Culture Envy

I almost want to skip this subject because it seems like I cannot defend American culture properly. On my latest post about Anime I seemed to have ruffled some feathers, and in particular the feathers of someone that I actually like and consider a good friend. I had to take a step back and talk to a couple of people about the subject before I could really formulate an opinion and I ended up more confused than I even started.

Asian cultures have been interesting to me since before I moved to the U.S. The Japanese tea ceremony was probably one of of the ones that shocked me the most. At school at a very young age we were taught about cultures and their differences. I was then made aware of how different we ate from other cultures. It almost felt impossible to put that much effort into serving tea just the perfect way, but that was their culture. Also how it was ok for some cultures to pick up food with their hands and not for others.

I think I am a pretty culturally diverse person, not because I like Japanese cartoons or practiced a Korean (Tae Kwon Do) and Chinese (Kung Fu). I think it has a lot more to do with my willingness to accept and learn about differences. I can tell the difference between someone from Thailand or the Philippines, as well as know that calling a Korean, Chinese or Japanese is as wrong as when someone calls me a Mexican. Don’t get me wrong, it took time and effort on my part. I used to think everyone in China and India spoke the same language.

When looking at cultures we have to be able to understand the role that ethics play. The concepts of right and wrong, good and evil make up the set of rules that a society lives by. That is probably one of the cornerstones of what makes up a culture. The way we look at sexuality its a big part of a culture. I believe it is very important to know where the set of rules is coming from.

I realized that a lot of the morality infused in American culture has a lot to do with religion. I have always felt that your morals can come partly from religion, but it should not be the sole source. What troubles me even more is that maybe ethics in the American society come only from religion. Morality being that part of ethics that refers to the concept of right and wrong. I think it is very important to know where our morals come from and not just accept what we are being told. I feel that American culture is dictated more by a preset set or rules than by discussion and people coming up with their own conclusions.

I have heard the argument again and again about sex on TV. I think that there are a lot more immoral things on TV than a pair of breasts. This almost declared marshal law after one breast was exposed in the Superbowl. Everyone`s argument was that kids were watching, and so what? Are kids going to be more emotionally affected by an exposed breast than the dry humping on soap operas or the suggestiveness in beer commercials?

I don’t believe that American is more puritanical than any other culture. It is very subjective. For example hair in private places is not something that is allowed to be shown in all cultures. Does that mean that because sexual entertainment in the US includes showing private hair it makes us more progressive?

I made the statement that Japanese culture is “richer” than US culture and I was wrong. While it is a culture with more history it does not make it “richer”. Since it is subjective, ever changing and unquantifiable the concept of culture richness is almost a mute point. I think all cultures have something to offer and unfortunately they all carry a certain stigma. I guess the secret is in not judging a book by its cover and being able to open up to new experiences. I know I am a lot happier of a person for having tried Ja Jang Myon.

5 Responses to Culture Envy

  1. I have always been interested in other cultures as well. I’ve been exposed to many of the same ones you have mentioned (for the same reasons) as well as Brazilian culture. Surprisingly enough, I don’t think Americans are considered very “cultural”, despite the fact that we are the “melting pot”.

    As far as morality is concerned, I don’t know how you get morals except from God. If you think about it, what is mankind’s tendencies? Don’t morals go directly against our nature? Our nature is to do everything to gratify ourselves. I think all amoral behavior goes to that. Think about the ten commandments. The first four involve honoring God above ourselves. Also, Do not murder: gratify our hatred. Do not commit adultery: gratify our lust. Do not steal: gratify our desire of other’s things, etc.

    Where would we be if we were left to our own devices and left to come up with our own set of morals? Sadly, I think we are getting very close to that exact point in America. Our law is trumping God’s more and more all the time. Call me crazy but I have a feeling that God knows a whole lot more about me and how life works than I ever will!!! I’ll trust him to make morality =)

  2. I agree that morality and ethics come directly from God – assuming one is a religious person (in my case a Christian, which is the religious background of the majority of people in America, along with Judaism). To me, there is no moral or ethical rules or guidelines that do not come from the Bible – there simply aren’t. That’s my belief, and the belief (even if they don’t realize where it comes from) of a lot of people. It would be against our religious beliefs not to believe so – to believe that goodness or fairness came from a source other than God. You can’t separate one from the other.

    That said, I totally understand and respect those that do not believe in God, or believe that morality and ethics come solely from men or even some other place (Oz? The Matrix? Middle Earth?) but that those beliefs are in the minority here in America.

    As such, you can’t really have multi-cultural relative morality – that’s something I alluded to in a comment to the previous post. If murder is wrong in America, it’s wrong everywhere morally and ethically. That’s what I have to believe. Even if it’s legal and accepted, it’s still wrong and immoral. That doesn’t mean I’m going to fight a holy war or demand other cultures adapt to our ways, but I’m not going to compromise my beliefs on morality by accepting or appreciating an aspect of a culture that condones murder. What comes to mind are the so-called “honor killings” of women in certain Islamic societies that have been raped, are judged to be at fault and tainted, and then put to death to satisfy “honor”. To say nothing of suicide bombers who believe killing infidels (i.e. innocent men, women and children) is commanded by their God and their own ticket to Heaven.

    You can’t say one moral stance is ok for this culture and an opposite moral stance is ok for that culture and expect me to agree.

  3. I never asked you to compromise your morals for anything Barry. I was simply suggesting that another culture has different moral values. Adult anime is a little more free with sexuality and I was trying to say that some (not all) will have some sexual undertones that are part of that culture. I do not expect you to just change who you are so you can experience another culture.

    I still do not understand why you bring up “honor killings” into this discussions. I do not believe that they have anything to do with culture at all, they actually have a lot more to do with religious law. One of the principles I love about this republic is the separation of church and state… unfortunately it has been bastardized and in some cases ignored. Actually Japan has its own history of atrocities like this country does. Abu Garib was shameful. We might even want to forget about Guantanamo (I have no stance on it yet, because I truly do not know the reality there). People seem to forget all the bad when it is too bad to comprehend. We put people in concentration camps here in our own soil, we also performed human experiments, and this is all common knowledge, and I listed the current ones first so that the excuse is that those were mistakes of the past. Yet we seem to think that we have nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t worry I am not saying other countries don’t do the same, Japan tried to erase a lot of its bad history too.

    I believe that our current society in America is in decline because critical thinking has been removed and replaced by not just religion but pretty much everything on our system. I think religion should be a personal choice and not a personal duty. I loved the theology discussions I had while attending a Catholic school with some of the most traveled and studied monks. They brought a lot of insight into what religion is, should be and what it isn’t.

    We should all have a core in our lives and it should be comprised of many things, one of them being religion. I also believe that morals have to be build by family, environment but must of all our own judgement. If we are not prepared to question religion, the we are doomed to be participant on the mistakes someone else makes. And understand that I am not challenging God, I am challenging religion.

    Christianity is a relative young religion when compared to some of the Eastern religions, and by that account so is Islam. Removing my Christianity hat, I see more blood being shed in the name of Jesus and Mohamed than Budah. Am I saying we are wrong for being Christians? No, I chose to be a Christian… however, I believe my morals and sense of right and wrong have to be a little more personal.

    Your statements really make it seem like you are a Nationalist that does not believe in Multiculturalism… yet you talk about how America is a melting pot. Those are very contradictory statements because if you only believe in one culture based on one religion(that of the majority), then by definition America is a Christian state. I wrestle with that thought since the fathers of this nation wanted religious freedom and it was one of the things they wanted to base this country on.

  4. I’m the accepting one in my family. I have a much greater appreciation for things that are different than the rest of my immediate family members have.

    And I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciate the comment you left on my last post. This is a really tough time for me, and it’s nice to hear something like that.

    Thank you for being a friend.

  5. You may be working with too large of a sample here. America doesn’t have a single monolithic culture. What is acceptable and normal in Long Island can be very different from what is acceptable and normal in Long Beach, both of which can be drastically different from the standards of Macon. The larger the scale you’re looking at, the more likely you are to take issue with some aspect or other about the social standards of the group you include yourself in.

    Taking Christianity as an example, there are a lot of culture variants there: do you cross yourself before praying? Some do, some don’t. Do you hold hands with people around the table when saying grace? I don’t, but know several families that do (and honestly I find the practice to be mildly creepy). Your culture is what you will pass on to your children, not what necessarily what somebody is broadcasting to your television.

    As for the notion of the melting pot, I prefer the stew metaphor. The carrots are still carrots, and the beef is still beef, but the broth in influenced by and influences all the various ingredients.

    Back on the topic of Japanese cartoons, they generally use sexual subjects the same way American shows do: to titillate or shock. How many sexual relationships did Jerry Seinfeld have in his sitcom, or the main characters of Friends? Compare that to a show that relies on blatant fanservice like Shuffle or Love Hina and you find that the only characters that aren’t virgins are parental figures. There are exceptions, sure, but there’s a rather strong prudish streak in popular Japanese media. They just don’t have such an influential group of busybodies sounding off every time a nipple makes its way onto the TV screen.

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