Sunday, April 11, 2010

More tl;dr on Why I Hate Victorientalism

This was originally posted on Tumblr as a rant, but I thought it warranted cross-posting.
  
The problem with Orientalism has always been that through that lens people from the Orient, Westerners pick out particular traits of Easterners to magnify. Which leads to stereotypes. And lends to caricatures. And all these are exciting elements for art.
I am not a stereotype and I am not a caricature and I am not an element for your story. I am a whole, living, breathing human being with my own life and my own actions and my own story and my own particular traits and many facets. Orientalism forgets all this, sitting in a position of Westerners' privilege, either glorifying what aspects of the East that pleases it, or justifying the brutality that is dealt to the cultures that don't please it.

Orientalism can never produce anything authentic, only shadows. But it is held up as a truth and a good, to the point where those under the Orientalist's lens accept the Orientalist's terms. When I go on any tour of any Eastern country, I see products of Orientalism in the form of souvenirs and bric-a-brac design to please those who visit.

Orientalists do not understand that by stripping forms away from the sources, they devalue the sources, who scramble to buy back what has been stolen by Orientalism, at a higher price. That colonialism has had devastating effects on the very cultures they claim to love and admire, and that they have abetted this devastation and continue to. Orientalism is the patriarchal, old-fashioned man who claims to love his wife and then demands her to perform wifely duties without caring about who she really is.

I am a product of Western civilization. I speak Queen's English, I read Western authours, both those who write in English and those translated into English. When I studied music, I learnt the whole gamut of Western composers from Bach to Stravinsky. I do all this in order to be taken seriously, to prove that I have worth when I walk the world, because colonialism has left behind it a gold standard: that of Western Civilization. Never mind that colonizers first came to my part of the world for tin, gold is good! Gold is best. We must go for gold.


And now, it is platinum. 

This doesn't come without sacrifice. In order for me to keep up with the world and succeed, my parents taught me English and I was surrounded by too much English media to absorb much else. Without the language of my culture, I am cut off from it and catch it only in the forms of worship and wordless behaviour, in the disapproval of my grandmother who called me outlandish. When I spoke in school, I was asked if I was Christian, a Western religion after all which spreads through an English medium in our part of the world.

I have assimilated and I have sacrificed my language and culture to fit in better within this great Western Civilization, that I could have my own story and walk side-by-side with great achievers. And for those who dare say that you never asked me to, tell me you have never mocked the language of my people, tell me you have never imagined my people to be anything other than what you think they are, tell me you have always seen the people of the worlds to be exactly the same, and you'd be lying either way, but at the very least I'll buy that you have never understood just how supremacists have survived into today's modern people. Tell me you have read only stories written by us about us to understand us, rather than the texts of people who have only studied us and lived with us awhile, but speak your language and translate all of us into something you can comprehend.

Orientalism is the slap in my face that tells me that my part in the story is as the quiet mystic who delivers homilies and wise sayings, the geisha whose function is to soothe, Madame Butterfly who will be forsaken, the voiceless Scheherazade who appeals to the sultan by belly-dancing into his bed.

Easterners can find no escape within through Orientalism because Orientalism cages Easterners for the consumption and entertainment of Westerners.

People defending Orientalism should just be honest and just say flat out that they don't care about the real people whose cultures they objectify. It won't change anything, because they would still be aiding and abetting the cultural imperialism and appropriation happening in the world today, but it would sure make it easier to identify who the hell to avoid.

I will understand completely the desire to maintain a perfect little fantasy bubble. Just let me know you're living in one.

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