There is a reason world maps feature Europe, Asia and the Americas at the center, everyone wants to think they are in the center. At different stages of history civilization has centered itself in regions. India and China were once the center of human development and power until European colonialism took sprout and today everything has changed because of globalization.There might be financial centers in the world but with the integration of finance and trade, financial centers are nothing more than physical locations that cater for the number we see on a monitor.
So while colonialism and mercantilism have twisted and changed into new forms, the major influence of power in the world and a sign of dominance is culture. Soft power tactics by major powers range from the use of media, multinationals and institutions. A lot of it isn’t as sinister as people try to make it out to be. My favorite medium of cultural transmission is Television and Film. An Irish comedian, Tommy Tiernan, once referred to Americans as being ‘The Televisions’ because the American accent was all that we ever heard from the TV at one stage. American film, like British and the rest of Europe led the way for some truly ground-breaking strides.
The reason for Television and Film being able to be easily transferable is because they were naturally good. They were created by screenplay writers and authors that had a vision that looked at the human experience. They weren’t written for the sake of being transferable, but rather they were transferable for being simply good. That is perhaps the problem with a lot of soft power tactics. The Confucius institutes are a Chinese initiative to spread the learning of Chinese language and culture. The only problem with this is that it is completely government-run and everything from the type of language being learned to the history and culture is standardized. This standardized version of history, culture and language isn’t natural and looks more like a business trying to force a ‘viral video’ to create ‘brand recognition’. Without the freedom to explore ideas and to research unhindered, soft power doesn’t transmit.
The Big Bang Theory in 2013 was banned from being streamed on the Chinese version of YouTube, Youku. It was extremely popular and was a great segue way when meeting new people. A lot of students were watching it to help their English and they genuinely enjoyed it because besides Korean dramas and the odd Chinese one, most students didn’t watch what was on television. It was banned because of it’s lewdness but for anyone with common sense, it was banned because it was too popular and too foreign. There are a lot of people who look at their own country and cultural spheres and enjoy them. A lot of people enjoy American pop-culture and with the age of the Internet it is now simply just ‘pop-culture’. The borders that divide us with visas and tariffs don’t exist online and we are free to explore and create as we please. That said, most of what is on the internet is nonsense anyway, but having nonsense is just as important as having good content.
With this backdrop of pop culture and our society, some people feel detached from it. I feel detached from it at times and what I read in the media and see in the charts makes me feel sick. There are a lot of problems in Western society that are not easily fixable, but they aren’t hopeless either. While some people tend to try and glorify it, I am on the fence about it. There are those however that see our society and culture as being rotten and mechanical. They view Western culture as a bastion of everything wrong with society and we are focusing on the wrong issues. Skepticism is an important thing to have, but skepticism for the sake of it is moronic.
I have had to sit through conversations with people who tell me that the Russians and Chinese know what is ‘really’ going on in the world today. People have told me that Western Media is manipulated and that we are sheep to the whims of the big corporations. I don’t disagree that media can be manipulated but the truth is scarier, our media manipulates itself to get the most views and readership. Traditional media is a dying industry and to compete with online publications, our news comes off as not actually being news. Russia and China are both the worst places in the world for journalistic freedom. The media only looks different because it is reactionary to foreign news stories that prod at a sensitive topic, like Human Rights abuses.
These people tend to look at western media and culture and feel betrayed. I don’t necessarily blame them either, the media lead up to the Invasion of Iraq and how media doesn’t report all that much on massacres in countries with few white people makes me angry, but it doesn’t make me disenfranchised to the greater part of Western culture. The problem is that many people are going from one extreme to another.The best way to understand people who have an innate disgust for Western civilization and admire basically anyone else is to understand them as being Orientalists.
Orientalism is the distortion of the Orient, or the Middle-East/Asia/Russia through the lens of the Western perspective. The cultures of the Middle-East/Asia/Russia are distorted so that the orientalist can understand it through their own cultural bias. This leaves behind two side effects. On the one hand the Orientalist has a fascination with the orient and their culture. They view them to be mystics and their language and cultures are very exotic. They know something we don’t and how they live is how we should all live. On the other hand, the orientalist will always keep the orient at a hands distance. He doesn’t want to see the real orient, but rather the distortion the they have created in place of the reality. There is no mysticism behind someone being Asian, Russian or Middle-Eastern. Their media lies just as much as ours and the world freedom index doesn’t lie as to who has more freedom of expression, journalism and even the freedom to access portions of the internet.
As bad as the Western media may seem, or as disenfranchised as you become, just remember that the media and everyone here is still free to say we are disenfranchised from society. That in itself is a great victory and although I disagree with the nature of a lot of counter-culture movements, I can still respect them because they don’t idolize something outside and foreign, but they idolize what we could be doing better. For some reason, whenever I see someone talk about somewhere else being more enlightened or spiritual, I just image them as John Voight in Midnight Cowboy. John Voight’s character sees New York as being the place to be and where he can make his millions. He leaves the small town where people speak small words for the big time in New York. Once he is there is quickly find he is swindled rather easily and that the reality he had created in his mind was nothing like the one he had found himself in. Seeing is believing and when you see the orient and the occident for who they really are and their situation, you see them as being people without great exoticism.