The Trolling Hour: Understanding Can (Not) Be Born

WAH’s latest post on the uniquely Japanese parts of anime brings a cavalcade of insistent commentators out of the woodwork.

Before I get to my responses, let me just point out that the inherently arbitrary mental constructs that form culture and identity are very, very difficult to look past. I am sympathetic to that difficulty, but I don’t think that it really excuses willful preference. Getting over yourself is a vital skill when understanding other cultures, and if you don’t have it, you will fail.

cannotunderstand

Rei doesn't get it. What is this "fun" you speak of?

Ryoko opines,

“There’s a difference between “oh, that’s just their culture” and batshit insanity/stupidity . . . It’s like when I was told that in Egypt, driving with your headlights on at night is considered rude. It just crosses over the line at that point, y’know?”

Actually, whether or not it crosses over the line is not the point at all.  Understanding other cultures is not best done with the attitude, “I’ll accommodate them to the point where I don’t agree.” Rather, try, “that’s how they do things and an outsider has no right to judge.”

Yes, outside of any cultural context, a simple refusal to use lights when it is dark is probably maladaptive. If, however, you really were primarily interested in understanding Egyptian culture, your response would have been, “That’s curious; why is that?” rather than “Ugh, that’s sooo stupid.”  Because you went in with the assumption that it would be productive to judge another culture, you closed your mind as soon as you ran into something you couldn’t instantly understand.

I’ve never encountered the headlight issue, but let’s look at an example from America: Hasidic Jews in New York had days of debate over whether or not to adopt a closed loop over a few fences, which symbolically would have made a public space into a communally owned space.  The point of this?  On the Sabbath, they are not permitted to work, and their interpretation of ritual law is such that they cannot carry purses or wallets outside the home, because that could lead to significant purchases, which would constitute work.  The ultimate end of this loop would be to allow them to walk outside their houses with their wallets, a privilege the average American enjoys without thinking twice about it.

I imagine this falls within the category of things that some outsiders simply cannot understand.  However, even if you cannot empathize, “that’s batshit insane” is not a productive attitude to take. For reasons you cannot presently understand, they have rules that they wish to follow. What good does it do you to scream and call them names?  Are you here to understand them, or try to force them to do things in ways that make sense to you?

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Published in: on October 7, 2009 at 3:55 PM  Comments (8)  
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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Remember that there used to be a time that people thought that the Earth and therefore, they, were at the center of the universe and that such a notion that stated otherwise is tantamount to heresy. In this instance, I think you summed it up well when you say that people need to stop thinking that they, personally are at the cener of things. It leads to a whole lot less empathy and understanding and from a discussion standpoint, totally counterproductive.

    Of course, wah’s not really helping out with the dialogue to promote understanding either, but I don’t think that was the intention when he wrote that.

    • Fries aside, it’s true that wah is hardly a master of conciliatory gestures.

  2. While trying to understand culture is ipmortant, in my eyes it is just as important to try understand people outside that culture. For example, just because someone doesn’t like Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Lucky Star or Bakemonogatari, it’s equally ignorant to say “its because they don’t get Japanese culture”. Not every Americans may enjoy Seinfield/South Park/Monty Python, even if they do get the reference, because there is something with the shows’ sensibilities that don’t quite connect with those audience. Likewise, people who don’t get all the reference in Zetsubou/Lucky Stars might still derive enjoyment because there are colours, pacings, sensations, feelings, things beyond reference that they can connect to, that just click with them. This is how I see it because I’m not very into Japanese culture (relatively speaking) but still very much enjoy those shows, which means there are things I can appreciate from them beyond those that I don’t get.

    • A good point. Strictly from an anthropological point of view, Europeans were horribly ill-informed about African cultures when they “discovered” African art. However, they really did appreciate the art, even if they placed it in a foreign context.

  3. I’m with gaguri. It’s true that there are people who still won’t find a show like Zetsubou Sensei funny in spite of understanding the jokes. I can respect that opinion. I can also respect an opinion which says, “This wasn’t funny, but then again I don’t get it.” What I can’t respect, and what I suspect wah was alluding to in his post, is an opinion which dismisses Zetsubou Sensei as “stupid” even though the critic doesn’t understand the humor to begin with. It’s like trying to watch The Wire from the 25th episode without watching the others, and then going on to complain that it makes no sense. Of course it doesn’t. I think what wah takes issue with isn’t people not liking Zetsubou Sensei; it’s the inability of certain anime bloggers to admit they’re not qualified to pass judgment on a show which is incredibly Japanese in it’s humor. That’s my take anyways.

  4. I always knew there was a reason I practiced driving without lights in the darkness of rural roads… the moon is your friend.

    … apparently I should go to Egypt. >_>?

  5. The one thing that always makes me laugh about Orthodox Jews figuring out how to circumvent various relgious laws is because it makes me think “C’mon guys, G-d obviously gave you guys those laws for a reason. I doubt that he’ll be like ‘LOL guess you got me beat!’ when you figure out how to violate the spirit but not the letter of the law.”

  6. […] Wildarmsheero – Like a cook, WAH kept the pot of drama simmering, though it occasionally boiled […]


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