Monday, 13 December 2010

The State of Contemporary America

December 12, 2010
The State of Contemporary America
            For nearly a decade, Seinfeld has aired throughout the 90s, reflecting and influencing the culture of a whole generation. All through its run on American television, the show was shrewdly presented as “a show about nothing.” However, by taking this stance, more meaning can be garnered, especially if related to the current state of Western culture, particularly American culture.  Seinfeld, then, can be said to be a medium, even the epitome, of postmodernist ideology. According to Jean Baudrillard, “postmodern culture is constituted through a continual flow of images,” instead of stable pillars of definition, “that establishes no connotational hierarchy.” It is “flat and one-dimensional,” literally superficial—no depth, whatsoever (Barker 207). Foucault also advocates this “nothingness” as he claims that it is not foundationalism, but instead, “historically specific ‘regimes of truth’,” and an end to grand narratives (Barker 211).  Examination of language, nihilism, reflexivity, sex and gender, ethnicity, and other post-modernisms to Seinfeld will shed light on the present situation of American culture.
            Derrida’s “differance" claims to explain language in such a way that, contrary to Saussure’s fixed signified and signifiers, the signified and the signifiers are in constant motion. Words are in a cycle of deferring absolute meaning, ceaselessly referring back to words that are also defined by other words, and a designation of the “productive and primordial” causality constituting “the process of scission and division whose differing and differences would be the constituted products or effects” (Derrida 390). Moreover, “signs represent the present in its absence.” When we must convey something that is not there, “we take up or give signs,” as well as construct new signs to represent what we mean; the signs serve as a “movement of mediation” that derives to an object, physical or otherwise.  (Derrida 390-391).
a "close-talker"
            The characters of Seinfeld follow the concept of a flexible, bottomless pool of language by creating new signifiers for things that are in their present situations that have previously not been appropriated signs. Uncharacteristically enormous hands possessed by a woman are called “man-hands;” a person who speaks in levels below the auditory threshold of normal conversation is identified as a “low talker;” the process of shrinking, particularly of the penis, is easily worded as “shrinkage;” a person who has strong feelings against or demeans dentists is called an “anti-dentite;” and a euphemism for masturbation is cleverly coined as “master of your domain.” Concepts also not previously appropriated phrases are the act of dipping one’s chip after one has taken a bite off of it is called “double-dipping,” and an expression to be used if one wants to give a short account of a story that usually omits major parts and goes straight to the point is “yada yada yada.” 
            As a reflector of culture, Seinfeld conveys that players in society are already capable of creating new signifiers that defer to a situation absent in current conversation. It truly conveys that the time of religiously abiding by concrete rules of science and reason is slowly, if not already, ebbing away from us, creating a more culturally/locally-directed way of conversing. Seinfeld highlights that meaning and truths are and can be created within and by groups of people based on day-to-day experiences, without believing in a lone, distanced, universal truth (Barker 209-211). As a contributor to culture, Seinfeld increases awareness of the people by presenting that there is no single truth, and that meaning is caused and created, and can also be destroyed. Thus, Americans of this time increasingly do create meanings drawn from experiences, a more participatory culture especially in today’s digital context (Jenkins 1).
            “Life may appear as a series of proliferating choices to be made without foundations.” Resonant of Derrida’s foundationless signs, we also refer to several things within ourselves and our experiences. This self-reflexivity is encouraged because, other than the vast yet distant religious and cultural authorities, “we have no certainties to fall back on.” Fitting in the context of postmodernism, self-reflexivity underlines the notion of a fragmented, “ambiguous and uncertain nature of living.” According to Gergen, reflexivity can simply be understood as “discourse about experience.” Still resonant of Derrida’s differance, people, like language, can also partake in “playful reconstructions of the self,” which requires comparison across our local traditions and of others” (Barker 200-201). In the show, the characters depend on their own personal experiences.


a play on words and identities

Postmodernism’s ironic knowingness of own limitations and wanting to explore them and “the condition of its own knowing” is a characteristic of the Seinfeld universe (Barker 201). An example of this is in the Puerto Rican Day Episode wherein Jerry tries to change lanes, but the driver would not let him. The driver merely stares ahead. Jerry is aware of what the driver is doing because he himself does the “stare-ahead” technique. Jerry, then, concludes that the driver needs to see a human face. Another paradigm of this reflexivity is when George comes to a conclusion, after reflecting on it on the beach, that everything he decides on, everything his instincts tell him is the complete opposite of what he wants to be. After sharing this realization with Jerry and Elaine, he purposely deviates from his daily routine and does the opposite of what his intuition tells him. George receives positive results from this change of life-style. Rather than following the saying “Trust your instincts,” George negates this mainstream thought and contests this rational view (Barker 341). Reflexive examples like these mimic that of regular life. Because authoritarian texts or belief systems do not always apply to contemporary peoples from various walks of life, self-reflexivity or referring to experiences can usually be more accessible and reliable than the aforementioned.
Along with reflexivity is the recognition of cultural difference. Because reflexivity requires “that we compare our traditions with those of others,” the “others” of the modern world “that had been suppressed by the modern drive to extinguish difference” are now invited to represent themselves and participate in postmodern society (Barker 201). Hence, what we have now is not quite a hierarchy but a cultural repertoire filled with different subcultures. For example, in the Puerto Rican episode yet again, the chapter is set during the Puerto Rican parade in New York. Jerry and his friends do not exert condescending disdain for this cultural event, but passively accepts it as it is. One of them even states that Puerto Ricans are a festive people. In another episode, when Elaine ultimately fails to seduce a homosexual man, Jerry plainly says that “He's not going to suddenly switch sides because when you join that team it's not a whim. He likes his team. He's set with that team.” Tolerance and acceptance of cultural differences blurs and collapses traditional regard for culture (Barker 201). Although it is true that each social class and group are schooled in systems that tend to reproduce itself unto succeeding generations (Rivkin and Ryan 10), the hierarchy of each culture is not given as much attention as it was in the pre-Civil Rights era.
In the days before the Civil Rights Movement, and even slightly today, those who are not of the majority population, those who do not hold power, such as non-Whites, non-males, non-Christians, and non-heterosexuals, are considered as “others.” Being in that state during the stronghold of modernity crushes any plea to an autonomous identity, especially as women who was and is still is the secondary, the other half to men in any context—religious, racial, socioeconomic etc. According to de Beauvoir, “man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being…She cannot think of herself without man…For him, she is sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute—she is the Other” (2). She follows Derrida’s train of thought, that one is defined by referring and deferring to another. She claims that “no group ever sets itself up as the One without at once setting up the Other over against itself,” such as Jews against anti-Semites, Blacks below “American racists,” proletariats against the bourgeoisie (2). Often, if not always, this partitioning in society leads to inequality.
Noticeably, there seems to be a lack of main female characters for there is only one. Elaine is the only woman in the group. This might be reflective of the lack of female exposure or power in mainstream America. Much like de Beauvoir’s description of woman, the character of Elaine was initially Jerry’s girlfriend. She was defined by her relationship with Jerry, and only surfaced when there was a need for supplemental “romantic” scenes. However, in succeeding episodes, Elaine’s character garners more power and is continually seen as a strong and assertive female figure. She becomes portrayed as one of the numbered females in American television who can “keep up with the guys.” Particularly in the episode “The Contest,” in which the group of friends participates in a contest to see which one can abstain from masturbating the longest. Elaine, being a woman, was initially barred from joining the contest based on the mere notion that sex or masturbation is not part of her lifestyle, which entails her “holding out” longer. The mere idea of having the contest challenges what modern society has commanded of its participants—that sexuality be reduced to only the legitimate couple. Being that none of the characters participating in the contest, and also in sexual activity with non-legitimated partners, i.e. boyfriends, girlfriends, one-night stands, friends with benefits (Elaine and Jerry in another episode), is already unacceptable in modernity . Saturation of sexuality has always been promulgated in earlier times that this ideology has and had already been introduced in the intimate and domestic setting of the family. Separation of the girls from boys, forbidding of infantile sexuality, and even warnings against the “supposed dangers of masturbation” has been advocated by a bourgeois society. And because power and pleasure are closely linked and reinforce each other, it is most definitely prohibited because the upper classes do not advocate for the “devices of excitation and incitement” to be in the hands of the lower classes (Foucault 688-90).  And so, Elaine being a woman (a class of humans supposedly subordinate to man) and outwardly participating in “lewd” sexual activities doubly violates modern society’s norms. Hite argues that “asserting female desire in culture in which female sexuality is views as so inextricably conjoined with passivity is ‘transgressive’” (Bordo 1110). Following the contest, it is important to note that it is Elaine who first failed the challenge, proving to the world that women are as much as the sexual creatures that men are.



Accordingly, also comes the fact that in Seinfeld, although the main character is of Jewish heritage, the main cast is of Caucasian descent .Recurring roles played by ethnic minorities, which are few, seem socially off, if not ridiculous. Examples are Yev Kassem, popularly known as The Soup Nazi, who serves and regards soup in a militant fashion; Jackie Chiles, a successful African-American lawyer, who is Kramer’s lawyer and defends the group in the season finale; Babu Bhatt, a Pakistani restaurateur, who Jerry accidentally gets deported. Other minor roles include a group of Japanese tourist whom Kramer plays host to. Kramer compels the group to sleep inside a drawer cabinet due to their small frames. Most minorities were portrayed stereotypically, such as exaggerated accents for the Japanese tourists, Babu Bhatt, and the Soup Nazi. Dyer and Hall state that stereotypes indicate “those whom the rules are designed to exclude,” and “concern those excluded from the ‘normal order of things and simultaneously establish who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them.’ Thus, stereotyping reduces, essentializes, naturalizes, and fixes differences” (Barker 264).





Particular to the minority characters mentioned, all have caused or have taken part in disastrous situations for Jerry and his friends. For the viewers of this show, especially of those in the majority population, comparison and even more generalization cannot be helped. Even today, racial profiling and antagonism towards minorities are becoming more and more rampant, especially due the current economic recession. Anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise, and it does not help that this widely appreciated situational comedy, that postmodernism dictates to be taken not for depth but surface, is “impregnated with European superiority” (Barker 266). Moreover, absence of ethnic minorities, particularly Blacks, in popular shows such as Seinfeld not only disproportionately represents multi-ethnic America, but also “promotes white ignorance about black people and black cultures. By ignoring black people, media coverage places them outside of mainstream society, signaling them as peripheral and irrelevant” (Barker 268). However, despite this racial exclusion, this show, other shows preceding this, those at the same time and those that succeeded show an effort in including as much ethnic variety and tolerance, notably All in the Family. Also, it is interesting to note that it may not be that the minorities are causing the distress on Jerry and his friends, but the opposite. It is widely known, especially highlighted in the finale where the group goes to prison, that they are a bunch of selfish, neurotic New Yorkers. Perhaps, Jerry Seinfeld and his friends, instead of being the ethnic majority, are the moral or ideological minority.
The Jerry and his group of friends can be seen as the minority among a supposedly caring and nurturing American culture. The group is seen as callous, neurotic and selfish. Minute things, such as certain kinds of laughs and punctuation marks (in which Elaine breaks-up with her boyfriend for not placing an exclamation point on a note relating a friend’s giving birth), are given utmost attention and concern. “Seinfeld's characters do not easily fit into the social climbing world of the literary manners genre,” making them into an ideological subculture (Pierson 1). Because the premise of the show is about nothing, this only highlights the notion of life’s futility, a stance that a few Americans hold on to. Irony, one of postmodernism’s elements, is widely used to portray the absurdity of everyday life in the Seinfeld universe. Hence, with this conversation on nothingness, the main question is “What is the point?” The characters of Seinfeld are educated and of the socioeconomic middle class, and yet it seems that they are at a loss or ignorant of the knowledge that they have acquired. This is nihilism at its finest (Bonner 276). “Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence” (Pratt 1). And as we can see postmodernism is nihilistic in nature because according to Foucault’s thinking, it is challenging or denying the “premises of classical enlightenment” in the following:
1.      Knowledge is neither universal nor metaphysical. “Rather, it is specific to particular times and spaces.”
2.      There is no totalized knowledge. It is “perspectival in character,” making it so that there multiple “viewpoints or truths by which to interpret a complex heterogeneous human existence” (Barker 194).
In addition, according to Lyotard, “the postmodern condition involves a loss of faith in the foundational schemes that have justified the rational, scientific, technological and political projects of the modern world (Barker 195). As seen in the finale episode of Seinfeld, they are put into prison for exactly violating the dominating beliefs of the Protestant moral world. In the finale, the friends are bystanders to a carjacking. Nihilistically, they do not help the obese man, perhaps believing that whatever they may do will not count, will be pointless. They rationalize this by saying that the fat man needs the exercise anyway, and that doing away with the car profits him.



            Finally, the question of what the state of contemporary America begs to be answered. Currently, there is a vast amount of discourses available for study that provides loads of information. Information, and even education, is easily dispersed due to the boom of the technological communications, particularly the internet. This, consequently, overwhelms the people. Despite the number of authorities ready to provide legitimated insight, contemporary America, today, chooses to derive meaning and solutions within themselves. However, this reflexivity, this deferment of meaning may someday come to an end. Like a parent answering the child’s question, referring to ourselves may lead us to a cold empty hole, thus making us unable to find ultimate meaning, because there is none. Nihilism, the consequence, or rather natural and inevitable state, of postmodernism, is mirrored in the hit show Seinfeld. The success of the show permits us to think that although Seinfeld and his friends seem to be the ideological and moral minorities, it may be otherwise. As viewers we consume what we like and give it back to society. And so, it may be that we, the viewers, unconsciously recognize the pointlessness of life amidst the dominant Christian and capitalist doctrine of purpose. Also, postmodernisms recognition of cultural difference can proceed in two ways: more tolerance and acceptance or increased division based on stereotypes. At this point in our history, we might be in the middle of deconstructing fully the classes and states of man (sex, gender, class, and ethnicity). When we do fully achieve this, we might also find ourselves floating amidst the nothingness of reality that says everything is constructed and can always be dismantled. According to Nietzsche, to whom nihilism is popularly associated with, nihilisms “corrosive effects would eventually destroy all moral, religious, and metaphysical convictions and precipitate the greatest crisis in human history.” Some fear that with that at hand, the world shall become cold and inhuman, just as Babu Bhatt called Jerry and his friends, where “nothingness, incoherence and absurdity” shall triumph (Pratt 1). 


Works Cited:


Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. 3rd. London, Great Britain: Sage Publications, 2008. Print.
Bonner, Kieran. "Reflexivity and Interpretive Sociology: The Case of Analysis and the Problem of Nihilism." Human Studies. 24.4 (2001): 25., . . Print.
Bordo, Susan. ""Material Girl': The Effacements of Postmodern Culture." Print.
Derrida, Jacques. ""Differance"." Print.
De Beauvoir, Simone. "The Second Sex." (1949): Print.
Foucault, Michel. "The History of Sexuality." (1976): Print.
Jenkins, Henry. "Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture." New Media Literacies. np, 2005. Web. 12 Dec. 2010. <http://www.newmedialiteracies.org/files/working/NMLWhitePaper.pdf>.
Pierson, David. "Show about Nothing: Seinfeld and the Modern Comedy of Manners."Journal of Popular Culture: 16. Print.
Pratt, Alan. "Nihilism." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. np, 2005. Web. 12 Dec. 2010. <http://www.iep.utm.edu/>.
Seinfeld. Dir. Art Wolff, Tom Cherones, Andy Ackerman. Perf. Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Deryfus, Michael Richards. Columbia Pictures, 1989-1998. DVD.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Embodiments of Psycho

A few weeks ago, we, in class, have viewed various scenes form American Psycho. As discussed, the film portrays different aspects of the American 80s, not excluding the decade's signature form of music. Aspects discussed in class are late capitalism, material realities, class and gender, and socioeconomic structures.

One of the scenes that I cannot overlook is the one wherein Patrick Bateman (the central character) talks to a homeless man, and then proceeds to kill him. Bateman, a rich "yuppie," walks through an alley at night. Being part of the upper class, this setting does not suit him. He encounters a hopeless looking homeless man. Bateman approaches him and says that he shall help him. While seemingly looking for something to give the homeless man, he gives the latter a sermon on how the homeless man should get a job, how the man's fate is self-inflicted, and how disgusting the man is. This sermon takes a bitter turn. Bateman takes out a short knife/dagger/"shank," and coldly takes the homeless man's life. This scene is an embodiment of contemporary class relations. Bateman represents the capitalist class who sends the message that they have worked hard to achieve their current place in the capitalist chain, and those who do not work hard are at fault for not putting enough effort. On the other hand, the homeless man can represent the working and lower classes. In the capitalists' point of view, those who are poor deserve it. However, the sense hopelessness that is sent forth by the homeless man represents that the lower classes' status cannot be helped. In reality, it is the capitalist structure that prohibits change. It is the system's fault as to why the lower classes are oppressed and change cannot progress. The capitalist classes are at fault for turning a blind eye, and by saying that fate is self-inflicted and that the American Dream is real, when it is not. By ignoring this fact and advocating to the capitalist ideologies powering our society, the rich kills the poor, the system kills the poor. Also, those in power continue to exploit the working class, the latter being dried up and also left to suffer (because we all know that the working class is more prone to stress and have shorter life spans). As Slovenian philosopher Zizek claims, "they do not know it, but they are doing it."

Sources:
Film: American Psycho
Slavoj Zizek

Sunday, 5 December 2010

New Media: Utopia or Dystopia?

Today, people get information from multitudes of sources: from news websites, television, (not so much the) radio, social networking sites, special interest sites, etc. That is good in a way because it means that more people can reach information from anywhere. Also, there are more people from different backgrounds who create the information, thus making the internet more representative of populations. However, the creation of and accessing of information has become so easy that some troubles may arise from it. For one, the amount of information out there, available at a click of a mouse, may overwhelm us. It makes the brain idle for it is not up to us anymore to sort huge amounts of information; the job goes to the search engines that categorize it for us.....

Source:
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies. 3rd Ed.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

GROUP: SEINFELD

Not long ago after I signed up for this topic, Seinfeld, I have communicated with, mainly, at least two of my group members. Since I have not watched a handful of the episodes, I sought to borrow as much DVDs as I could. I have borrowed a handful from the Santa Monica Library, and Sandy Murphy has lent me couple episodes as well. Already, in the month of September, I have voiced some of my opinions about the show to my seatmate/group mate Rachel. We have discussed potential episodes, how they are relatable to our texts, and their implications about our society. In the month of October, exchanges through e-mail have been frequent, and I have responded to all of it. I have attended all of the group meetings that was set up and actively participated in the discussions. In the discussions, I have listened carefully to all of my peers' input and have contributed or raised some key points for the presentation.

I have contributed to the group to my fullest. Here are the "solid" or more noticeable contributions I have given. I have said, along with Sandy, that "The Deal" illuminates us on the norms observed by couples dating. Along with the concepts finalized was post-modernism and modernism. For post-modernism, I have mentioned the "Puerto Rican Day" episode in which the Seinfeld gang portrays a recognition of cultural differences (White Americans v. Puerto Ricans) and reflexivity of the characters (their references to their personal experiences, i.e. the look-ahead scene). Also, the show itself could be post-modern for its depiction of an accelerated pace of living, particularly in New York, and an "ironic knowingness" because of the characters', or simply, the show's, conscious "exploration of the limits and conditions" of societal norms (Barker 201). Another aspect I brought up in the discussion was the importance of the spatial arrangement or the venue of the show. The show is most of the time in the confines of Jerry's kitchen/living room where the gang shows their "back region" self, which would be deemed unacceptable to show in the outside world. Their impropriety is seldom, if ever, portrayed to the outside world where they interact with "normal" people, or rather people who are also projecting a "front region self (Barker 374). People can relate to Seinfeld because it is the back regions that they portray which intrigues us, the audience, because it must be the inner sentiments of ours that they show and we share. In response to a classmate's comment which suggested that even in the comforts of our homes, people are still not that "nasty," I and another classmate suggested that it might be that the things that happen in Seinfeld's kitchen might not necessarily be the conceived back region, but the subconscious, itself, situated in the depths, the ultimate back, of our psyches.

Besides the notes and concepts I have contributed, I have also helped guide the discussion, wrote on the board, and "manned" the lights. I have called on some people and have given some additional comments with regards to topics besides my own. These little things (relative to me) are examples of my eagerness to give to the group.

I can comfortably say that I have contributed a handful to the group. Our group was not one to be headed by leaders. Instead, we were more egalitarian and guided one another. It was easy to function in our group because concurrence and discussions were what it was mostly about. It would have been hard to not participate and contribute because we all provided everyone with a chance to communicate whether via e-mail, text, or in person. I very much enjoyed working with my pleasant and mature group mates.

Works Cited:
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies

Sunday, 7 November 2010

SeƱor Chang

The emerging face of Asians in American media. Still a bit stereotypical, but it's a flight from the meek Asians portrayed in the past. Go Ken Jeong!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Team America: What is it?

Team America is a movie, starred not by actors but marionettes, about the G.I. Joe-y "world police" force. Created by Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Pam Brady, the movie, as introduced in class, is supposed to be a political satire, particularly about the role America plays in "policing" the world. One of the creators described the team as the world police only because they have the guns and the aircraft. The film is also supposed to be a parody on big Hollywood movies of the same genre that usually have stereotypical depictions of terrorists and the world, in general. In the film, Team America takes on a number of terrorists (depicted stereotypically), and ultimately battles Kim Jong Il (North Korea).



This movie ought not to be taken seriously; its words not to be believed literally because this film is highly exaggerated. "The excess in the meaning of the signs" this production portrays ought to shed light and deconstruct Americanism. What one might see as a glorious stomping out of the terrorists in France, a propagation of "freedom," another would see as a forceful entry of democracy (ironic) at the expense of the cultural heritages of France. Also, another excess that was portrayed in the scenes we saw in class would be the love scenes between the main couple. The two marionettes engage in a number of "angles" that a film featuring real persons wouldn't dare show. This excess, as stated in class, would be a "deconstruction of love," into merely the positions the marionettes take.




Despite this deconstructionism and shedding of light stuff, I believe that the perpetuation of stereotypes strengthens the ideals of those who truly believe in such bigotries. The idle-minded Americans, racists, and dare I say it, tea partiers, believe in the ideals that this film seeks to mock. These people will not mind such mockery, but instead, will continue to see terrorists embodied in the stereotypical Middle-eastern bodies; Koreans, embodied as the stereotypical Asian that pronounces L's as R's or vice-versa, etc etc. Yes, all this will be funny and easily dismissible because of its not-to-be-taken-seriously  media (marionettes) that is supposed to pose a different reality, but there will still be audiences, a large amount actually, whose ideologies will be strengthened by this mockery.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Our Limited Language

"We feel free because we lack the language to articulate our unfreedom." --Zizek

Slavoj Zizek


It is just now, after two decades of living, that I have come to realize this (of course, with the help of this pop culture class I'm in). First, we are born into a world that preexists us, and thus, we have to learn the ways of life that have been established in our community/society. Along with that preexisting world is language. As children, we have to learn the ways by which the preexisting, and also, co-existing (peers), have communicated. And, along with that communication are the values and meanings that are attached to the language. It is said, and also known, that "language shapes the way we think." Of course it does. If you think about it, the egocentric language that is English sheds light on the individualistic society of the United States of America. It seems mean for me to say this, but it's like Americans or even English speakers, like toddlers, have never outgrown their egocentric view of the world. This is from a psychological standpoint. So yes, it does sound harsh. But later, I will tell you why this may not be applicable. 

Directions in the English language are egocentric. When describing the location of something, it is either behind, in front, or to the left of... guess... YOU. When someone is melancholy because that someone's cat died, what does one say to console this person? I'm sorry or in "cooler terms," I feel ya (you). Actually, I've tried that once, saying "I'm sorry." You know what my non-American friend said? "Wait... Why? You didn't do anything." Even in someone else's misery, English speakers are still selfish. Anyway, in contrast to non-western (Here it is again. Egocentric references. haha) or rather, Eastern languages, references to oneself is used sparingly. For example, in Guugu Yimithirr, an aboriginal language from north Queensland, directions are not according to one's personal orientation, but it is said according to the "real geographic directions" or cardinal directions. Say you're at the beach and the sun is setting right in front of you, one who speaks that language would not say that the sun is setting in front of you, instead, it's setting to the west. Or say you're still at the beach and you're watching it with your cat, which is to your right. It's not to your right. The cat is situated a couple of centimeters to the north. This language is not ego-centric and as treats the individual as if it were irrelevant. And so, though you experience the same circumstances, viewing this reality is different because of how differently each language has shaped the speakers.

Guugu Yimithirr: speakers of a selfless language in regards with directions. These people have memorized the geographical directions OF THE EARTH!


Being bilingual, I have come across instances where it is difficult to convey what I mean in either language, even if I am sufficiently knowledgeable of both. This is so because on some days my language of processing is Tagalog, and on some days it's English. By the way, I do not do this voluntarily. There are certain things that is unique to each culture and are simply just untranslatable. And also, there are some things that you think you can translate, and instead, just comes off as a totally different concept once translated. For example, "ingrate" in English has a totally different connotation as opposed to "walang utang na loob" (ungrateful or literally, someone has no inner debt). Saying it in English makes it final; you are an ingrate. Whereas in Tagalog, "wala kang utang na loob" kind of gives you a chance to repay that debt. Also, in Filipino languages, and most Asian languages, there are "respect signifiers" that are to be used when speaking to older people, whereas in the English language, there seems to be none. In Tagalog, "po" and "opo" are used in sentences, and when referring to the older person, instead of saying "you" in singular form (ikaw), "you" is pluralized (kayo). So, when I converse with a parent or someone older than me in English, I cannot help but feel so disrespectful and full of "attitude."

But again, with these two accounts on the differences of language, why? Well, it is probably because we must convey what we must. In Asia, the idea of respecting elders is so important that we must convey it, but in Western countries, this is not so, hence the limited opportunities in the language to convey respect. And in English, individualism, autonomy and ultimately, freedom are so valued that the language has the limited words to articulate them. It's probably so because the individual in the western world must not be bound by "tribes." Hence, we are trapped by the ideologies conveyed by the language and the language that perpetuates these ideas (whichever one makes sense). We cannot express any of the ideas outside the respective cultures, unless we borrow, like the borrowing of several words from French, Spanish, and German by the English language. So, it is not that Americans are overgrown babies, unable to be selfless. It is merely the language and the culture it signifies that prevents anyone from anywhere to think about outside ideologies. We are encapsulated by the language/s that uphold the ideas we believe in.

sources:
Film: Zizek!