Martha Stewart is interviewing Susan Orlean on this morning’s show. Admittedly, a guilty pleasure.
However, I’m also troubled by what I see as glimmers of exoticism in their conversation. A typical question: “Did you eat any unusual foods?” Orleans and Stewart commence discussing the yak butter and other uncivilized things “they” might have slipped into the tea. Sure, yak butter is unusual or, worse, exotic, to us–but what about to the people we’re visiting? To those who do not view yaks as exotic but as familiar and as necessary as cows or pigs are to American diets.
Yet another cringe-worthy moment during the show: “I’ve been to the most uncivilized places.”
I find it troubling how often we view our own milieu as the primary one, or worse, the “right” or “civilized” world; meanwhile, other cultures are exoticized as something less than. More articulate theorists (Edward Said on Orientalism, for example) than me have mulled over this dilemma. It’s interesting to witness how we, as Americans, easily prioritize our own values and culture over others.
I was recently interviewed and asked, “What’s the importance of learning about other cultures?” The answer seemed self-evident: expanding one’s mind, gaining empathy and solidarity (often with people less fortunate than us), sharing a larger worldview with friends and family at home.
Below, a short clip about Edward Said and his ground-breaking contributions to post-colonial theory. As Prof Jhally reminds us in this clip, Said’s theory of Orientalism asks: “How can we come to understand other people who look different than us?”