Chinese Culture and the Red Line of Morality

Of note:

Last week, members of China’s television, radio, and online entertainment sectors were made to attend a symposium in Beijing with the theme Love the Party, Love the Country, Advocate Morality and Art. They were instructed to abandon vulgarity, hedonism, the worship of money, and “extreme individualism.” These vague injunctions arrive amid China’s heaviest cultural crackdown in years. Film stars like Zhao Wei have been mysteriously memory-holed, their movies completely removed from streaming platforms, their credits erased from film information sites. “Once you touch the red line of law and morality,” warned state mouthpiece the People’s Daily, “you will reach the finish line of the road of performing arts.” If the exact nature of this “red line” remained unclear, another editorial put a finer point on the matter: Chinese films must be more socialist from now on.

American Idol-style TV shows have been banned; next on the list are karaoke songsthat fail to “promote socialist core values.” These moves are part of an attempt to end the “worship [of] Western culture.” True socialism has no time for smut, and so the sale of sex toys has been banned during livestreams hosted on e-commerce websites. One week before the symposium, the Party zeroed in on the specific problem of effeminate male TV celebrities: “Resolutely put an end to sissy men and other abnormal esthetics,” broadcasters were told. Days later, building on recent video game restrictions for Chinese children, gaming companies Tencent and NetEase were ordered to cut content that encourages effeminacy.

All this machismo is beginning to attract admiring glances and approving noises from Westerners worried about their own culture’s alleged feminisation, but these lessons in morality are being delivered by the worst conceivable teacher. Lest we forget, this is a regime that packs ethnic minorities into concentration camps where the prettiest women are raped every day, sometimes with electric batons. This is a country where the founder of an orphanage for deprived children is arrested, tortured, and then sent to prison for 22 years. Bangri Rinpoche’s orphanage was declared an “illegal organisation” and the children he had saved were turned onto the street. In Communist China, civil society is always smothered in the crib. The moment we turn to such a regime for lessons on morality is the moment we lose our way completely.

The Party’s stern alternative to all that sex and pop and sissy chaos is “Chinese traditional culture, revolutionary culture, and advanced socialist culture.” Numbers two and three on the list indicate that Beijing understands culture about as well as it understands morality. George Orwell saw the problem clearly back in the pre-war years. As he observed in The Road to Wigan Pier, “Nearly everything describable as socialist literature is dull, tasteless, and bad. … Every writer of consequence and every book worth reading is on the other side. … Socialism has produced no literature worth having.”

This truth is borne out by the miserable state of China’s literary scene. When Anna Sun (assistant professor of sociology and Asian studies at Kenyon College) analysed the work of modern Chinese writers, she found that almost all of them had been infected by socialist language dating back to the Mao era—a clumsy jumble of communist jargon and Mao-ti (Maoist literary form). In fact, it’s not just the artists and intellectuals who speak this language—everyone does, from the diner in a restaurant who casually asks his friend to “Xiaomie [annihilate] the leftovers,” to the young mother who tells her little boy, as he struggles not to wet himself on the bus, “Jianchi! [Be resolute!]”

Originally fashioned to represent the authentic voice of the proletariat, Mao-ti is a language “repetitive, predictable, coarse, and mostly devoid of aesthetic value.” Sun argues that the most celebrated of today’s Chinese novelists actually owe everything to their translators. The language in which they were trained acts as a trap constricting thought, and as a result they can neither think nor write with the precision and truthfulness required of genuinely great novelists. Some have found that the only sure way to spring the trap is to abandon Chinese altogether, and write in English.

Even the Soviet Union had its Bulgakovs and its Pasternaks, of course, and there is no doubt that art sometimes flourishes in an atmosphere of oppression. But right from the very beginning, the CCP took the totalitarian impulse further than its predecessors—far enough that its natural supply of great literary voices was never allowed to develop. This was not the case in pre-revolutionary China. Sun cites with admiration Shen Congwen, Wang Zengqi, Lao She, Bing Xin, Qian Zhongshu, Fu Lei, Eileen Chang. In each of these cases the writer’s education occurred before Mao’s takeover, allowing them to develop a voice before they were exposed to the infection. Chang (widely considered the greatest short story writer of 20th-century China) even participated in re-education sessions once the communists were in charge, but it made no difference. Her writing still had too much complexity, too much depth, too much of her own voice. Incapable of descending to their crude level, she left for Hong Kong.

The incompatibility of classical Chinese with Mao-ti—of beauty with ugliness—shows the hopelessness of the Party’s dream to usher in a new culture that is at once “traditional” and “socialist.” These two cultural strains may have co-existed uneasily for decades in China (along with Western influence), but there can be no happy union of the two. They sit at opposite poles. Any emphasis on one of them will automatically undermine the other. It would be better to simply let go of the reins and allow Chinese culture to develop organically—something which has happened only once before.

While state propaganda paints the relatively open pre-communist period (1912–1949) as a time of chaos, societal weakness, and general regression, historian Frank Dikötter makes a convincing case in The Age of Openness: China Before Mao that those years really bore witness to a veritable golden age. Not only did China make political advancements; she enjoyed greater cultural diversity than at any point before or since. Religious movements long persecuted under the Qing were given their freedom. In the absence of both empire and socialism, Shanghai rose to become the Asian jazz Mecca; its numerous venues frequently played host to top musicians from the United States.

With the liberation of culture came the fast flourishing of individualism. Dikötter notes that “Women of all social backgrounds selected scarves, skirts, blouses, gowns, and corsets from a growing range of sartorial possibilities, using them in combinations which were often strikingly original: the use of the one-piece gown with a scarf and coat is but one example.” By 1934, when discussing new developments in public transport, the British traveller Peter Fleming was able to observe: “The running of a bus service, as compared with the running of a railway, is not only easier but offers more scope for individualism, and is therefore better suited to the Chinese character” [emphasis mine]. So much for the inherently collectivist nature of the Chinese. Just a few short years after the cultural shackles were removed, the natural human tendency towards individual self-expression had already asserted itself.

Then came the communist revolution, and the life was abruptly sucked out of China. Shanghai’s cafés and dance halls closed down; the Race Course at Nanking Road was transformed into a military barracks. Lipstick and makeup disappeared. Soon all of the men had crewcuts and all of the women wore their hair in short bobs. Everyone dressed in the same faded blue or grey cotton. And then in the 1960s, of course, Mao’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution saw the widespread demolition of statues and temples, the smashing of antiques, and the burning of books. Today’s ominous developments do not mean that China is about to experience a second Cultural Revolution, but the promise of an “advanced socialist culture” bodes ill.

At last week’s Beijing symposium, one film director delivered a sycophantic addressin which he said, “It is our creators’ duty to do every work simply and unadornedly, and to pass positive energy silently to the audience.” This sentiment chimes with Stalin’s pithy proverb about writers being the engineers of the soul (a line echoed in recent years by Xi). And yet, the truth is that creators have a duty to their art and nothing else—not to their audience, not to “positive energy,” and least of all to some high-minded state-determined notion of the improvement of the people. Certainly art elevates, but not for reasons that we will ever be able to fathom.

As for the karaoke singalongs and American Idol copycat shows that sit at the other end of the spectrum, we might imagine that Chinese culture will suffer no great loss. But millions of people are about to have perfectly innocent pleasures removed from their lives, and this matters. In the small ways as well as the large, Xi Jinping continues to impose on a vibrant nation his narrow, pinched, joyless vision.

Source: Chinese Culture and the Red Line of Morality

Is American Economic Freedom Determined by Ancestry, Ethnicity, and Immigrant Countries of Origin?

Interesting study and methodology by Cato Institute that counters some of the populist and academic rhetoric:

The best potential counter argument against vastly expanding legal immigration is that immigrants might bring the less-efficient economic institutions, political systems, or cultural mores of their homelands with them to the United States. Ultimately, the United States and other rich countries are prosperous because of our economic and political institutions with some variation potentially explained by culture.

Most immigrants come from poorer countries with worse economic institutions, especially as measured by the Economic Freedom of the World Index. My co-author Benjamin Powell and I investigated whether immigrants worsened domestic economic institutions in our new book Wretched Refuse? The Political Economy of Immigration and Institutions, and we found it either to be unsupported by the evidence or that the evidence suggests that more immigration can sometimes increase economic freedom and improve institutions. There’s not much worry that immigrants would kill the institutional goose that the lays golden eggs of economic growth.

Some supporters of the so-called deep roots hypothesis, that events many thousands of years ago affected culture, genes, or both in such a way that our economic outcomes were basically determined long ago, are also worried that immigrants could undermine our institutions. Proponents of this view argue that it’s impossible for immigrants to not bring support for the bad economic institutions of their ancestral homelands with them. Although economic institutions have changed substantially over time, even recently in some countries, and the deep roots theory can’t explain why economic institutions change, it’s still a thoughtful counter argument.

To test whether there is support for it, we created a predicted economic freedom index for a hypothetical United States whose economic freedom is entirely a product of the economic freedom of the countries where immigrants and their ancestors came from. In other words, a native-born American of Irish descent and a native-born American of Italian descent would each support economic freedom in the United States to the extent that economic freedom exists in Ireland and Italy, respectively. For example, if half of a country’s population were of Irish ancestry and half were of Italian ancestry then the predicted economic freedom score of that country would be 7.82 ((8.13+7.51)/2) under this theory. Thus, we created an average weight of the U.S. population by ancestry, attributed the economic freedom scores of those countries to those Americans, and then took the weighted average of economic freedom for the United States in 1980 and 2019. The former date was the first year that the U.S. Census asked about ancestry.

We obtained ancestry data from the American Community Survey (ACS). We used the Economic Freedom of the World (EFW) index to gather data on the economic freedom of the United States and other countries over time. The EFW estimates a country’s economic freedom by looking at five variables: size of government, legal system and property rights, sound money, freedom to trade internationally, and regulation.

The ACS data is reported using either demonyms, broader regional terms, or ethnic terms. As a result, we had to interpret some proportionally. For example, if an ACS respondent said that he was “Eastern European,” we calculated his inherent EFW score as coming from all Eastern European countries proportionally. Similarly, we combined some terms together. For example, both English and Scottish were combined into British. We then applied the EFW score for the United Kingdom to them, since EFW is reported by country. The biggest challenge was apportioning the ancestry of Black Americans who are the descendants of slaves. We know the general area where they came from but not the specific countries. Thus, we followed the general methods here for allocating black American ancestry. The different allocations made in this study are listed in Table 1.

In order to perform later calculations, we needed to determine which countries were relevant to the study. To be relevant, ACS and EFW data needed to both be available in each year. Some countries did not qualify, but their exclusions did not impact the final result as they were generally smaller countries with few historical immigrants to the United States. All demonyms and ethnic terms were interpreted by their national association to match the ACS and EFW data, but this was straight-forward.

To predict the ancestry-only EFW score for the United States, we multiplied the proportion of the population of ancestry by the EFW score in that country for that year. We then simply added up the results.

If ancestry alone determined the United States’ EFW score, it would have had a score of 6.32 in 1980 and 7.46 for 2019. In reality, the United States’ EFW was 8.13 in 1980 and 8.22 for 2019 – 1.8 and 0.76 points higher than what the ancestry-only score would predict. The economic freedom of the United States is substantially higher than its ancestry adjusted EFW score would predict if the deep roots theory were correct. For example, if American ancestry determined our EFW score then we should have the economic freedom score of Hungary in 2019 (7.44) rather than the much higher actual score of 8.22.

Interestingly, the average EFW score of the ancestral homelands of Americans and immigrants has increased considerably over time from 6.32 to 7.45. If deep roots really did drive our economic destiny by affecting economic freedom, we should be much less concerned today than in the recent past, as the ancestral homelands of immigrant groups are much freer today than in the past.

Ancestry and country of origin are not destiny, at least not in the United States in these two years.

Source: Is American Economic Freedom Determined by Ancestry, Ethnicity, and Immigrant Countries of Origin?

As Korean content goes global, cultural sensitivity becomes key issue

Of interest:

When students from Uijeongbu High School parodied Ghana’s famous dancing pallbearers, South Korea-based Ghanaian television personality Sam Okyere took to social media to criticize the students for painting their faces brown.

A few days later, Okyere apologized after people said it was inappropriate to post a photo of the students without permission. They also took exception to his use of the hashtag “#teakpop,” which is typically used in a derogatory way about K-pop.

Many Koreans criticized Okyere online, calling him overly sensitive and inconsiderate. However, Korean songs, dramas and TV programs have also faced allegations of racism this summer.

When K-pop group Mamamoo member Hwasa appeared in an online livestream of a spinoff of MBC’s “I Live Alone” on July 15, some global fans said the clothes the singer wore were racially offensive and that she was making fun of traditional Nigerian clothing.

“We received unfriendly messages concerning Hwasa’s clothes,” posted “I Live Alone” on its YouTube page July 25 after the controversy raged on the internet. “We want to clarify that the clothes, which Hwasa often wears, were inspired by (what is worn in a) Korean sauna.’ We had no intention of comically showing traditional clothing of certain countries.”
Last month, singer Zo Bin of Norazo apologized for his 2011 song “Curry” after K-pop group Seventeen sang the song on V Live on July 13. Seventeen fans, mostly from abroad, criticized the song for its lyrics associating love of curry with yoga, the Taj Mahal and not eating beef. They accused the band of stereotyping Indians and Indian culture.

“I just wanted to sing in a joyful way that curry is tasty in any way to everyone. I did not make the song with the intention to offend someone or diminish the culture and tradition of a country,” said Zo Bin on Instagram. “I apologize to all South Asians and people in India hurt by this.”

Korean dramas also couldn’t avoid allegations of racial discrimination.
Actor Ji Chang-wook of SBS’ “Backstreet Rookie” became mired in controversy when he uploaded a video on social media with another actor, SIC, wearing dreadlocks and performing a comical dance. Some international viewers accused the two actors of appropriating black culture and said their movements were racially offensive.

“Acceptance of multiculturalism and cultural sensitivity levels of many Koreans are very low,” said Yoon In-jin, a sociology professor at Korea University.

“We have lived as monoethnic people and in monoethnic culture for a long time, so we lack in understanding and respecting other cultures,” Yoon said. “We are insensitive as to how our actions can be seen by others. On the other hand, we react angrily if foreigners belittle Korean culture or people.”

In order to prevent racial discrimination controversies, many entertainment agencies educate their artists on racial and gender discrimination, and artists are banned from giving personal opinions on political, social and historical matters.

Furthermore, major K-pop idol agencies have manuals containing cultural taboos and politically sensitive topics in specific countries for artists to review when they go on world tours.

Some people defended Okyere, saying the criticism against him was two-faced. The hashtag “#I_Stand_with_Sam_Okyere” started trending Friday after Okyere apologized, and many international viewers expressed their disappointment with the attacks against him.

“Hallyu will eventually fall off if Koreans do not educate themselves on other cultures,” said one tweet.

“Through education and trial and error, we need to learn from these controversies and learn to think from the other person’s shoes,” said Yoon.

Source: As Korean content goes global, cultural sensitivity becomes key issue

Surviving the era of ‘tantrum style’ politics

John Geddes draws on Northrop Frye in this interesting column:

Anyone clinging to sanity deserves a mechanism for coping with the latest Donald Trump outrage. The socially sanctioned default response—I couldn’t imagine him going any lower, but he’s done it again—is too benumbed to feel nearly adequate. My own defensive twitch is to mutter the words “tantrum style” at the iPhone screen when news appears of the inevitable worst-yet presidential utterance, which draws some looks on the bus, but at least I’m not left entirely speechless.

I lifted the phrase from a lecture series Northrop Frye delivered in 1961, which was preserved in a slim book called The Well-Tempered Critic. Midway through a virtuosic explication of the sort of language deployed by the Trumps of this world, the late Canadian literary theorist described the basic transaction: “A mob always implies some object of resentment, and political leaders who speak for the mob aspect of their society develop a special kind of tantrum style, a style constructed almost entirely out of unexamined clichés.”

Frye was at his best in precisely cataloguing the topics covered in the clichés spouted by the tantrum-throwing ego. “It can express,” he said, “only the generic: food, sex, possessions, gossip, aggressiveness and resentments.” Doesn’t that satisfyingly sum up Trump’s constricted range? He’s aggressive and resentful, of course, and a vicious gossip, and obsessed with possessions. But don’t pass over the seemingly quotidian first item on Frye’s list: food. Trump was never more Trumpian than when—in recounting how he told Xi Jinping over dinner at Mar-a-Lago about a U.S. missile strike on Syria—he gloated that they were, at that moment, eating “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake, and President Xi was enjoying it.”

It’s not the usual line of attack to parse Trump closely enough to grasp how his fixation on the menu fits with all the rest. His racism, his nativism, his populism—these are all aspects of the era’s dominant figure that lend themselves to analysis by writers who come at him through political conviction or even political philosophy. The spate of books and essays that might be gathered under the heading Trump vs. the Enlightenment are almost touching in the earnestness of the authors as they extol values handed down from the 18th-century, like respect for democratic institutions and regard for science, now banished from the White House.

But these approaches can only remind us of what Trump and the rest of the right-wing populists are undermining, not how they’re doing it. In other words, the political thinkers who can help us get clear on what’s worth defending aren’t much help in figuring out what’s put us on the defensive. For that, we don’t need philosophy, but we might be able to make use of a literary critic’s insights in order to fathom how Trump’s crude rhetoric can possibly be working.

He’s a voice, after all, not a mind. If stray scraps of ideology cling to his blather, they don’t add up to much—certainly nothing coherent enough to make any clear-headed listener doubt the basic tenets of democratic liberalism. But he sure knows how to string together clichés—or, as they say on Twitter, make a thread of them—and the world evidently can’t or won’t block him. Frye left us a guide to understanding his tantrum style, and, even better, a way to start thinking again about fostering a culture that hears how empty it really is.

Born in 1912, Frye’s concerns were rooted in his reaction to the totalitarianism that was on the march as he came of age in the 1930s, when he was studying at University of Toronto and Oxford. Hitler’s raving never quite stopped echoing for him, right through to his last big book, 1990’s Words With Power, published the year before he died, in which he describes how the most debased political rhetoric comes down to a “shrieking head” ranting until the “steady battering of consciousness becomes hypnotic, as the metaphor of ‘swaying’ an audience suggests.”

Frye was never swayed by the pull fascism exerted on, to stick to his literary field, Eliot and Pound. As for any tug from the left, well, he once reportedly dismissed rival critic Terry Eagleton as a “Marxist goof.” Frye proposed arming citizens against ideological assaults with educated imaginations, so they would know a verbal bludgeoning when they heard one. “Literary education should lead not merely to the admiration of great literature, but to some possession of its power of utterance,” he wrote in The Well-Tempered Critic. “The ultimate aim is an ethical and participating aim, not an aesthetic or contemplative one, even though the latter may be the means of achieving the former.”

The notion of literary appreciation underpinning participatory citizenship might well land as naïvely bookish. Yet it would be a mistake to assume Frye was out of touch. Despite his tweeds and rimless spectacles—not to mention the intimidating reputation draped over him after his daunting masterpiece, Anatomy of Criticism, appeared in 1957—he never really retreated into his Blake, his Shakespeare, and his King James Bible.

For instance, he dutifully watched countless hours of miscellaneous TV for the Canadian Radio-television Commission in the early 1970s. From the notes he jotted down, which were published much later, we know he was astute enough about popular culture to see football was the medium’s ideal sport (its “discontinuous and intensely localized rhythm seems to me the rhythm of television”) and to greatly enjoy a segment of a CBC comedy special co-created by Lorne Michaels (soon to break big with “Saturday Night Live”).

He grappled more systematically with his times in a 1967 lecture series published as The Modern Century. Frye spoke of how the liberal ideal of social progress had devolved, at the individual level, to the progress of time ticking toward death. When life feels so pointless, so alienating, many individuals shield themselves by adopting a  “deliberately frivolous” attitude, he observed, ignoring news other than tabloid “human interest” pieces. (Imagine if Frye had lived to witness the rise of reality TV.)

At the same time, he detected in advertising and propaganda—and especially their new hybrid progeny, PR—the ascendant forms of language. Decades before the Internet emerged as an all-encompassing digital counter-reality—ushering in a presidency that’s only fully itself only on Twitter—Frye sensed something like it coming. “The triumph of communication is the death of communication: where communication forms a total environment, there is nothing to be communicated,” he wrote.

He was never easy to label. Frye insisted that literary criticism must not be an adjunct of any ideology, whether feminism or Marxism or, back in his day, Freudianism. His resistance to isms in his core work was known to sow confusion about where to peg him on the left-right spectrum. On one hand, the RCMP kept a secret file on him, their interest reportedly prompted by his involvement with a “teach-in” on China at University of Toronto in 1966; he also opposed the Vietnam war and apartheid in South Africa. On the other hand, he scoffed at the student radicals of the ’60s, who sounded to him, as a former student of the ‘30s, to be repeating the “formulas of the ignorant and stupid of a generation ago.”

In other words, he was more or less a centrist liberal, which frustrated his detractors during his lifetime. How could such a formidable genius be so politically bland? I think this largely explains why he’s fallen so far out of intellectual fashion. Yet today—with the best parts of the postwar status quo we used to take for granted under siege by the forces of raw stupidity—Frye’s critical preoccupation with cultivating what he called democracy’s “shaping and controlling vision” takes on an unforeseen urgency.

In the roiling spring of 1969, when he was accepting an honorary degree at Acadia University, Frye pleaded for a return to a “revolutionary belief in democracy and equality,” arguing that, at least for Americans and Canadians, “the dynamic of democracy is an inclusive one, and it moves toward dissolving the barriers against excluded or depressed groups.” He acknowledged where North American society was falling short, but believed the solutions had to be found in its own myths. “The old middle-class and white-ascendancy stereotypes are no longer strong enough to hold society together, and of course they were never good enough,” he said that day. “But the recovery of its own democratic tradition is the key to the present identity crisis on this continent.”

What might be impeding the recovery of that tradition? More than 50 years ago, Frye warned that the comfortably prosperous democracies are vulnerable to an insidious internal blight more dangerous than any overt ideological challenge. “The most permanent kind of mob rule,” he wrote in The Modern Century, “is not anarchy, nor is it the dictatorship that regularizes anarchy, nor even the imposed police state depicted by Orwell. It is rather the self-policing state incapable of formulating an articulate criticism of itself and developing a will to act in its light.”

Sensing that their state is paralyzed in this way, citizens grow susceptible to the empty calls to action bellowed by Trump, or the Brexiters, or any number of subsidiary blowhards. When well-intentioned politicians can’t come to grips with climate change or shrink income inequality, reform immigration or fix health care, why keep voting them in? Supposedly enlightened leaders who haven’t been able to muster plausible critiques, or summon the will to act on them, won’t put populism back in its place until they regain their mobility.

Along with recovering the capacity to move on what matters, they’ll need to find the language to regain the respect of distracted voters. Frye wasn’t against healthy rhetoric. In Words With Power, he cited the most redoubtable of classics—Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and Churchill’s 1940 speeches—as examples of “how an ideology maintains itself in a historical crisis.”

Lincoln and Churchill, he wrote, didn’t appeal so much to reason, as to a shared understanding that respect for the rational is integral to an even deeper social bond. “The principle invoked is that we belong to something before we are anything, that our loyalties and sense of solidarity are prior to intelligence,” Frye said. “The sense of solidarity is not simply emotional any more than it is simply intellectual: it might better be called existential.”

And that solidarity was, for Frye, reliant on the vision that makes a society more than a mob. By vision, he meant everything we lump together, in a post-religious era, as culture. He placed the utmost importance on schools and universities doing the work of keeping genuine culture alive in students’ imaginations. That job, however, cannot be reduced to some sort of ideological indoctrination. At its heart, it must be about instilling a familiarity with and a taste for great stories—the sensibility most likely to carry with it a strong distaste for insults and lies.

What goes on in the classroom takes on real urgency where liberty is most threatened, and thus most valued. In Hong Kong, the high-school level liberal studies curriculum is being blamed by the Beijing regime and its apologists for creating a generation of pro-democracy activists. Frye would have been fascinated, and even more intrigued by reports that link recent efforts to enhance liberal-arts education at Hong Kong’s universities to the cause of bolstering liberal-democratic values there.

But that’s in a city under severe duress. In complacent North America, skeptics will doubt public education is up to a task as existential as reinvigorating democracy through the teaching of the humanities. Think about it this way, though. Let’s say the question is, “What is needed to keep liberal democracy healthy?” and your answer does not include, “The schools will have to do more heavy lifting.” In that case, the alternative answer escapes me. We need to teach the basic mechanisms of democracy (what we call “civics”) and the literature and art that bind us together as a democratic society (what Frye called “culture”).

Near the end of The Well-Tempered Critic, he described what culture accomplishes at its best, on the broadest, most democratic level. “It does not amuse,” Frye wrote, “it educates, hence it acts as an informing principle in ordinary life, dissolving the inequalities or class structure and the dismal and illiberal ways of life that arise when society as a whole does not have enough vision.” If that sounds utopian, will anything less suffice when dystopia commands a beachhead in the most powerful office in the world?

Source: Surviving the era of ‘tantrum style’ politics

Ethnic diversity makes Britain’s culture great. It would be a disaster if we lost it

A reminder and a more positive picture:

A couple of weeks ago, a young black man from south London stood up in front of tens of thousands of people and delivered one of the most celebrated performances in the history of Glastonbury. A few days later, an England cricket squad – almost half of whom were born abroad or are from an ethnic minority background – made it into the semi-finals of the World Cup. Meanwhile over at Tate Modern, a British artist of Nigerian origin is displaying an artwork made up of thousands of booksimprinted with the names of migrants who have made significant contributions to British culture.

Today, some of our most brilliant prospects in art and culture are from minority ethnic or migrant backgrounds. We present a gloriously multicultural face to the world. And that is important not just for the story we tell to others, but for the stories we tell ourselves. Think of the cultural power of the first Asian families on EastEnders, the breakthrough of Soul II Soul in the 1980s, or the nation-defining literary output of Zadie Smith.

The British actor Riz Ahmed refers to this as “stretching the flag, so it’s big enough to embrace all of us”. He is talking about how art can remould how we see ourselves and the country that we live in. The Pakistani-British heritage of his youth is just as much a part of our modern national story as the playing fields of Eton, remote Shetland communities or the multi-ethnic melting pots of Leicester, Birmingham and London. But it is only through the representation of that experience in our national culture that those truths are cemented across the whole country.

Source: Ethnic diversity makes Britain’s culture great. It would be a disaster if we lost it

Cultural heritage destroyed by Isis roars back to life

Important exhibition and raising awareness:

A figure of a roaring lion, about the size of a loaf of bread, is the latest step in the fight to preserve culture from conflict.

The sculpture is a replica of a colossal 3,000-year-old statue from the Temple of Ishtar in Nimrud, in what is now Iraq. The stone statue was one of many artefacts from the Mosul Museum destroyed by the Islamic State group after it overran the city in 2014.

The replica Lion of Mosul, which can be viewed online, was modelled from crowdsourced photos taken by Mosul Museum visitors in happier times, and 3D printed as part of Google’s digital arts and culture project.

It is going on display at London’s Imperial War Museum in an exhibition that looks at how war devastates societies’ cultural fabric – and how ingenious and often heroic steps are taken to preserve it.

Chance Coughenour, digital archaeologist at Google Arts and Culture, says the exhibition “highlights the potential of technology – both in terms of digitally preserving culture and telling these amazing stories in engaging new ways.”

It also illustrates a grim truth: culture has long been a casualty of conflict. Museums, monuments and even music are often deliberately targeted by combatants.

Source: Cultural heritage destroyed by Isis roars back to life

‘Good curling’: Calgary play uses iconic sport for message on new Canadians

In the spirit of Little Mosque on the Prairie, Kim’s Convenience Store and other cultural events that feature Canada’s diverse communities:

An iconic Canadian winter sport serves as the vessel for a Calgary play telling the story of new Canadians dealing with adversity and finding a way to become a part of their new community.

Alberta Theatre Projects is presenting “The New Canadian Curling Club,” a comedy that follows four new Canadians resettled in a small Alberta town.

They include a Chinese medical student, a widowed Tim Hortons manager from Jamaica who gave up her dream of being a fashion designer, a father of triplet boys from India seeking a better job, and a 17-year-old recent immigrant from Syria worried about the safety of her brother back home.

The community offers a ‘learn to curl’ class and when its instructor gets injured, the club’s ice custodian and former champion curler has to step in.

The instructor unfortunately has some negative views on Canadian immigration and refers to the team as “The International House of Pancakes,” and shows disdain for their lack of knowledge about curling.

“You start each game with a handshake. Wish the other team good curling. You don’t cheer, you don’t heckle. You call your own fouls,” growled curmudgeonly Stuart MacPhail, played by Saskatchewan actor Duval Lang, at a recent rehearsal.

“I start out as a crusty old fart and then gradually change into someone who is more accommodating and begins to enjoy life a little bit more,” Lang said with a laugh.

Lang has curled for decades and also serves as the show’s curling consultant.

“It’s come along. Everything from how to sit in the hack to how to extend yourself when you make a shot…how to sweep.”

The group eventually comes together to become a true team on a stage fitted with an authentic curling ring, complete with rocks, set in a small curling club.

“I think it combines the quintessential idea of curling with the other thing that Canada is know for, which is multiculturalism,” explains Toronto’s Richard Young, who plays Anoopjeet Singh.

“I’ve always wanted to be part of curling and I was just too scared to do it.”

There’s a lot of sight gags including Young’s difficulty in standing on the ice and being cautioned by his coach to throw the stone “nice and easy” and “not all the way home to India.”

“Thank God,” Young’s character retorts. “The postage on this thing would be a nightmare.”

Sepidar Yeganeh Farid was drawn to play the part of recent Syrian immigrant Fatima Al-Sayed.

“When I read the script it was obvious that I had to audition and my life story is very similar to the character Fatima so I have a very close connection to her,” Farid said.

Farid was born in Iran and her family eventually ended up in Montreal — sponsored by a church, like the character she portrays.

“As I see the interactions between Fatima and another character, Charmaine, I definitely see those characteristics in the relationships I had with the people that sponsored us.”

For Jenni Burke, playing the Jamaican-born Tim Hortons manager was natural.

“My parents were from Jamaica. I feel like I’m doing an homage of what happened to them,” she said.

“It’s a great Canadian story and it supports multiculturalism and everyone bringing their own colour to the mosaic.”

Jonathan Ho, who moved to Toronto from Hong Kong before his first birthday, plays medical student Mike Chang who’s also dating the granddaughter of the curling coach.

“It does speak to aspects of the immigrant experience particularly with interracial relationships and the difficulties of the culture clash there.”

Young managed to try the sport thanks to a friend who was a curling coach in Pickering, Ont.

“The first time I was slipping and sliding on the ice just like my character does here, but I was able to throw some rocks and to understand,” he said.

“So I got to learn a lot about the game and it is, as the play says, like chess on ice.”

Farid remembers her first impressions when moving to Canada.

“The first time I saw curling on TV with my family and we had no idea what it meant and we thought, ‘Oh, they’re sweeping, that’s very interesting,'” she said.

“It is super fascinating and now that I’ve watched curling it’s like ‘Oh my God I understand.'”

Source: ‘Good curling’: Calgary play uses iconic sport for message on new Canadians

USA: New Immigrants Are More Culturally Different than They Used to Be

Some interesting analysis using World Values Survey data. Largely reflects country of origin:

Native-born American concerns about immigration are primarily about how immigration will affect the culture of the country as a whole and, to a lesser extent, how the newcomers will affect the economy.  One’s personal economic situation is not a major factor.  It’s reasonable to assume that the degree of cultural difference between native-born Americans and new immigrants affects the degree of cultural concern.  Thus, Americans would likely be less concerned over immigrants from Canada or Singapore than they would be over immigrants from Egypt or Azerbaijan.

A large team of psychologists recently created an index of the cultural distance of people from numerous countries around the world relative to the United States.  The index is constructed from responses to the World Values Survey as well as linguistic and geographical distances.  Their index includes numerous different psychological facts such as individualism, power distance, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, long term orientation, indulgence, harmony, mastery, embeddedness, hierarchy, egalitarian, autonomy, tolerance for deviant behavior, norm enforcement, openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, creativity, altruism, and obedience.  These are all explained in more detail in the paper.

Their paper has an index where lower numbers indicate a culture more similar to that of the United States while a higher number indicates a culture more distant from that of the United States.  As some extreme examples, Canada’s cultural distance score is 0.025 and Egypt’s is 0.24.

Using the cultural distance index, I calculated the cultural distance of the stock of immigrants in the United States in 2015 from native-born Americans.  I then compared the cultural distance of the stock to the cultural distance of the flow of immigrants who arrived in 2012-2015.  The immigration figures come from the Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the U.S. Census Bureau.  If the stock of immigrants in 2015 was more culturally similar to native-born Americans than the flow, then the recent flow is more culturally distinct.  If the stock of immigrants in 2015 was more culturally different from native-born Americans than the flow, then the recent flow is less culturally distinct.

Table 1 shows the results.  The immigrant flow in 2012-2015 is more culturally different from native-born Americans than the stock of immigrants was in 2015.  In other words, today’s newest immigrants are more different than those from the relatively recent past.  Relative to the stock, the cultural distinctiveness of the flow in 2012-2015 was greater by about one-fourth of a standard deviation.  In other words, the stock of American immigrants in 2015 was very culturally similar to people from Trinidad and Tobago (0.099) while the flow of new immigrants who arrived from 2012-2015 more similar to Romanians (0.11).

Table 1

Cultural Distance of Immigrants Relative to Native-Born Americans

Cultural Distance
Immigrant Stock 0.10
Immigrant Flow 0.11

Sources: WEIRD Index, ASEC, and author’s calculations.

There are a few problems with my above calculations.  First, those who choose to move here are likely more similar to Americans than those who do not.  There is obviously some difference in cultural values inside of a country as the average person does not choose to emigrate to the United States.  Second, American immigration laws likely select immigrants with similar cultural values through various means such as favoring the family members of Americans and those hired by American firms.  It’s reasonable to assume that foreigners who marry Americans and who are hired by American firms are more culturally similar than the average person from those countries.  Third, the cultural distance index only covers about two-thirds of the immigrant population in the United States.  It is possible that countries not on the list could shift the score significantly in either direction.

New immigrants to the United States are more culturally different than those of the past, but not by much.  This increase in the cultural difference of new immigrants could have had an outsized impact on Trump voters in 2016, but immigration overall is more popular with Americans than it used to be.

Source: New Immigrants Are More Culturally Different than They Used to Be

Where is Canada’s multicultural television space?

Interesting commentary on television programming diversity:

Russell Peters’s much awaited return to television was finally satiated with the CTV show The Indian Detective, which aired last December. The sitcom has been five years in the making, and it’s a first for Peters, a Canadian stand-up comedian who began his career in Toronto. It tells the story of Doug D’Mello (played by Peters), a Canadian investigative cop who travels to India to meet his father and gets caught up in a criminal investigation. But the show has already received mixed reviews from audiences across the board. Reviewers have called it out for perpetuating stereotypes about India and failing to engage with its audience, both in Canada and abroad. The show received an overall rating of 6.6 on IMDB, although Rotten Tomatoes gave it a generous 87 percent.

Spread over four episodes, the series sought to set a new trend in Canada by internationalizing the setting of its production, with large parts of it being shot in India. The Indian Detective’s transnational location gets one wondering if CTV was hoping to create an international sensation, or at least engage with Canada’s vast multicultural population.

The show is the most recent addition to a short list of multicultural-themed TV programs produced by major Canadian public and private broadcasters, such as CBC and CTV. Canadian television, though, remains a limited-option entertainment platform that is often overshadowed by the U.S. With just over 58 percent of Canadian households consuming cable TV in 2016, the story of Canadian television programming remains rather humble. Its 2016 revenue was just over $7.2 billion.

Why aren’t Canadians watching traditional cable? Though there are technological and other reason for decline in cable subscriptions, one question must be considered: Who are the TV shows in Canada made for? If we were to look at the last 10 years of shows produced by two of Canada’s major broadcasters, CBC and CTV, they are primarily targeted to Canadians and Europeans. But Canada, the champion of multiculturalism, should prioritize TV programs with themes and characters that appeal to its vast multiethnic community, sponsored and produced by its public and private broadcasters. That doesn’t seem to be the case. Between 2007 and 2018, there were just three TV shows that focused on multicultural themes: Little Mosque on the Prairie, Kim’s Convenience, and now, The Indian Detective.

In the last three years, The Indian Detective and Kim’s Convenience have targeted a non-traditional audience within the Canadian media space, which could indicate a trend followed by other such productions. Kim’s Convenience, a CBC show that first aired in 2016, tells the story of a Canadian-Korean family and their convenience store in Toronto. The show portrays the city’s transforming multicultural community, and the family’s attempt to “fit in.” Kim’s Convenience explores the mores of the family-run convenience store, where you can find everything—jokes, too. The show plays out the conflict between the first-generation Korean parents and their kids who grew up in Canada without accentuating it with overplay of accents and cultural difference—something The Indian Detective banks on.

Canada has tried in the past to promote multicultural and multiethnic broadcasting by giving special provisions to the ethnic broadcasting category. The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) Ethnic Broadcasting Policy of 1999 decided to allocate airtime to television and radio shows in third languages—that is, any language that isn’t English, French, or an Indigenous language—over the mainstream. But the CRTC’s broadcasting policy only applied to ethnic broadcasters, and encouraged them to create content in third languages. The only policy for non-ethnic public broadcasters—the public and major private broadcasters—is to dedicate up to 15 percent of their airtime toward ethnic programming, and which could be increased up to 40 percent by the conditions of the licence. The provision to incorporate ethnic programming remains a minor part of the overall policy, which is strictly focused on promoting a siloed concept of multicultural broadcasting. The CRTC policy has been relatively successful at adding a small set of private stations that includes broadcasters such as Omni TV, a Rogers Media production. Omni TV is a consortium of multicultural television programming which offers speciality channels broadcasted in languages such as Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog, and Punjabi. 

Specialized television satellite services such as Omni TV have been working hard to bring more multicultural TV options for Canada’s vast multiethnic population, but it is a small dent in the spectrum of broadcasting made possible by Canada’s public broadcasters such as the CBC. As a person of South Asian heritage, I consume media in Punjabi and Hindi, a large set of which is made possible by the CRTC’s funding for ethnic programming. Apart from a very small set of productions, most of it succumbs to advertisements by mortgage brokers, realtors, and real estate brokers—and some just roll all three into one program. The distinction between a news or current affairs program and an advertisement for a product or a service seems to blur into one long segment. Programming that was meant to promote a cultural dialogue between Canada’s vast ethnically diverse communities is being used for investment advice, for instance, in various languages. On the contrary, a successful example of multicultural programming is Hockey Night in Canada, which is a broadcast of hockey games with commentary in Punjabi.

In the United Kingdom, the BBC has long ago realized the need to incorporate multicultural programming, and has been promoting TV shows and media that appeal to its multicultural population on the British Isles. The BBC has a dedicated radio station for Asian audiences—the Asian Network—broadcasting throughout the day; the radio channels primarily cater to the U.K.’s large population of Asian heritage. A successful example of the BBC’s investment in multicultural programming can be traced through the career of Sanjeev Bhaskar, a prominent BBC presenter. Sanjeev is best known for Goodness Gracious Me, The Kumars at No. 42, India with Sanjeev Bhaskar, along with other regular appearances on BBC TV shows. He is among a long list of people of colour that have appeared on the network’s shows; other such figures include Mera Sayal, Idris Elba, Thandie Newton, and Gurinder Chaddha. The BBC’s production of multicultural situational comedy is well-established history that Canada could learn from. Some of the popular examples of multicultural comedy and drama from Britain include Real McCoy, Desmond’s, The Lenny Henry Show, Citizen Khan, and many others over the years.

Though multicultural programming options are thriving in Canada more than ever, it has resulted in a limited dialogue—broadcasting programs that many other Canadians can’t access, and vice-versa. But the recent productions of Kim’s Convenience and The Indian Detective are a positive trend that both major broadcasters should develop further. The CBC and CTV should rethink their strategy for Canadian television to remain relevant and keep up with the changing demographic of Canada. As the media landscape, both print and visual, faces its biggest financial challenge in years, there is a need to consider who consumes the TV shows and programs in Canada—and are Murdoch Mysteries or Heartland relevant to its multiethnic population?

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Having a Difficult Conversation with Someone from a Different Culture: HBR

A good piece outlining some of the cultural differences and how to be mindful of them, particularly in difficult conversations:

When you think of it this way, having a difficult conversation with someone from another culture can appear perilous — and it can be. So, what can you do about it?

  • Survey the landscape of the conversation you need to have, and identify potential places where these trip wires might ensnare you.
  • Take stock of what you know about the other person and her culture. If you don’t know anything at all, now is a good time to do some research, because chances are that if it’s a difficult conversation you have to have, then it’s also an important one.
  • Look for places where you can overlap with their style. For most people, it’s not all or nothing. Someone from a task-oriented culture can preface what they say with five to ten minutes of tea and conversation about the relationship, for example, and someone from a more formal culture can intentionally dial down the seriousness for one conversation.
  • Focus on the trip wire that matters the most. If it’s too much pressure to sail over all four of these, prioritize the one you think could be most vital in this particular context.

By definition, it’s never easy to have a difficult conversation. However, when we have these across cultures, it can be downright confounding. By being mindful of these trip wires and delicately stepping over and around them, you can prevent the conversation style from getting in the way of the content.

Source: Having a Difficult Conversation with Someone from a Different Culture