Asia

Untangling the Strings of I Ching

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iching全球 is the Cantonese character for ‘global’

I engaged in a legitimate I Ching spiritual reading two weeks ago, in the confines of my bedroom – via app. It didn’t phase me at all. I’m what Mark Prensky would describe as a “digital native“; I circumnavigate the corners of the globe via technology, as effortlessly as I breathe, without conscious consideration.

It’s when I step back, take a deep breathe and consider the implications of my virtual journey, that the epiphanies ignite. The following is an excerpt from my post- an excerpt from my post I Ching for iPhone, featuring two epiphanies which ignited from my experience;

“One voice in my head whispered oh my God it actually worked, over and over again. A second is mindful that this traditional Chinese art has been translated from Mandarin, which has a completely different dialect and alphabet…

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Evaluating my experience: Asian Hip-hop/Rap music

In my auto-ethnographic exploration of the diverse and intriguing Asian hip-hop/rap culture in the blog post; Everything Asia #1: Asian Rap Music I attempted to outline my personal bias, i.e. the lens I was consuming this media from. The ultimate goal was to understand and familiarise myself with this non-dominant media artefact.

“The radical, performance (auto)ethnographer functions as a cultural critic…His [her]…[autoethnography]  becomes diagnosis, not just of him [her] self, but of a phase of history.”(Spender, 1984, p. ix) [Accessed here]

I believe my original blog post achieved my goal through Spender’s process of diagnoses of a phase of history; in this case being the emergence of this [sub]genre of Asian musical culture into the wider consciousness.

However in understanding the need for generalisability and integrity of my writing, in this post I will evaluate the following important aspects of creating an Asian autoethnography;

  • Identifying and addressing the existence of orientalism
  • Dissecting and explaining any East/West comparisons
  • Reiterating any personal bias against or presumptions towards Asian culture

Ellis et. al (2011) place emphasis the eternal struggle of auto ethnography to appear ‘scientific whilst still being artful’. In other words; the author loses interest for the pursuit of the truth or presents an entertaining narrative with little factual basis.

I attempted to walk this line in my blog post by explaining my context in the beginning to set the tone for any possible imbalance in favour of subjective narrative. This combined with my initial skepticism formed a clearer framework to consume my writing and opinions.

As for East vs West, this is absolutely the most difficult part of this topic as the roots of Hip-Hop/Rap are embedded deeply in African-American culture since its conception in the 1980’s. An industry still heavily dominated by this demographic to examine rap as a cultural output is to examine ‘black’ culture. I made efforts to sidestep this tempting comparison by discussing the influence of U.S. imperialism and the effect it has had on all cultures particularly Asian, and not pitching modern U.S. rappers vs Asian rappers. Instead of imposing my perspective of the artists included, I simply embedded curated links for the audience to decide and explore. I did however, slip up and compared the flow of Rich Chigga’s “Glow like dat” to Cleveland rapper; Kid Cudi, an epiphany which I would welcome genuine disagreement on. Instead of allowing the East vs West comparisons to alienate listeners, I took the angle which asserts that many Asian rappers will struggle to break western markets into dominant media channels unless they alter their sound towards the current norm.

So what about orientalism?

Edward Said  understood the concept of orientalism to be that ‘Middle Eastern and Asian cultures are undeveloped and static societies compared to the west. Implicit in this fabrication, writes Said, is the idea that Western society is developed, rational, flexible, and superior.’

Thus, to have the slightest sense of orientalism in one’s writing, involves the comparison of the east to a culturally-imperialist west. Although there is passing comment made in the initial blog it is hard to see even a faint sense of cultural inferiority/superiority.

I am glad I chose to research and represent this topic in my blog as I have now been listening to more and more of this music and am beginning to realise just how easily this cultural output transcends language barriers, i am hooked on the artistic fusion of many of the artists introduced to me by the 88rising record label.

**All references are in the form of hyperlinks**

 

Take a Look at Yourself

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The first step in autoethnographic research is taking a look at yourself, and understanding that everything that has happened to you makes you who you are, and impacts how you see the world around you. The second step is accepting that you can’t do anything to change that.

I’m sure the majority of people that read this, (my fellow DIGC330 students) are probably a little tired of reading the definition of autoethnography given in the Ellis reading (for everyone else, click the link in my references, it presents a vastly superior explanation of what auto ethnography is), so instead I’ll give my best go at a definition. Autoethnography is an approach to the research of human cultures, in which the researcher immerses themselves in that culture, and uses self-reflection to explore their own personal experience, while linking that with other qualitative research.

My first experience with autoethnography was last year in another one of my classes, Research Practices in Media and Communication. It was love at first sight. It just made so much sense to me, as much as anyone tries to be perfectly unbiased and analytical in qualitative research, it is an impossible task as a human being. Knowing that, isn’t it better to be open in showing where your potential biases are, and more importantly challenge your own thinking.

As I was thinking about autoethnography this week, I remembered doing modern history in year 11, and my teacher consistently writing on my assignments, “You need to include blah.” (Obviously she didn’t actually say blah) I had assumed that I didn’t need to include certain information because I figured it was common knowledge. This was the first time I really thought about how people had different backgrounds, and how that impacts a person.

I’m super keen to conduct my own piece of autoethnographic research on Japanese stand-up. I absolutely love stand-up comedy. I probably watch at least three new specials a week. If I had to go on mastermind stand-up would be my specialist subject. In saying all of this though, the comedians I’ve watched are mostly from America, the UK, and Australia, so I’m curious to expand my horizons through my research on stand-up in Japan. How is it different to what I’ve already seen? What are the topics/themes? What style of comedy is predominant? How popular is it? These are all things I hope to figure out in my research.

References:

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1.

Unintentional authoethnograpic studies

After learning about what autoethnography is in this subject, something clicked in my head. I’ve already learnt about autoethnographic studies! I studied society and culture in year 11 and 12, and came across the concept when it came to learning about India. For those of you who don’t know what autoethnography is, this is for you:

“Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno).” (Ellis et al., 2010).

The great thing about this research is that is not a boring statistical analysis or searching through piles of information for any kind of data. This research creates a personal connection between the researcher and the case, and allows the researcher to immerse themselves into the context of what they are studying. In my opinion, this is way more informative and interesting than a standard observation. This excites me because i have visited countries like Thailand before, but at the end of the year I’ll be visiting Vietnam. I am so intrigued with different asian cultures, and get really involved in seeing what their day to day lives consist of, and how they are different to me.

While reading through the piece, I realised that I have mentally doing enthographic studies of different people I have encountered in my life. I went to school and befriended a few Vietnamese girls, and learnt a lot about their culture and traditions which was interesting for a girl with a european background. I visited their houses and saw what they made for dinner which was always something interesting in comparison to the pasta dish I would inevitably have. On the bus home from school, my friend Maria would always have a different Vietnamese candy for us all to try, and ultimately luring me in more! I have also experienced Thailand, and the people there and how they live their lives. Being a country that isn’t filled with wealth and luxury, it was amazing to see their attitudes towards life, despite the lack of basic things that I would struggle without. Both of these experiences showed me the different traditions, customs and made me want to indulge and find out more. Although at the time I didn’t realise, but now I understand that I was conducting small ethnographic studies.

Overall, I am really excited to explore asian cultures in my digital artifact and immerse myself into the culture but can’t decide which culture I’d like to look into first! Hopefully I will be able to decide within the next week.

Autoethnography and Underground Music

Autoethnography is a type of research and writing unlike any other. Combining the process of ethnography; the study of culture, and autobiography; the product of personal experience. It is the study of one’s own experience with a culture outside of their own. It is a fairly new research process, first becoming popular in the 1970s, which expanded upon anthropological studies of the past which were conducted in a far less personal, experiential, or reflexive manner. Autoethnography is seen as an ethical form of research as it focuses on ones’ own experience with a culture rather than making anonymous observations which may breach privacy, disrespect customs and simply be untrue.

As autoethnography is the combination of autobiography and ethnography it adopts elements of both practices in its methodology. In commencing an autoethnography one must ensure that they communicate with the community or culture they are studying, this is a matter of ethnically giving those who do not wish to participate a chance to voice their concerns and opt out if need be. As per traditional ethnography upon communicating intentions, the researcher must then interact with the culture, making note of observations and interviewing persons within the culture, becoming participant observers. In conducting an autoethnography one must also practice reflexive behaviour which is the practice of questioning their personal the biases and cultural framework that shape their observations. The aspect of autobiographical aspect of autoethnography refers to the epiphanies as to how one understands a culture; its social conventions, practices, values, and beliefs.

The Asian media I am interested in participating and observing is its underground rock, at this point in time, I am unsure of what region or country I am wanting to pinpoint in my practice as a researcher. My interest in the Asian underground music community has been spurred from this Vice documentary which focuses on a group of Indonesian street punks upon their release from a moral rehabilitation centre. As I want to limit my bias I will aim to avoid Indonesian underground music in my study as I would like to go into this study with as little preconceived ideas that may skew my observation, analysis, and insights as possible.

References

Wall, S. (2008). Easier Said than Done: Writing an Autoethnography. International Journal Of Qualitative Methods7(1), 38-53. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/160940690800700103

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

 

 

Autoethnography and the Power of Stories

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“Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences” Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath lived a short life decorated with vibrant but dark emotions, before she succeeded in her second attempt at suicide. Her later pieces, written from a freezing cold flat in London, often between 1am and 4am whilst her young children slept, bring the grim reaper to life cruelly; he swoops about the reader like a cold, eerie chill.

When you finally look away from the page you’re reading off,  Sylvia’s depression takes a few moments to rest off your shoulders. The impact of her words is so heavy. She wrote so that others could understand her. When  I read her work I am whipped into her realm of loneliness and her sphere of pain. Sylvia used words to draw readers into her personal story.

“I am terrified by this dark thing that sleeps in…

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Auto-ethnography: Explained

Below is an infographic I created to explain the research practice and methodology of auto-ethnography, I hope it makes it easier to understand what is often an overtly abstracted idea.

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Resources:

 

 

The Curation of Kaiju

Godzilla (1954) isn’t something I usually watch on a Thursday morning. As the longest running franchise, it is uncanny how little knowledge I had on a film that still influences pop culture today. Growing up, I viewed the monster genre at face value.

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Megashark vs. Giant Octopus (GIPHY)

The idea of someone dressing up as a large lizard like monster and destroying a city always seemed quite comical to me. This physical creature of fiction was something I viewed quite literally and never understood what it was supposed to represent. This experience was influenced by films such as Mega Shark vs., Sharknado or even later remakes of Godzilla. Which are often over-dramatic and created purely for entertainment value.

Due to my Western up-bringing, Asian media is largely categorised as strange and out of the ordinary. Even after guidance from Wikipedia, it is almost possible that any interpretation could be legitimate. As I watched the film, characteristics of the Japanese culture I had already been exposed to from anime and manga were normalised in my subconscious. This made it easier to understand the themes without the cultural barrier. It is understandable that terms such as ‘culture shock’ would be used to describe the film. All characters are Japanese, those who are commonly whitewashed in Hollywood productions. These characters who are usually recognised as comedic relief or bad guys, were taken seriously and sympathised with. As a previous Japanese student who finds pleasure in watching subbed anime, it was only when Tweeting was added to the equation that made it more difficult to grasp what was going on during the film.

Katakana is the Japanese alphabet used to transcribe foreign words. This means that Godzilla is a portmanteau for ‘gorilla’ and ‘whale’. Rather than a large salamander, Godzilla alludes more to it’s size, power and aquatic origin. Due to it’s context, Ishirō Honda plays on the nuclear paranoia of post-Hiroshima Japan. As a person who grew up post-9/11, strong comparisons are explored with block busters showing New York under attack. Whether it be the crying of young children and their mothers or the destruction and evacuation of homes – these themes were comparatively used to convey the devastation and create an empathetic response from the audience. I was also interested how the most unsettling scenes were filmed by the beach or even underwater. This is a motif that I couldn’t help respond to, due to my phobia of deep water. As a country without borders, Godzilla uses the feeling of being trapped to play on that fear.

 

 

Godzilla, Cinema and Cultural Construction

In this blog post I will be delving into my understanding of the 1954 Japanese classic, Godzilla (ゴジラ). Using my understanding of auto-ethnography I will attempt to interpret this film’s cultural significance as an artefact of time.

godzilla-1954-4

During the week I watched this film for the first time and live tweeted throughout using the #DIGC330 hashtag on my Twitter (@hazeldinesam).

Even as the film starts there is immediately a distinct feeling that you are watching an old film, the aesthetic of projection wobbles and jerking, grainy black and white film and jarringly sparse use of music and sound effects. This automatically places the viewer at certain point in time, which for me as a millennial creates more a sense of regressive novelty rather than a nostalgic reminder of my earlier years. My nostalgic ‘early years’ of experiencing film are best understood as the era of flip phones, Justin Timberlake with ramen hair and the beginning of the never-ending Fast and Furious saga. So context for me took a while to be understood and formed as the viewer.

As it progresses growing suspicions of the film’s didactic plot I perceived were to illustrate the devastation of World War II and atomic weaponry, moreover reinforce the need to avoid such destruction for future generations. This approach by the director to use cinema as a warning to future generations that ‘big actions have big consequences’ is a common idea which film has used for decades to establish popular narrative.

In particular, throughout Cold War era Hollywood there appears to be a necessity to demonise the enemy (usually Russia) and condemn any opposition to western cultural imperialism. Examples that immediately spring to mind are the Roger Moore and Sean Connery

James Bond films, which without exception have an oriental, middle eastern or soviet enemy – all of which remain alien cultures to dominant U.S. narrative.

This idea of cinema as a tool of persuasion is undoubtedly a powerful concept, I suggest checking out this article from Business Insider which goes deeper into Hollywood’s impact on the Cold War.

More relevant to the ideas shown in Godzilla I believe this film was a part of a recognition process in Japanese culture. What I mean by this – this period of history for Japan unquestionably shook the nation’s identity, being overpowered by the might of the western military in 1945 was humiliating for their proud culture. As part of the years following the war, this film helps to form a common recognition of the scale of devastation and loss – in the film this is manifested as WMDs and a mutant lizard. With the real life experience being the allied bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima resulting in similarly horrific circumstances.

Of course, this is an armchair analysis from someone who admittedly knows little about the Japanese cultural construct, however to be able to remain detached of emotion towards the ‘facts’ is half the battle. Furthermore, I believe that in the present era of information proliferation, it is exponentially easier to understand the inevitable two sides to every story.

ゴジラ

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This week I watched Ishirō Honda’s 1954 Godzilla. It was the first time I’d actually seen the film in its entirety, and I must admit I was a little disappointed with myself for not having watched it sooner. Anyway, here’s my reflection on Godzilla and the characteristics that make up the movie in the context of my cultural background.

Japanese:

I was first introduced to Japanese movies when I was probably about 10, when my Dad showed me My neighbour Totoro, and my love for Japanese film and television really took off from there. I’ve watched a lot of Japanese movies, I will admit that most of them where animated, but even then the amount of live action movies I’ve seen is still probably more than the average person. Battle Royal will continue to be one of my guilty pleasure movies for years to come. So when I was watching Godzilla I felt familiar with what I was seeing, from a cultural/social perspective.

Black and white/from the 50s:

As you’ll probably figure out reading this, I watch a lot of movies, so watching a movie in black and white wasn’t anything new to me. Some of my favourite movies (Seven Samurai, It’s a wonderful life, The Elephant man) are in black and white. My love of black and white movies probably stems from my Dad showing me a bunch of old horror movies, like The thing from another world, Invasion of the body snatchers, Nosferatu, etc. That’s part of the reason I was disappointed I hadn’t already seen it.

It is important to remember when Godzilla was made, 1954 is only nine years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and for the people watching the film at that time the destruction that this monster created by nuclear test bombing it must have been horrific to see. It’s easy for me to see the link between the nuclear bomb and Godzilla, but I’m sure it had nowhere near the impact it would have had on the Japanese audience at the time.

Subtitles:

You can probably guess already that I was fine with the subtitles, along with the Japanese movies that I’ve seen, I also really like kung-fu movies from China and Korea, and many European movies, and with the amount of anime I watch (#subsoverdubs) I’m pretty sure I watch something with subtitles every week.

Kaiju movie:

We’ve finally gotten there, my favourite thing about Godzilla is it’s a Kaiju movie, and not only a Kaiju movie but one of the first. I’ve seen quite a few of the 90s Godzilla remakes as well as a bunch of other original franchises, my favourite being The Host (2003). Something I noticed though is that a lot of the Godzilla remakes tend to get into the destruction faster than the 1954 Godzilla, and have maybe a little less suspense. Also the relationship to Godzilla the monster has changed since 1954, in a lot of the movies now Godzilla is seen as the protector of Japan/Earth rather than just a monster.