because they are living in an environment that is unnatural.

The human zoo is growing day by day and increasingly humans are being disconnected from their natural world through technology, cultural norms and the nightmare drive to work each day.

Suddenly Bristol feels a bit enclosed – I might have to go home and have a wander through the Cotswolds!

I think I am part of the problem and the solution so maybe I have no choice. We live in a society that is not equal – perhaps this is one of the most important things I have learnt on the course so far. But what I am also beginning to realise is the role media plays in this inequality. I do think my thoughts and beliefs are limited to the fact that I am a man – I can support and agree with feminism and I can show this but I really don’t think I can truly understand it. How can I? I can learn about gender and identity and the four waves of feminism but I can’t really experience the difficulties women face on a day to day basis. As a man I still get confused though! Having just read Coy and Garner (2010) ‘Glamour Modelling and the marketing of self-sexualisation’ I realise that I am not alone in thinking that there is a mixed message here. As Cathy Rosario writes:
“While dividing feminism into four waves provides a degree of clarity, the reality is that when you have a movement that makes a claim to speak for half the human population, cramming it into a nutshell is always going to be difficult and offer only a partial view.” ‘Waving not Drowning: the Four Waves of Feminism, (2012).

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Thinking about it, I’m not sure I am the problem – perhaps the biggest problem feminists face is other women. Katie Price states she is a feminist – now there’s a mixed message if ever I head one. All I can do is continue to believe that men and women are equal and that their differences should be celebrated. As a man though, it is easy to fall into the trap of ‘coming to the aid of the feminists’

It is the idea that women need men’s’ help to fight their battle against other men (and dare I say, against other women) that probably concerns me the most. So in answer to the question that I started with – ‘Can a man write about feminism?’ the answer is yes! But can a man be a feminist I think I have to say no. I can support the cause and be part of the movement but for a man to be a feminist almost takes their fight away from them. I am part of this unequal society and I am part of the media culture. I have to support feminism because when I think about it – I might need the feminists help one day when the tables are turned and I find myself fighting the battle of masculism

essex-boy-web-spt-345x548Masculinity and moisturiser do mix!

I wasn’t sure in the blog about feminism that I had the knowledge or the right to talk about it.  I felt that I was part of the problem as well as the solution. So when I knew I had to write a blog about masculinity I thought I would be safe and a year ago I think I would have been. But as always, this course gets you thinking in different ways about things you just didn’t think about! You see I thought masculinity was just about being a man and that I decided the type of man I wanted to be but now nothing is that simple. Having read Hall and Geiben’s article ‘The Commercialisation of masculinities:from the new man to the new lad’ [Article from Formations of Modernity:1992] I realise that not only is it really difficult to define what masculinity is but that surprise, surprise, I’m not sure I’m in charge of it! Take male beauty products as an example! When my dad was my age, there were no ‘male skincare products’ and recently when he saw my Nivea shaving balm, I got the ‘What do you need that for?’ look. I know that I am different to my dad in that respect. But just because I look after myself doesn’t mean I’m not masculine. (I’m taking my definition of masculine from the Oxford Dictionary: adjective having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men: he is outstandingly handsome and robust, very masculine) [Oxford Dictionaries.com]

But my worry here is this – am I caring about my appearance because the media tell me to? Have I watched too many adverts or read too many men’s magazines. Perhaps I have become the ‘new man as narcissist’ as Hall puts it. Perhaps men are falling into the same trap as women do. I believe that I can be like the bloke on the front cover of Esquire just like women believe they can look like Angelina Jolie in two weeks because the magazine says so. I guess I am a new man and I am happy with my masculinity even though the definition of what that actually is, keeps changing. But surely I’m not that dense. Can I really be that influenced by adverts in men’s magazines? It really could be the case that media and big business is responding to ‘the new man’ rather than the other way round. The problem is, men’s beauty products is worth $2.6B in the USA and £420M in Europe [2012 – Premium Beauty News – http://www.premiumbeautynews.com] so surely the industry is going to keep on advertising and then it’s going to be difficult to decide who is leading who. I would like to think that the media will always respond to the changing needs of men but this course is teaching me that the media is a very powerful thing and nothing should be taken for granted!

Chav Babes 2006 Calender Sunday MercuryOk so new week on the Media Culture and Practice course and once again I have so many questions! I’ve just been reading an article called “Chav Mum Chav Scum” by Imogen Tyler (2008)

In this article she uses a word to describe a new social class, a class of poor white working-class known as ‘chavs’. This is not a new word or a new phenomenon but its effects are far reaching and long standing.

The first question I have is this – who next? Which group of society will be vilified and ridiculed and hated. As Imogen Taylor suggests, there has always been an underclass but what seems to be happening now is that technology is supporting it in a way like never before.

Throughout history there have been ‘chavs’ – and underclass in society, people at the bottom of the social ladder, with no way to escape their poverty. But what is different now is the role of the media in making this situation a whole lot worse! Through the mass media, the chav has become a figure to be ridiculed and hated. The biggest chav of all (Vicky Pollard from Little Britain) has completely taken over this idea. She is a media creation to laugh at and despise. Through Figurative methodology, the chav figure has become (as Imogen Taylor explains) distorted and caricatured.

Over time, society zooms in on a group of people (the chavs) and repeats them over lots of different media – TV, Newspapers, Film, Documentaries, Music etc. Over time this figure becomes embedded in the culture. Then lots of negativity surrounds this group and a new lower social class is born. (which makes the white upper/ middle classes very happy because they have someone else to sneer at perhaps?) Without the media, the chav would just be white poor but now they have a label and have become a figure, they develop qualities that people love to hate.

So, am I safe from this? Am I next? Has it already started? The rise of ‘lad culture’ and the negative media surrounding it is not difficult to find – National Union of Students recent research on ‘laddism’ and a culture of harassment or the Daily Mail headline from 2010 –“ Lads’ mags and a toxic culture that treats all women like meat.” (Jan Moir May 2010)

So what’s next? A comedy TV programme? No wait, already done with ‘The Inbetweeners’. As a ‘lad’ of 19, can I escape from this label? There must be an awful lot of poor, white working class people who are thinking the same thing. They are not ‘chavs’ but they are going to be tarred with the same brush. As an unregulated body (although this may change with the Leveson Report) the mass media can make or break a social class with a picture or a headline. At what point will society fight back?

Pierre BourdieuI found out this week I have cultural capital. Didn’t know I had it and now I know, I find myself feeling highly relieved!

The idea of Cultural Capital was first realised by Bourdieu, a French sociologist, who used the term cultural capital as a way of explaining the advantage that middle class children gain from having middle class parents. And because ‘working class’ children do not acquire the same cultural capital, they are basically at a disadvantage in the education system and as a result, the society and culture in which they live.

As I read this article, it was difficult not to feel quite thankful that I have had the kind of upbringing that gave me opportunities. I had music lessons, I went to pottery classes (my mum still has some of the deformed items in the downstairs loo) and I endured listening to the Archers for most of my young years. What I didn’t realise was that these experiences were ‘lining my cultural pocket’ with advantages that only now I have come to understand. Today we watched Grayson Perry’s social/art study of the middle classes – In the Best Possible Taste. (Channel 4 June 2012). It was spookily accurate and reminded me of my mum with her beloved Le Creuset set (I’ve had this for 20 years) and her NCT (we still get together every year and I’m nearly 20)!

Yet I am left with an uneasy feeling – how condescending to think that working class children don’t also experience some of this cultural wealth, or am I just naïve, assuming that everyone has the same opportunities. Bourdieu argues, middle class cultural capital is not all about the money, it’s about the subconscious foundations that are laid down by families and I guess your family either has it or they don’t! In his other book Distinction (1970) he even argues that the ‘taste’ I have is not my ability to choose but comes from my class and my upbringing. Now I’m really starting to question things. On this course so far, I’ve realised that not only do I not own my own image (it is the persona I want to others to see and probably based on media pressures and subliminal messages), I am ruled by my iphone (according to Sherry Turkle) and now the very things I choose and the decisions I make are based on my parent’s class structure and my place in it! A question I am starting to ask myself is – do I own any of me? And do I have my cultural capital forever or do I have to start earning my own? I’m thinking my cultural capital might become different from my parents’ cultural capital and how do I ensure I give my cultural capital to my children?

As Einstein once said:

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.

Well I’m certainly raising a lot of questions at the moment!

Alone Together?

Posted: October 18, 2013 in Experience & Identity
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maxresdefaultAccording to Sherry Turkle, (TED Talk February 2012) I should have more “Real Time” conversations, you know, the one on one, face to face chats! After watching her short TED video I find myself agreeing with what she is saying but at the same time I completely disagree.

Maybe Sherry Turkle is just hiding away from the fact or in denial that society is constantly changing and to be quite frank there isn’t anything we can do about it. Everything she has mentioned in this video I do on a daily basis! This doesn’t mean I’m always happy to do be doing it but at the same time I’m so used to doing it that I don’t even know I’m doing it! It has become innate, a natural and integral part of my communication. I know it shouldn’t necessarily be this way and I agree that face to face communication with all the body language and facial clues, is a much more natural way of talking. But the world is changing and we have to change with it. She talks about being ‘alone together’ but at the same time I believe we are connected together for the better. If I take a stand and refuse to communicate through texts then I am as good as mute. All of my friends (and even my parents) text to communicate and I would feel I was missing out on the technology that allows us the freedom of communication without the ‘real contact’.

Then again… she has a point. My texts should be reflecting me, not reconstructing me. I change, adapt and sometimes never send texts I write. I do have a ‘text persona’ that is different to the real me and that is something that I wasn’t really aware of before. I think from now on I will try to make my texts more reflective of the real me rather than the persona I want to convey. That will be an interesting experiment!

Over the next few months, I think I’m going to have to think about technology and media in a way that I have never thought of it before. But at the same time Technology is a part of our life and we are adapting to it and around it every day. Maybe we are alone together but if I can talk to whoever I want, when I want and share memories with people on the other side of the world, then maybe being alone together is not such a bad thing! We need people like Sherry Turkle to allow us time to stop, think and re-evaluate. Technology is an on-going rush and we would do well to take the time to make sure we are controlling technology rather than technology controlling us.