Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Who Owns a Culture: Summary before Finishing

OK. It was a long, long time ago that I started writing this series, and it's just embarrassing that I haven't finished it yet...

I have excuses, but you probably don't care to hear them anyway.  I got married, too.  However, I'd like to re-summarize what I've said in the previous articles, just to get everybody back to speed, before I go to my final point, which is of particular point during the holiday season.

However, in the comments to my "OK, Hyori Gets It," post, I'm getting comments from some of the same people who participated in that discussion back then, and who, in my opinion, are still off the mark in some respects.

So I'm finishing off this series, and while I do, I'll include another response to some of them.

The summary then:

The whole thing started back before I got married, with a post Jason, at Kimchi Ice Cream wrote, which was a strong reaction to a Korean wedding hall wedding.  Jason didn't like a lot of what he saw in that wedding, particularly the way people acted, and the way the wedding seemed to imitate, but then mock the traditional western wedding.

Part one was my response to the older Koreans who like to argue that Korea is losing its culture.  Basically, I argued that it's problematic to draw a definition of "Our Culture" because such definitions are always backward looking and inflexible; I argued that we should use the word culture to describe what's happening, and how people are living, not to prescribe what they can and can't do, and then accuse people of not being "pure" Korean anymore.  Why does the old guy in my conversation class get to decide that Korea's "true" culture just happened to reach its peak during the time he was in his 20s?   Fact is, nostalgia changes our view of how the past really was, or cultural myths distort the way things really were, and choosing a time period to define culture that's in the past (and usually not TOO far in the past: never farther back than when gramps was a kid) is problematic, because culture was changing up to that point, too, and old people in those days were also complaining that kids were losing the old, true ways.

Part two argued that in a world of instant communication, the idea of culture is getting more slippery, and that we should stop thinking that one group or another "owns" culture
.  Food, film, music, and literature from different cultures are mingling, mixing and interacting in ways that are too complex to say "this is Korean culture; this is German culture."  If a Korean invents a new kind of spaghetti sauce, there's no arbiter to decide whether it's Italian food or Korean food, or just food.  I submit that culture is something people do, consume, and create, not something people own.  Nobody can own culture.


Anonymous said...

You just spent a few posts whinging about how Korean Christmases aren't authentic enough for your personal tastes. As in, your Christmas experiences growing up were "better" than what most Koreans consider a proper Christmas celebration.

That sounds like a form of cultural ownership to me. And that's fine in and of itself, but I'm not sure what you're driving at.

Roboseyo said...

I don't think I used the word Authentic: when discussing cultural change, the word authentic is a red herring. A quick search reveals that the last time I used authentic on my blog was nowhere NEAR these discussions of Christmas. http://roboseyo.blogspot.com/search?q=authentic

I'm pretty sure I made it clear in those posts that "Christmas TO ME" is different than "Christmas done properly" - who's the arbiter of "Christmas done properly"? Hugh Grant (see Love Actually) Charles Dickens? Paris Baguette?

I'll refer you to my post "It's not Christmas without"

Koreans are in the wrong to complain about Japanese Kimuchi or a Turkish family owning a Korean restaurant in Edmonton that makes more money than the Korean-owned one, but when the shoe's on the other foot, and Korean Christmas is about couples and ice cream cake instead of families and turkey, we are also wrong to get in a snit.

That's because there's the emotional issue of not feeling at home in this kind of christmas, and the logical issue of recognizing that it's not really my place to tell Korea how to celebrate Christmas. But as homesickness goes, it's OK when the emotional issue doesn't jibe with the logical conclusion, because this is my Christmas, darnit! So yeah, that's how I feel... and I'm glad people close to me understand and care how I feel, but I wouldn't write a letter to City Hall or the Chosun Ilbo telling all of Korea "You're doin' it wrong!" and if I did, I'd ripely deserve the middle finger and the "Yankee go home" I'd get in reply.

Anonymous said...

So there's no ownership of a cultural event like Christmas or, say, Chuseok, but people will have deeply held subjective beliefs as to what constitutes a good holiday vs. a lousy one, or a tasty bowl of kimchi vs. a flavorless one.

Still not sure what you're driving at.