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August 25th, 2012


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03:28 am - next essay for World Music
In Western civilization, many aspects of culture have already been commodified, and so the people within that civilization are inured to it. Icons such as Santa Claus began as a religious subject, but is now part of the season's atmosphere, losing nearly all of the original meaning. To a Sikh, or a Jew, there is no deep meaning to this symbol, though even to a Christian, St. Nick can be viewed as a marketing tool rather than a call to their religion. The accoutrements of Christianity have been abducted by the vast machinery of free trade aiming to acquire more money.

The arts of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia bring a fresh viewpoint of the world, giving those who can market it properly another means of acquiring wealth. Stores in my neighborhood sell a large selection of digeridoos, while offering classes in their use. Recordings are also rather easy to find, for a price. Stories of the Dreaming are made into art books, and they are spread far beyond the Outback. There are no Elders who can explain the stories; they do not teach a child of Harlem, or the son of a Duke of England how to live off the lands from whence they came. Instead, these stories are treated in the same way as tales from non-Western cultures worldwide, as an amusement, not as a life-giving instruction. A person of European antecedents is expected to understand who Zeus was; an American should recognize Johnny Appleseed...these are the ones who fill the tales of our heritage, and their presence in a story gives us a context to understand the underlying meaning. Without the cultural context, such works from the Aboriginal tribes are only pretty stories.

Does commodization harm the culture that birthed the tales? Not in itself. However, the old tendency to view such stories as childish and of no import by the paternalistic colonial powers did not give the folk wisdom its due. I doubt many Australian citizens would be willing to go walking through the Outback with a book of such tales in hand, and expect to survive without carrying a large amount of modern gear. In fact, if my memory serves, there were expeditions into the Australian interior that were wiped out, or nearly so, in the early years of colonization because they didn't use Aboriginal guides or the instruction of the Elders to learn what they needed for survival.

In American history there were serious issues when the pioneers conflicted with the native tribes present, which was violently ended with the ethnic cleansing of the continent. This lead to severe effects on the people, and was attempted by the swallowing up of Native American culture. Many of the same methods were used in the United States as were done in Australia, with such things as forced adoption of Native American children, leading to the loss of generational lore. This leads to the sale of kachina dolls, teepees, feathered headdresses, musical stylings, drums, peace pipes, and even sweat lodges which have been turned into commodities, sometimes by the tribes, but more often by their imitators. This has had profound effects on their people, with problems of despair and anger.

It is difficult for me to say whether or not the sale of a people's heritage is right or wrong. Many things are truly art, in all senses, and can and should be enjoyed as such. However, in the context of a particular tribe or nation, the item has a much deeper meaning and lesson to tell those who can read it. I would say that sharing the context, and not just the item, is vital for proper appreciation of the fruits of Aboriginal (or any other peoples') art.

(8 comments | Speak, or forever hold your peace)

Comments:


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From:cuntishness
Date:August 25th, 2012 08:45 am (UTC)
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As someone who comes from an insulated culture whose language will be dead in 2 generations, I see the value in bringing who you are into the mainstream. As an accepted piece of the fabric of a life. Recognizable.

Much like the argument for zoos and marine parks, if we do not feel a connection with these things, as disgusting humans we feel that it is ok to destroy them. I think the patriarchal machine that has tried to whitewash the cultural landscape did far worse when they were able to objectify these outsider cultures and call them "less than us".

Having said that,of course things do get watered down, used for movie fodder or as something to laugh at. And it's frustrating.



On another personal note, going to Australia when I was 17 (I'm 34 now) for my first solo international vacation was wonderful but eventually horrifying when I saw how most Australians treated Aboriginal people. It horrified me.
From:dewline
Date:August 25th, 2012 01:07 pm (UTC)
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More than a few Australians are equally horrified on a continuing basis. Whether they and the Australian First Nationals can win this one...?

Sidebar: It shouldn't take a Lonely Planet-brand phrasebook to open one's eyes to things like local ethnic diversity within Australia, but in my case...
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From:mycroftca
Date:August 25th, 2012 01:49 pm (UTC)
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Wasn't Australia rather disinterested in ethnic diversity until somewhat recently?
From:dewline
Date:August 25th, 2012 05:03 pm (UTC)
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It may well be that the Australians of my acquaintance are of a political minority...
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From:mycroftca
Date:August 26th, 2012 04:49 am (UTC)
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That seems a plausible explanation.
From:dewline
Date:August 26th, 2012 12:10 pm (UTC)
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That aside, that phrasebook I mentioned was an eye-opener. There's a lot of different "first nations" within Australia herself.
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From:mycroftca
Date:August 26th, 2012 01:53 pm (UTC)
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I can see that, what with it being tribal and all. Sort of like Canada.
[User Picture]
From:mycroftca
Date:August 25th, 2012 01:47 pm (UTC)
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I'd call that response understandable.

This ain't no party, this ain't no disco...

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