Monday, September 28, 2009

Going with the Flow

As Appardurai hints at in the piece "Disjuncture and Difference", there is, at this very moment, bytes and bytes of raw information cascading over your body and onwards to points unknown - quite possibly, to your antipodal spot, or if you're lucky, maybe even to the ISS orbiting above us. Information, in video, audio, or routine-hypertext, send the symbols and symbolized of our age everywhere. The information must flow.

Dune? What's that?

But most information leeches, flows, falls, cascades, pours, from one of stronger emanation to one of weaker emanation. That is not to make any intrinsic argument about the source of information, just how the networks allow the spread of it. For centuries, Europe and North America have been consuming and ravaging the world through a series of complex, colonial and neo-colonial relationships - the West has devoured languages, cultures, minerals, riches, the very atmosphere, peoples and souls; in return, successive generations have enjoyed and benefited from the dirt, poverty, pollution, choking smog, forests-turned-to-wastelands, incorrigible sludge, but also art, literature, creativity, the new ideas that shape our very way of thinking, comfort beyond any conception through the history of our entire species, the Industrial Revolution, our very concept of what it means to be a human, an individual, and a modern, and the ability to look at the stars and for this one shining moment be able to actually reach for them. It has been an unequal relationship for sure - just how many members of the G-8 are Euro-based - but the trade-off, in the specificity of the moment, has brought some undoubted benefits. You are, by a significant factor, more likely to see a man in Tokyo in a finely-cut Italian suit than his traditional kimono.

A Saville Row concept

The nature of global information flows, has been, since the Renaissance at any rate, been one of West to the Rest. Some of the world's best French restaurants are found in Japan (according to the Michelin Guide for Tokyo; not perhaps to the nutters of the Front National whose concept of terroir is quite... rabid); one would struggle to find a respectable and seasonal kaiseki outside of (the reasonably-named, in light of this) Home Islands. Equally, America is well-known, and well-derided, for its bastardization of the millenia-old Chinese habit of eating out - American-Chinese food has (de-)evolved to a point of peculiar hybridization with Vietnamese and Thai cuisines to form... something? Ah, that would be Asian food wouldn't it... Wouldn't it be strange if there was a Western restaurant that serves a rough approximation of borscht for soup, chili dogs for the main, and Rote Gr├╝tze for dessert? Come to think of it, how many individuals of non-European descent have reached the heady heights of concert hall-level classical music performance (or fine art); how many individuals of European descent have managed to perform, at a similar standard, with the er-hu, sitar, or gamelan?

The information must flow.

But must it always flow in one way? Yes, the more perceptive of you might notice that, hang on a minute, there are those quaint little "ethnic concept" stores where one can buy Tibetan singing bowls and express a cultural curiosity with saris and whatnot. Some streams of culture to permeate the Western fortress - ah-ha. But my assertion is that this trend will change - like tea steeped in water, everything will come to this uniform brown (this dull, tepid brown - perhaps golden and lustrous or, oooh, maybe green and tangy - but delicious, warm and hearty). When we watch this cybernetic-biomodified-spaceflyingwhooshwhoosh!-lasersgopewpew movies of the future-Earth, we see these towering skyscrapers that peel the edges of the heavens, neon signboards that light up in indecipherable languages extolling, in tackily obvious ways, to eat this and that, and this mass of people using public transport that works - we sort of see Tokyo.

Egads, Western World! When you shut your eyes at night and dream of the future, you dream of Shanghai.

Not pictured: Giant Mechas

- Aaron Wee:

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