Posts Tagged ‘cultural studies’

I’ll Know Change When I See It…

January 21, 2009

Change will have really come to America when the amateur porn orgies you see on the Internet are as multi-racial as the current First Family. As I write this post, interspersed with quick peeks at a porn streaming site where I’ve got an orgy scene all cued up and with gentle strokes to my penis which has been pulled out of its clothed confines and is tingling with slight anticipation — I think to myself, when will a group of friends, regardless of the color of their skin and the content of their creed, be able to unite for the common purpose of butt-fucking each other and filming it for the world to watch in grainy MPEG format? And I also think to myself, how unhygienic is it to be touching myself and typing at the same time? And will MPEG formats be to my children’s generation what the mimeograph is to us?

But returning to the original problem: why does all the amateur group porn today feature White People? Do all the Brown, Yellow and Black people not feel like celebrating sexual abandon in large groups? Is it because these cultures are so immersed in family and community, unlike those terribly isolated and existentially unrooted Whities, that the thought of doing it with a whole bunch of friends that you hang out with all the time anyway, is just too claustrophobic?

“Oi, papi, we spen all our time together, drinkin cervejas, celebratin Cinco de Mayo, bitchin about our White bosses, now we gotta come home and try to figure out who’s goin to be holdin the camera and who will be fuckin mi querida Maria first? Puta madre, no!”

Or maybe it’s a symptom of the digital divide.

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Keep The Cheese In The Master’s Room: The Stanley Fish Edition

January 19, 2009

Stanley Fish has delivered another provocative broadside against the commercialization of American culture and its impact on one of those institutions of the twentieth century that is at once opaque, instantly divisive and somehow always seeming to be self-justifying: tenure. I largely agree with what Professor Fish has to say, though I think his global tone is a little annoying — tenure may be succumbing to practicality in the United States but that’s perhaps only because the grand American civilizational experiment is coming to an end, even if only to become the second grand American civilizational experiment.

Tenure was established in the US by some of the large and old universities — Harvard, Columbia and the University of Chicago — that were established at a time when education in diverse fields, including the now-emaciated arts, was as seen as a badge of pride for the newly established colonies. It received a further boost in the mid-twentieth century when professors had to be “attracted and retained,” in the familiar jargon of human resource management, to lead the classrooms bursting with GI Bill and Baby Boomer induced enrollment growth.

Today, there are alternate modes of attraction and retention, notably through the operation of for-profit universities. And the current academic establishment has largely spent itself with theory and analysis. When we think today of the great truths of the day and the nascent discoveries that will become the great truths of tomorrow, is our first thought to look to the universities? No. The cubicle warrens of technology companies or the waterholes of the Internet or the divey coffee bars of urban conglomerations around the world are the source of our new cultures and new humanisms. Tenure is not protecting innovation; it is only the mothball that preserves the well-worn relics of a previous era.

Tenure itself is a good idea but it has today been appropriated by a class that is only seeking to protect its way of life, rather than the grand idea of freedom and diversity of thought that was the original charge it was meant to guard. Professor Fish contends that the loss of tenure will signal the loss of culture. It’s in fact the truth that the loss of his culture, and its accession to something new being cooked somewhere outside the confines of his colleagues’ traditional holds, is endangering tenure.

The Treasured Outsider

January 17, 2009

This is a more sobering post than I’ve usually presented to my audience on this blog. Someone dear to me, who like me is also a first generation immigrant, was wondering about her boss’ remark that she is a source of inspiration to the kids she teaches. My friend, this person, find it hard for to believe that because she sees the massive cultural gap between her and the kids and wonders how that gap can be bridged enough for her words and guidance to be effective.

I too have come to terms with this paradox. As immigrants, we are at once the center of a lot of attention —  entirely of the pleasant sort, luckily for me — but also find ourselves removed from the center of American life almost de facto because we can’t share in the American idiom as easily as those who have been born and achieved adulthood here.
My own journey of discovering my place in the United States has been one of understanding this dichotomy. In the US, I find that immigrants have this special place because of the enduring role that immigrant communities play in defining this nation’s identity. I am a South Asian immigrant, and the story of middle class South Asian like me is, in particular, a curious one within the larger immigrant story. My community is among the few that have come here of their own volition, leaving behind a life that to many native-born Americans seems quite cushy.

This mystery is particularly deepened in the case of my friend and me, because of the active role we play in our communities. We are neither of us the typical South Asian, like the invisible software engineer, or cab driver, or accountant or restaurant owner, the kind of person that you meet in specific, professional, circumstances, but who doesn’t interact with the mainstream of American life outside those circumstances. The traditional story of all immigrant communities, even relatively wealthy and privileged ones like the Jews, various Europeans and the Hispanics, has been one of taking multiple generations to migrate from a ghetto to an existence within the mainstream of American life. Even among Indians, it isn’t until the second generation that you start to see  people stepping into political participation, even at fairly limited, local, levels.

But my friend and I have skipped this step seemingly within a fraction of a lifetime, leave alone across two generations. We are not running for office (yet), but we participate in debates and activities that relate to issues that matter now and right here, to the lives of a broad cross section of American society. To many Americans, especially in California, where we live, which is an immigrant nation within an immigrant nation, no story could possibly be more inspiring.

To think that we would dedicate any part of our skills and life energies to the broader community, rather than, as immigrants tend to do, to the narrower concerns of our own kinsmen, cannot be perceived by those who know you as anything less than a gift. And the grace and humility with which we approach your contributions cannot but help touch hearts around you. Yes, there isn’t much humility in these perceptions that I am laying in front of you, dear Reader, but I know that there is nothing self-aggrandizing in how my friend and I offer our services and social energies to the communities we live in, without being motivated by a desire to find comfort in parochial ties and environs. It’s another post which will examine what the distancing from one’s own community might mean, whether there’s an element of self-hatred, and whether it’s merely exploratory and adventure-seeking behavior that will play itself out in a few more years. What matters right now in understanding who we are as immigrants, and in understanding what the potential of what American society offers to people like us, is accepting the particularly special nature of our relationship.

Wah, Don’t Move My Cheese: The Rick Warren Edition

December 29, 2008

The Rick Warren controversy (President-elect Obama wants him to deliver the opening prayer at the inauguration) has had me thinking about this for a while. Also, the chance of getting a few hits on my blog on the coat-tails of this kerfuffle is one that cannot be passed up on. (Thanks for clicking!)

Rick Warren’s stance on gay marriage is: for five thousand years, marriage has been between a man and a woman, so I can’t support changing it. Also, because we can’t allow marriages between brothers and sisters, and between “old guys” and “young girls,” we can’t allow one between two men (or two women.)

Warren’s logic itself is terrible, not to account for his rather hidebound stance over tradition. Then there’s the issue of whether marriage indeed has been this unchanging institution for “five thousand years,” the magic figure that he likes to roll off his tongue. Much shorter ago than that, marriage involved the virtual sale of the woman to the man (or rather to the man’s family), and I don’t see Warren, or any one interested in staying in the mainstream of social debate, advocating a return to the glory days of feminine chattel.

But. Warren’s got a point that a heck of a lot of Americans do think that this definition needs defending. There’s a line between defending it socially and defending it legally — now-President Bush tried getting a constitutional Kevlar vest for marriage a few years ago, and his efforts were met with a resounding “No” from public opinion. However, this doesn’t mean that a lot of people aren’t feeling very threatened by the potential sea-change in what will constitute marriage, and to my mind, what President-elect Obama is looking to do is offer this constituency a voice.

I think they should get a voice. I think gay rights organizations should ensure in each state that sexual orientation is not a bar for any rights granted by the state, including the right to adopt, the right to civil unions and everything else that a loving couple would like to do when they are married (including no-fault divorces, a fascinating idea, about which more another time.) I think any measure that restricts these rights should be challenged as unconstitutional, as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The social debate on marriage has to be allowed to run its course, and to imagine that we can completely exclude people who are on the traditionalist side of the debate from the public sphere is preposterous. As to the allegations that Warren compares gay relationships to child abuse, it’s important to note that “old guys” marrying “young girls” is not considered child abuse in some cultures — so if it sounds repugnant to those of us who are offended at Warren’s equivalences, we have to wonder if his aversion isn’t the same as our aversion at what to some cultures is a perfectly reasonable matrimonial arrangement.

Memories of Humankind

December 28, 2008

What memories of the human race need to be preserved? All of them?

There have been billions of humans on this planet, over tens of thousands of years. They have created hundreds of cultures, thousand of sub-cultures. Languages have come and gone; so have religions and cults and creeds. What must we remember from this welter of memories, and why?

What is the value of the act of preservation, when the artefacts being preserved are merely symbols, that have all been replaced by perfectly good alternatives? If no one remembers a rain god of an ancient Polynesian culture, but we all now worship our scientific understanding of why it rains, have we lost something of irreplaceable value?

The human race can only remember so many things. We generate new ideas and constructs every day, and every day there are more of us to do it. There are hundreds of millions of blogs on the Web today; hundreds of millions of us are pouring our thoughts and ideas into a massive, bubbling  stew of human knowledge and aspirations and passions. Something must give and must be lost so that these new ideas can take their place in our consciousness. The old ways of naming and calling must wither away, until all we have are some old jokes and hoary myths.

Thinking of this while listening to Siouxsie and the Banshees, wondering what fascination Native American, the Sioux tribe in particular, must have had for a British born punk artist.