logo Ming the Mechanic - Category: Culture
An old rigid civilization is reluctantly dying. Something new, open, free and exciting is waking up.


Sunday, January 18, 2004day link 

 Industrial Beauty
picture Via BoingBoing a gallery of photos by Edward Burtynsky, showing the horrible beauty of the machinery, landscape and decaying waste left behind by a large-scale industrial society.
[ | 2004-01-18 09:48 | 36 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Saturday, January 17, 2004day link 

 Blood and Art
picture Why would an educated person, a lawyer, and a mother of two choose to strap explosives to her body and go and blow up herself and a lot of random innocent people?

Hanadi Jaradat did just that in October, killing 21 Israelis in Haifa.

Artists Gunilla Skoeld Feiler from Sweden and Israeli born Dror Feiler created an artwork titled "Snow White and the Madness of Truth" for an exhibition in Stockholm, to make people ponder the incomprehensibility of this. On a pool of blood a little sailboat is floating, with a picture of a smiling Hanadi Jaradat as its sail. "When I saw her picture in the paper, I thought she looked like Snow White, that's why I gave that name to the piece" said Gunilla Feiler.

The Israeli ambassador didn't ponder the incomprehensibility of the scenario. He went amock and destroyed the piece the moment he saw it, and subsequently got kicked out of the museum. I suppose that illustrates well another angle of the problem. And it instantly made the art piece much more famous than it could have been otherwise. Anyway, he should probably find himself another line of work.
[ | 2004-01-17 17:14 | 194 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Friday, January 16, 2004day link 

 Accents
Languages and accents can be fun to study. This site has 297 different people from a great variety of different places read the same English sentence.

When I did improv acting some years ago, I was studying accents a bit. In an interesting roundabout way, as one would try to sound like an English speaker who comes from India or Spain or France or something, without making any attempt of learning the actual language. Native speakers of different languages will do a bunch of very specific things when they speak. A Spanish speaker will speak very forward in the mouth for example. So there are courses and tapes for learning just the accent, by mimicking the mechanical aspects of how one speaks.

On the subject of languages, for a moment I got the idea that it would be fun to try to learn the numbers in a great many languages, or make a site that catalogued them. No useful purpose, really, but it could be some kind of hobby. Not that I need one. Well, I'm glad I didn't, because somebody already did it really thoroughly. Here are the numbers from 1 to 10 in over 4000 languages. Sheesh, I can only count in about nine different languages.
[ | 2004-01-16 17:41 | 24 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Wednesday, January 7, 2004day link 

 Naked Sushi
picture I'm not all that much for Sushi, but, hey, I think I can quickly change my mind. It seems a Japanese underground, eh, serving arrangement has spread to L.A., New York and Seattle.
Saturday night at Bonzai in Pioneer Square, a nearly naked woman is laid out on a table. A chef slices sushi behind her, to be arrayed on her torso, bare except for a sheath of plastic wrap and some decorative flower petals. Chopsticks at the ready, patrons line up.
Apparently some people are morally offended by that. But who cares. I think women are free to use their bodies as they desire. Anyway, it's a splendid idea. And hand me those chopsticks.
[ | 2004-01-07 14:25 | 36 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Monday, January 5, 2004day link 

 What you can't say
picture Via Bird on the Moon, an excellent article "What you can't say" by Paul Graham.
"This essay is about heresy: how to think forbidden thoughts, and what to do with them. The latter was till recently something only a small elite had to think about. Now we all have to, because the Web has made us all publishers."
Much that is quotable, and I think it is a very important subject - to notice whether we're trapped in a conformist mindset, and how we break out of it, to maybe have some original thoughts and optionally dare to speak them.
The Conformist Test

Let's start with a test: Do you have any opinions that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of your peers?

If the answer is no, you might want to stop and think about that. If everything you believe is something you're supposed to believe, could that possibly be a coincidence? Odds are it isn't. Odds are you just think whatever you're told.

The other alternative would be that you independently considered every question and came up with the exact same answers that are now considered acceptable. That seems unlikely, because you'd also have to make the same mistakes. Mapmakers deliberately put slight mistakes in their maps so they can tell when someone copies them. If another map has the same mistake, that's very convincing evidence.

Like every other era in history, our moral map almost certainly contains a few mistakes. And anyone who makes the same mistakes probably didn't do it by accident. It would be like someone claiming they had independently decided in 1972 that bell-bottom jeans were a good idea.

If you believe everything you're supposed to now, how can you be sure you wouldn't also have believed everything you were supposed to if you had grown up among the plantation owners of the pre-Civil War South, or in Germany in the 1930s-- or among the Mongols in 1200, for that matter? Odds are you would have.

Back in the era of terms like "well-adjusted," the idea seemed to be that there was something wrong with you if you thought things you didn't dare say out loud. This seems backward. Almost certainly, there is something wrong with you if you don't think things you don't dare say out loud.
Most of us carry around a lot of taboos. Things we're not supposed to think or do because it somehow doesn't fit with what we think everybody else is thinking and doing. And yet many of those taboos vary greatly from place to place, culture to culture, and time to time. And, indeed, those that vary greatly in different times and places are the most suspect ones. The ones most likely to be a misunderstanding or collective insanity. But the rules of the world, including its taboos, are to a large degree what seems sensible to the people who believe them. Even what later (or elsewhere) is considered ridiculous was believed by some relatively sensible and rational people. But why does it even become necessary to have silly moral taboos and -ist labels to attach to each other? One clue:
"I suspect the biggest source of moral taboos will turn out to be power struggles in which one side only barely has the upper hand. That's where you'll find a group powerful enough to enforce taboos, but weak enough to need them."
Calling somebody "sexist" or "defeatist" or "divisive" or "anti-semitic" can be an effective weapon to have when you feel cornered, and you don't really have a very good case for why you're right and others are wrong, but the ruling morals happen to provide you such convenient trumps that you can use to gain leverage over others.

Anyway, absolutely brilliant article. I'll have to come back and quote more good stuff at a later time.
[ | 2004-01-05 14:27 | 28 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Tuesday, December 30, 2003day link 

 Suicide Girls
picture From George Dafermos' weblog:
"This is a blog unlike others. some pretty nice girls pose without their clothes driving us mad. great business model too: there are a few pics available online but they're just teasers; if you wanna see the real thing, the actual hardcore stuff, you have to buy a subscription. and it seems this revenue stream keeps them afloat as they are on my radar for quite some time now. chat rooms, member pages, and the occassional event are also part of the seduction game.

I'm not sure whether i did well blogging this since i'm already involved in a project related to Suicide Girls, but what the hell...No, i'm not doing any porn sites; in our case the use of nude pics is put to the service of expanding contemporary perceptions of culture and society..basically, how the human body with all its scars, tattooos, piercing, etc. is perceived by different cults, communities and how the outer skin affects human relationships and popular culture."
OK, I just needed an excuse for posting the picture of the cute colorful girls. But I'm all for expanding the contemporary perceptions of culture and society. And, yes, there actually are porn sites with integrity, done by people who enjoy what they're doing, and that actually provide an honest service to people who go there, as well as contributing something to the richness of our culture. Although I wouldn't have guessed that from the contents of my junkmail folder.
[ | 2003-12-30 17:07 | 57 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Phonecam endurance
picture This guy, Phillip Torrone, took a picture with his phone cam every 1/2 hour for 21 days. Wow, that almost a fakir trick, like David Blaine not eating for 44 days. You know, he has to wake up during the night every 1/2 hour to take those pictures. And it is actually a pretty interesting art project. Of course he never seems to change his expression whether he's awake or sleeping, let alone smile once in a while, but that might just be who he is. But he gets around to some interesting places. Anyway, his site is nice too otherwise, if you're a gadget freak as well. He builds robots and picks up a different cellphone depending on what mood he's in.

I'd really like a camera phone too. Even though I have a very nice digital camera that I can easily have in the pocket all the time, it is still a bit of a process before I can, say, put it in my weblog. OK, I just need to download it to my disk and upload a picture to a post, but it is still enough work that I wouldn't think of doing that multiple times per day.
[ | 2003-12-30 15:57 | 13 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Thursday, December 25, 2003day link 

 Blogger's Block
Joi Ito writes about the side-effects of having a blog that everybody reads.
"I've had blogger's block lately. As more people read my blog, I realize that I am writing for larger and larger audience. Just about every time I post something, I get thoughtful comments and email from a variety of perspectives. I realize that post early/post often is probably the best policy for blogging, but the rigor in which entries are discussed and the increasing percentage of people who I meet who have read my blog cause me to try to blog about things which are interesting yet not likely to cause me to spend a lot of time defending myself. The fact is, I'm becoming more and more conservative about what I blog. [...]

The problem with many blogs is that the audience includes so many different communities of people that it collapses the facets of one's identity and requires you to choose a rather shallow facet which becomes your public identity. For instance, I know that people in the US State Department, friends from my Chicago DJ days, my employees, my family, thoughtful conservatives from Texas, cypherpunk friends, foreign intelligence officers, Japanese business associates and close friends all read my blog occasionally. In real life, I present a very different facet of my identity to these different communities, but on my blog I have to imagine how all of them will react as a craft these entries. None of them get the depth that I am able to present when I am performing for them directly."
He's right - that's a problem. I get nowhere near the number of readers he does, but I certainly notice that situation. My blog is read by a number of different classes of people that I otherwise wouldn't communicate to in the same way. I've gotten somewhat used to the fact that I can't completely keep them apart and that, on the Internet, if I've said something *anywhere* it might pop up just about anywhere else. But in my blog, despite that I choose what I want to say, it is difficult not to be somewhat self-conscious about how it will be received by different kinds of people. So, for myself, I notice that the result is that I become more conservative than I otherwise would be. I post stuff that I know I'd be able to defend. To people I work with, to my neighbors, to techies on the net, to people who think I belong to a certain philosophical tradition, to people who think I'm writing for a particular online community, to my mom. It is both cool that I can somewhat succeed in speaking in the same somewhat authentic voice to all of these people. And it is frustrating that it also becomes somewhat more guarded, shallow and academic than what I'd really like. I think it is probably overall a healthy process, but also one that it is hard to be completely satisfied with. And, luckily, blogging isn't the only way we have of communicating.
[ | 2003-12-25 09:48 | 9 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Tuesday, December 23, 2003day link 

 CasualSpace
John Perry Barlow now has a blog. He's one of my favorite people to listen to, and he certainly has a way with words. Here he's talking about what happens when audio and video conferencing now become so easy and cheap that you can just leave them on. And, incidentally, with Joi Ito in Japan who's another of my favorite people.
"I just had another transforming telecommunications experience. Again, Joi Ito was involved.

Joi and I were typing at each other over the Net using Apple's iChat AV. I've never liked Internet chat. I don't like having to type that fast. So, at a certain point, I asked him whether he'd used the audio capacities that are built into iChat AV. I hadn't. A moment later we were conversing by voice through our computers. Despite the fact that Joi is presently in his country house outside of Tokyo and I'm at my condo in Salt Lake, it sounded like he was in the room with me. There was no discernible latency or loss of fidelity.

For awhile, we talked as though we were on the phone, and I marveled at being able to conduct a zero-cost trans-Pacific call. (Of course, there's nothing particularly new about voice over IP. But it's never been so stupidly easy to set up, in my personal experience, as it is with iChat AV. Also, it never sounded this good before.)

The really interesting shift occurred as we drifted back to what we'd been doing before we started chatting, leaving the audio channel open as we'd did so. We could hear each other typing. One of my daughters entered the room and spoke to me. Joi heard her and said hello. They had a brief conversation, their first since she was a little girl. Joi and I returned our e-mail. I wanted to set up an account on Technorati and broke in to ask him how to do it. He walked me through the process. There were other occasional interjections. I could hear the sounds of construction going on in his house.

For a long time, it was as though we were working in the same room, each of us alone with his endeavors and yet... together. Though half a world away.

This feels significant to me. Even over shorter distances, people rarely think of phone calls as being so casually cheap that one would simply leave the connection open for ambient telepresence and occasional conversation. To create shared spaces that span the planet, and to do so whenever you feel like it, and to leave them unpurposefully in place for hours, is not something people have done very often before.

The next step is to make those shared spaces larger, so that multiple people can inhabit the same auditory zone, entering and leaving it as though it were a coffee house. This will change the way people live.

Big deal, you think. You can do this with conference calls now. But you don't. Conference calls are expensive and unstable. The sound quality usually sucks if you're using a speaker phone. I think this is different. It certainly felt different to me. I had the same shiver of the New that I got years ago the first time I ever used telnet and realized that I could get a hard disks to spin in any number of computers thousands of miles away just by entering a few keystrokes.

Eventually, Joi had to leave to attend to other business his distant part of Meatspace. We collapsed our huge virtual room into nothing.

I went out on my balcony. In the snowy garden below, I watched a deer chase a huge raccoon into the bushes."
There's a good point there. See, I've kind of avoided audio and video conferencing, for the same reason I don't like phone calls very much. They tend to take all your attention, so I can't do other things at the same time. And there's no record of them, so I can't go back and see what somebody said. But it is different if you can just hang out together. When it is just an addition to the ambience, when it is just another open channel, bringing somebody in a different part of the world in here with you and whatever else you're doing, rather than it being a formal all-consuming intensive transaction that you need to drop everything else for.
[ | 2003-12-23 09:48 | 8 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Thursday, December 11, 2003day link 

 Copyright and good mentions
When I need a picture for one of my blog postings, I normally find something suitable really quickly, simply by searching in Google Images. Lots of great stuff is available.

But then there's the problem of whether I mention where it comes from. Do I give credit to the source of the picture?

It particularly becomes a problem in that some of the very best photography and art will often be found on a website of a professional photographer or artist. And the site will typically have some prominent Copyright statements, and often a whole page where the artist explains that they've put a lot of effort into their work, and they really should be paid for it.

If I get to a site like that, I usually turn around right away and never come back. Not because I wouldn't love to use the pictures. And not because I wouldn't happily mention who created them and where one can find more. But exactly because that typically isn't what is acceptable to that artist. Most likely, if I mentioned them, it would just give them a better way of coming after me and asking that I pay them money or take the picture down. So, instead, I forget about them as quickly as possible.

In my mind it represents an antiquated system of economics and it works against the interests of creative people. The oppressive concept of copyright, I mean. If I gave them a free mention and added exposure, I'd say that would help their business, not hurt it.

So, I usually give a credit only when the creator is both known and apparently not unwilling to share. If it is from some commerical site with no credits, I don't mention anything.

The answer could be that people used licenses from Creative Commons, and, generally, that there was a better understanding of how economics work nowadays. If you're an individual small-scale creative person, your personal economy will be supported by free mentions, and liberal permission to use for people who are never going to pay you anyway. Or, for that matter, if I could buy a picture for a suitably small amount of money, and do so easily, I might go for that. Like $1.
[ | 2003-12-11 07:25 | 19 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Tuesday, December 9, 2003day link 

 Moi non plus
picture I just had a chat, half in French, with Roland. And then he says "Moi non plus". And, hey, since I'm learning French, and the web is such an exquisite philosophical time waster, it leads me off on the 1/2 hour wild goose chase of clearing up what that really meant in that song, you know. The steamy "Je t'aime (moi non plus)" with Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin. Which was sort of interesting, so I might as well relate it here.
"Je t'aime
oh, oui je t'aime!
moi non plus
oh, mon amour...
comme la vague irrésolu
je vais je vais et je viens
entre tes reins
et je
me retiens-je t'aime je t'aime
oh, oui je t'aime !
moi non plus
oh mon amour...
tu es la vague, moi l'île nue
tu va et tu viens
entre mes reins
tu vas et tu viens
entre mes reins
et je
te rejoins- je t'aime je t'aime
moi non plus
oh, mon amour..."
..and so forth. Oooh, I'm blushing. (Well, not really). A full translation is below, even though it isn't a perfect one. And, indeed, the title is somewhat non-sensical. It means "I love you. Neither do I." or "Nor do I". Which isn't entirely correct. It is poetic license. And we'll have to hear from Serge Gainsbourg what he really meant by that:
"I love women as an object, the beautiful women, the mannequins, the models. This is the inner painter in me. I never tell them I love them. Je t'aime... moi non plus (I love you... me neither) expresses erotism overcoming sentimentalism… So many songs about romantic and sentimental love, encounters, discoveries, jealousy, illusions, desillusions, betrayals, remorses, hatred, etc... Then why not devote a song to a sort of love much more current these days: physical love? "Je t'aime" isn't an obscene song, it's very reasonable to me, and fills this gap. Its explanation is that girls say "I love you" during sex, and the man with their ridiculous virility doesn't believe them. They think the girls only say it as a result of enjoyment, of pleasure. I guess I believe the girls, or maybe that's a result of my fear. But that's also an aesthetic step, a search of absoluteness"
Leave it to the French to know how to weave together outrageousness, philosophy, eroticism and poetry. I think I get it. Moi non plus.
[ | 2003-12-09 16:58 | 32 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Monday, December 1, 2003day link 

 Internet Map
picture The Opte Project is mapping the Internet and creating visual maps. Here's one from last week. 5 million edges and has an estimated 50 million hop count. I'm not sure exactly what that means. They have a feature, turned off right now unfortunately, which would allow you to find your own IP address on the map. "You are HERE".

Hm, it looks kind of alive to me. Like a cell or a galaxy.

[ | 2003-12-01 06:16 | 14 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Saturday, November 29, 2003day link 

 Culture Kit
picture Lennard Grahn via Thomas Madsen-Mygdal:
The Culture Kit®

Included in this box is:

-A creation myth,
-A historical vision,
-A belief system,
-And a moral landscape.

All you need to get started!

#Buy before December 1st and get a FREE copy of the War-Pack™
Wow, my very own culture in a box! Really, it is not too far off.
[ | 2003-11-29 07:05 | 13 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Thursday, November 6, 2003day link 

 Harajuku
picture I think Japanese youth culture and dress-up styles are fascinating. This is a picture of a girl in the Harajuku district of Tokyo, from here. As a tourist guide says:
"For youth culture Japan - "cool" and "cute"- Harajuku, just north of Shibuya, is the number one fashionable, fun, faddish, ridiculous, crazy "crib" to "chill out". Come along on a Sunday and you'll see it all!"
And here's from a Japanese teen writing a paper on pop-culture:
"Harajuku is weird central," says a Japanese friend of mine. Youth in Harajuku exhibit anime-style, gravity defying, Technicolor hair and wear elaborate makeup and costume-like clothing. Japanese visual rock bands are probably the greatest influence on this urban sub-cultural style. In these bands, the visual image projected by their clothes style and makeup is as important as the music they produce. Band members create onstage personas that extend far offstage. I present Japanese visual bands as an extreme of using fashion to "fabricate" an identity.

So how do these bands identify themselves? I would argue that the extremist style was developed to distinguish themselves from the mainstream music industry, largely occupied by corporate factory line, "idol school," produced singers. There is definitely shock value is this style of dress. The first thing you probably notice when looking at the photo of the band Glay, are the bands members' Technicolor, gravity-defying hairstyles. Dying hair is an obvious rejection of the Asian confine of basic black. It is symbolic of breaking out of the mold of appearing "Oriental". But more so, I think, the eye-catching hairstyles allude to anime and manga, where hair color and style often becomes a distinguishing feature of the characters."

[ | 2003-11-06 04:59 | 21 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Monday, October 27, 2003day link 

 Non-Simulated Women
picture This is the latest happening from Spencer Tunick, which is always fun news. He is a photographer who specializes in placing regular people, in the nude, in interesting settings. Sometimes large groups of people in public places. This, yesterday, is 450 nude women in New York's Grand Central Station. What does it mean? Hey, it is art, it doesn't have to mean anything. But I think he's often trying to show the vulnerability of the human body in relation to man-made technical objects. Or to show interesting patterns that can be painted with bodies. And to poke at our norms. These are always very ordinary people, and there's nothing suggestive about it, but they're naked, and they're always in settings and in patterns that you wouldn't expect to find naked people in.
[ | 2003-10-27 12:53 | 25 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Simulating Women
picture It is becoming more and more feasible to make computer generated people so well that they're almost indistinguishable from real people. At least in still pictures. See BBC article. One of the tricks to creating more realistic faces is to use little imperfections. The Brazilian artist who created Kaya here on the picture deliberately placed her eyes a little far apart, made her mouth a little big, her eyebrows a little thick, and made it so one can see her pores. But then again, are those imperfections? Life is really more enjoyable when everything isn't just 'perfect' all the time.
[ | 2003-10-27 12:36 | 11 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Tuesday, June 17, 2003day link 

 Types of hugs
Tim Bray sat in an airport and studied how people hug or not. Somehow I find that interesting too.
  • People who are culturally non-huggers suffer for it; you will see what looks like a reunion after long separation between a grown daughter and a grown mother, and they will stand face to face, eyes full of tears, and almost quiver it seems.
  • Non-hugger displacement activity includes reaching out to touch the other only for a moment, and quickly turning to walk side-by-side.
  • Some groups cheek-kiss, one side then the other, the number of kisses can be two, three or even four, and there seems no doubt or hesitancy how many there will be.
  • Japanese people and those who meet them bow of course; those who’ve spent any time in Japan won’t be surprised at how many shades of meaning and style can infuse a bow.
  • Some stories are sad, the few people who come out obviously expecting to be met but aren’t.
  • Women coming to meet someone invest more effort than men in their preparations; flowers, dress, make-up. You can guess by looking at them whether they’re waiting for a lover, a colleague, or a sister, but sometimes you guess wrong.
  • The women also hug more expressively, with (perhaps unconscious) thought going into the placement of arms, torso and especially hips.
  • Only the waiting ones, though, people incoming to Vancouver have usually come a long way (it’s a big country and the Pacific’s a big ocean), the people being greeted, young and old, man and woman, tend to droop into the hugs they get, with smiles but a kind of blank expression.
I like really close hugs with people I like. I didn't always. I never hugged anybody when I was a teenager. I was, like, 30 before I hugged a man. And for the longest time I was nervously wondering where I should put my hips and how long the hug should last. Nowadays I know nothing much better than a close hug with a new friend who finds it equally enjoyable.
[ | 2003-06-17 19:23 | 18 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Monday, June 16, 2003day link 

 NYC: Inexplicable Mobs
Via SmartMobs, hear about "Inexplicable Mobs" happenings in New York. Somehow I really like that kind of thing, even though it is a little hard to explain why. Large groups of people show up at the same time in unexpected places, doing inexplicable things in a coordinated way, and then they leave. I love it.
(4) Leave the bar and walk to the MOB site as quickly as possible. It will take you longer to get there than you think. If you arrive near the final MOB destination before 7:27, stall nearby. NO ONE SHOULD ARRIVE AT THE FINAL MOB DESTINATION UNTIL 7:26.

(5) Find the item and stand around it. Unlike in MOB #1, where the participants were not to acknowledge one another, here you should greet even those you do not know. Talk among yourselves about the item and its relative merits and demerits. Only if you are blocked from seeing the item should you stray to examine other merchandise at the site.

(6) If you are approached by a salesperson, explain that everyone present lives together, in a huge converted warehouse in Long Island City, and that you are there looking for a "[secret phrase]." Explain that you make all purchases as a group.

(7) At 7:37 you should disperse. Thank the salespeople for their help, but explain that the item has been "voted down." NO ONE SHOULD REMAIN AT THE MOB SITE AFTER 7:39.

(8) Return to what you would otherwise have been doing. Await instructions for MOB #3.
It reminds me of ... hm, I forgot what they called themselves, but there was this group of people I ran into 8 or so years ago who did a similar kind of thing online with Usenet Newsgroups. They would show up en masse in a fairly randomly picked newsgroup, and would utterly confuse the regulars for a few days. They would have an invented cover story for why they were there, and had studied with great skill for their roles, but it wasn't obvious at first that it was a coordinated activity. It happened to a group I was participating in, and when we finally figured out what was going on, everybody had a good laugh.
[ | 2003-06-16 23:27 | 18 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 TV ruining Bhutan?
picture Bhutan is one of the most remote and isolated countries on the planet. Or, rather, it WAS very isolated. A buddhist shangri-la where people lived a basic and happy life, far away from outside influences. There were no public hospitals or schools until the 1950s, and no paper currency, roads or electricity until several years after that. Bhutan had no diplomatic relations with any other country until 1961. Still, after those innovations, it remained a peaceful place with strong traditions, where people didn't even hurt insects. But then it all changed, in 1999, when the government decided, as the last country on earth, to give the population TELEVISION. See the interesting article in the Guardian. Now there are 46 channels on cable, and kids spend their time thinking about Eminem and the Simpsons and The Rock. And suddenly Bhutan has crime waves, murders and drug problems. Is that really all just from TV? I don't know, but this certainly seems like the perfect laboratory for testing it. Rather depressing really, whether we're talking about crime or not. Depressing that remote villages in the Himalayas are aiming at being copies of the San Fernando Valley. Loss of cultural diversity.
[ | 2003-06-16 01:46 | 15 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Tuesday, May 13, 2003day link 

 Japanese customs
picture Japan seems such a weirdly interesting place in terms of how ancient tradition meets with the latest trends. I've never been there. But it seems like both a super conservative place where there are rigid social norms for how one behaves, and at the same time a fast moving and liberal society in other ways, with intriguing sub-cultures. Here's an article, or speech really, by some kind of anthropologist from a couple of years ago, about Japanese norms and trends. Here are some excerpts:
"Have you heard the word Chapatsu? It literally means 'brown hair'. These days, however, the word applies not only to brown-dyed hair but also to hair that has been dyed red, gold, or white. Chapatsu has been fashionable since around the early 1990s. Chapatsu people can be found all over Japan. In Japanese, this phenomenon is called 'heia karaa fuashon'. It is practiced by both males and females, young and old alike. For example, there are even chapatsu civil servants in their 30s or 40s.

In the fashion industry, it is said that a precedent can always be found for every so-called new fashion. In fact, hair-dyeing had been fashionable in Japan from the late 60s to early 70s in Japan, after which it faded away, so to speak. At that time, the Japanese economy was in a period of high growth. And the miniskirt was also very popular. There’s a saying, that the length of women's skirts changes in inverse proportion to the business cycle. In other words, the more prosperous the period, the shorter the skirts.

The Chapatsu fashion of today first began among high school boys. Around 1990, there were some Chapatsu high school boys who went up against the strict dress code of Japanese schools. They were called Furyo – bad boys. They were few in number. By the end of the 1990s, just as the furyo boys had done, girls also began to color their hair. The Chapatsu style has flourished in the past few years.

Actually, the Chapatsu phenomenon has grown so large that it may not be an understatement to say that Japanese who have un-dyed Kurokami, or 'black hair', are now in the minority. For instance, most Japanese would not be surprised to see a university professor walking around with shiny dyed hair.

This Chapatsu boom has been accompanied by other fashions, such as 'loose socks', puri-kura 'print-club' [Pretty Club??] - that is, miniature photo protrait seals -, as well as body piercing and platform shoes. Tattoos have also recently turned into a fad, although a more a secretive one."
Then various stuff about the Ganguro girls, who darken their skin and wear white makeup and that kind of thing. And then this interesting thing of the Japanese customs in regards to nakedness:
Now, let’s briefly look back to the body image and consciousness that Japanese people have held in modern times. The fact that most Japanese lived semi-naked up to the early years of the Meiji Era was something reported by many western people who went to Japan at this time. As the critical eyes of Westerners were feared by the Meiji government, going about the streets exposed was forbidden by law from as early as 1871 (the 4th year of the Meiji Era). But the common people felt no shame at exposing their bodies and, in fact, most peasants, fishermen and artisans lived in such a semi-naked state for more than six months every year.

An American zoologist, Edward Morse, describes it in his book, Japan Day by Day, as follows: in the countryside, 'Clothing seems to be used only on state occasions' (Such scenes of everyday life remained up to the early 1960s). Thus, in turns and twists, a life of wearing clothes and shoes was not to become the norm among the lower strata of society until as late as the end of nineteenth century (the 30s of the Meiji Era). As nakedness was banned from public places, nakedness gradually became a source of shame in people's consciousness. From a cultural point of view, nakedness acquired a new meaning as the connection between it and sexuality grew. It is often said that in Japan nakedness had not always implied something erotic. Naked body parts denoted coquetry only when set in the context of there being a tension in the relationship between the naked and covered parts. Put another way, sexuality came to depend largely on the context. However, as the habit of wearing clothes spread, the covered body itself became the object of suppressed desire. Back when exposure of the body was the norm, the dependence of sexuality upon situational conditions was much stronger than it is in our time. As the situational dependence of sexual matters weakened, and representations of sex proliferated in everyday life, nudity itself became endowed with rhetorical expressiveness and came to appear even in the most unexpected situations. This is the state of the present consciousness concerning nakedness and the covered body in Japan. That is, nudity has acquired an overdetermined presence in Japanese society.

[ | 2003-05-13 15:45 | 14 comments | PermaLink ]  More >



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