"To inspire them to realize more and more of their capacities for living meaningful lives. Because there certainly is meaning to life."
-John Coltrane on Uplifting Others

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mass Media: Some Anecdotes

As many of you know, I teach Korean and Japanese students English over the Internet. It has provided plenty of laughs, but also opportunities to see just how "different" our cultures are. For one of my sessions, I talk one on one with fifteen year old middle school students, and we fly through the material. That way, we can talk about other things. I was teaching "Leo" (his English name. He chose it, not me!) and asked him the following question
me: So Leo, what kind of music are you listening to right now?
Leo: Hmmm, have you ever heard of Eminem?
me: (slight pause) Just a little, yes.
(Some more conversation happened, including a challenge issued from me for Leo to check out Outkast. Laughter also pervaded the conversation, but we move to this next point.)
me: Leo, what do you like to watch on TV?
Leo: Cartoons...
me: Oh, you mean like Korean anime -what's it called -manhwa? I like that stuff.
Leo: (laughs) no, I like Spongebob
me: (shocked) Spongebob?!! Me, too!

As I ended my Skype call with him, I couldn't help but think Leo is more American than I am. The shattering of my nationalistic center and ego was further when I attended Dr. Hickman's lecture on the Beatles' influence on America. He submitted an interesting thought to the audience. He said the Beatles weren't the flagship of a British Invasion. On the contrary, they were indoctrinated in American culture. He pointed out that being from Liverpool allowed them access to the latest American rock and roll records. When John, Paul, George and Ringo made it to the Ed Sullivan show in '64, they were British only in nationality. In reality, they projected to Americans an image of themselves.
I have thought of these two incidents in terms of mass media. I think sometimes we focus so much on the differences between "us and them," but the truth of the matter is media is slowly bringing the world together. In his book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers,(2006) Kwame Anthony Appiah discusses that man is essentially the same, with each culture adding a uniqueness to the world. He says "People everywhere, buy and sell, eat, read the papers, watch movies, sleep, go to church or mosque, laugh, marry, commit adultery, go to funerals, die. Most of the time, once someone has translated the language you don't know, or explained some little unfamiliar symbol or custom, you'll have no more (and, of course, no less) trouble understanding why they do than you do making sense of your neighbors back home" (94). What then, is the language we must understand or have explained?
I suggest it is the digital language. I love when I look up videos on youtube, just to find comments left by people from around the world. I posted earlier about the relationship I have with Norbu, the Tibetan school administrator my group will be interviewing. I said then -and reiterate now -that the two things we have in common is education and digital means to communicate. But there is so much more we have in common: appetites, the ability to be tired, the emotions of love, pain and regret, etc.
Have any of you had these experiences of recognition? Leave your stories in the comments and I'll highlight a few in the upcoming posts.

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