Cultural Voyeurism

One of my friends told me once about a tourist group that used to come to Boston. Clearly one would go visit Boston to experience the rich American history? Well, that was partly the case. Another reason this particular tourist group used to come to Boston was to see the poor little brown people. They wanted to go to the poorer portions of Boston to take pictures of the slums, lack of a better word off the top of my head, and to take pictures of kids on the corners and porches. Shocking that people knew there were black and Hispanic people in Boston considering the clever advertising has Boston constantly portrayed as a the quintessential Caucasian utopia in the urban decay of the Northeast.

Not so shocking about this incident is that the people taking the trip were confused that the brownies took offense to being part of an urban National Geographic. Diatribes and digressions will be avoided, but I was amused and disheartened simultaneously by this. I’m sure there may be a few people that are confused about why this would be so offense. While this might be seen as fascinating, the same way black people are bemused by certain people’s love of NASCAR, the thing that they (or we in a more general sense) take offense to is the fact that during this voyeurism, we are being seen as less than human. We have been transformed from humans living, enjoying, hurting, loving, crying their life to something animal in the cage that you point at and whisper into another’s ear about how ‘savage’ we are.

Now curiosity of cultures is perfectly natural, because people are naturally curious obviously. But the way people go about is often disturbing. One of the more recent trends in film community is the fetish for East Asian cinema. Now, I completely understand why there is great interest. It’s inviting in the sense that countries like South Korea and China already have modernized cities so you aren’t leaving the comforts of the Western city either physically or by viewing them but they still have that good ol’ fashioned Oriental mysticism about them. So now you get the best of both worlds, something new and mysterious, without having to deal with poverty or real(ish) life violence in Middle Eastern, African, Latin American, or even Eastern European movies. I will grant that this position is a tad (read as: whole fucking lot) presumptuous without context.

The context is the context of how the movies are evaluated and valued: It is always through the prism of Western understanding and canon. The applying of ‘your’ values onto ‘their’ values. This is where I largely take issue. Contrary to popular belief, other cultures have other values and beliefs as well. Some may run contrary to yours and sometimes they may be roughly the same. The lack of empathy, either emotional or intellectual, is bothersome for me. Because not only are you depriving yourself of new perspectives that you may have never had, but you are also depriving other cultures of their own humanity in their own respects.

One of my favorite movies by Nelson Pereira dos Santos is How Tasty My Little Frenchman underscores this, amidst a myriad of other things. One of the subplots of the film involves a French trader with the village. He is all too happy to engage in certain practices of the people walking around the nude, and giving the women jewelery, it is implied or at least adequately inferred that he has had sex with several of them at some point, and he exchanges various goods for Brazilian wood (extremely valuable at this time, as well as the present!). When the village leader starts asking for guns in preparations for war, the French trader pussyfoots around the issue and tries to appease him in other ways. He remarks to a captured Dutch captured men that it would be imprudent to give the natives weapons as they are savages and would surely give turn the weapons on them soon enough.

This is essentially the relationship between many different cultures on many different levels. Santos’ was using this as a current allegory for European and Brazilian trading of valuable Brazilian goods for European trinkets. I believe this adequately fits when it comes to cinema and sometimes when foreign countries come into vogue time and time again. Hopefully soon we’ll be able to at least attempt to try to connect with another without condemning or applauding another based on our perception of whether or not it fits within our views and standards.

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About panamaenrique

Afro-Latino film lover in NYC. I love blues, jazz, soul, funk, and everything else under the sun. Any questions, comments, or concerns about anything I say, feel free to hit me up. My contact info is there and I'll be sure to give you a lengthy response about what I said and why I said it.
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