Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Expositions and Reality

After reading Segregating Sound, an excerpt about Black America triggered thoughts on the modern exposition. The display boasted authenticity, plucking “real” people from their environment to another area, with the expectation they would continue their everyday life but with observers, in a city, in another district. Black America of many years past, to me, parallels the 42nd Annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival where it “explored the rich culture of the Kingdom of Bhutan” and boasted “100 Bhutanese artists, dancers, craftspeople, cooks, carpenters, farmers and representatives of monastic life who celebrated the traditions that define and sustain their culture.” I’ve always been curious what a World’s Fair would look like and this type exposition seems to be our modern interpretation. We are searching for the untouched and the authentic. My coworker went to Bhutan to work at a new radio station, as the country was opening up and changing from a monarchy to a democracy. Bhutan spoke English since in the King’s wisdom, he had chosen that English be learned and American television be broadcast as the media came into this tiny Buddhist country. The coworker later brought a young Bhutanese woman over to America and Los Angeles to visit. The story meanders from there and developed into a book deal. Sadly, the author’s complaint that she never got to do long investigative stories that deserved attention- just three minute radio pieces- turned into a memoir that never explored anything deep. The book instead took a colonial and imperialistic view of the culture she visited. Forget being contemporary or enlightened in modern times, history often keeps repeating itself. She instead exploited the young woman’s story and ruined her life in Bhutan, changing European expats names but not the Bhutanese woman’s. The question is why the need for authenticity or purity of a culture? In the search for these cultures, the seeker imposes their own thoughts and notions on them. They never let it be. Anthony Bourdain and the show No Reservations make good tv but they are well aware in showing a treasure, rarity, or dying food tradition will give people the desire to visit. This desire brings money to the country and area but it can often destroy it as well. The tiny kingdom of Bhutan has rapidly changed in the last few years. The women were working on the second radio station in the country and they now have stations in the double digits. The country stayed closed to survive and then opened to survive and the floodgates have opened. The South never experienced floodgates of tourists and money but there continues to be a desire for authentic Southern Food or culture. Unfortunately, like music in Segregating Sound, media and television covering in the South seems to exploit a pocket of a backwoods culture, in its search for interesting characters. Reality tv plays on ‘true Southern’ with shows like a version of the Housewives franchise in Atlanta, Toddlers and Tiaras and the spinoff Here comes Honey Boo Boo- not to mention Duck Dynasty, and a version of Storage Wars and Pawn Stars. Our classmate mentioned scripted shows like True Blood that also molded ideas of what the region is, giving someone an idea without even visiting or living in it. The bottom line is that more people need to realize their perspectives and life experience interfere and inform travel. One should work to be as open to new experiences and culture when navigating different destinations and regions. _______________________ _________________________________

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