Thursday, August 13, 2009

The 'cultural' in Cultural Night at Trinity Theological College's community

On 28th August 2009, Trinity Theological College will be organizing a 'Cultural Night' (CN) where all students are to be present in their cultural attires, prepare a cultural dish, and stage a performance that reflects their own culture.

By observing each communities' planning for the CN, I noticed that there is a deep misunderstanding of the very term 'culture'. Generally the TTC's community seems to regard something as cultural if it is rooted in some historical past. For instance, the cultural outfit of a Chinese from China is a cheongsam. But such categorization is extremely unfit because the historical past does not reflect current culture anymore. Seldom nowadays' China's Chinese wear cheongsam, if they wear it at all.

Culture is seen by Robert Redfield as "shared understandings made manifest in act and artifact." (Richard Jessor, Anne Colby, Richard A. Shweder, Ethnography and Human Development: Context and Meaning in Social Inquiry, p.61. Emphasis added).

Andy Crouch agrees, ""... culture is the accumulation of very tangible things - stuffs people make of the world... While it is certainly true that culture can have effects on us that we're not aware of, culture itself is anything but invisible. We hear it, we smell it, we taste it, we touch it, and we see it. Culture presents itself to our five sense - or it is not culture at all." (Culture Making, p.67).

So if CN is for individual students to express their own culture, which is the manifestation of their act and artifact, something that we still do, then it is nuisance to appear in some outfits of a certain historical past, and perform songs or dances which we don't actually do it anymore.

In adopting a culture from an obscure historical past that we do not anymore identify with in current and immediate time in act and artifact, we are actually grossly deconstructing the times. Not only that. Asking someone who have never wore a Baju Melayu and perform Joget to wear the attire and to perform the dance is culturally denying; Betraying the very purpose of having a Cultural Night.

There is a prevalent and unchecked presumption among TTC community that the CN is to celebrate the cultural differences among students from different countries. Given that most of the students are from post-colonized, globalized, and multicultural nations such as Singapore, China (Hong Kong and Beijing), India (Bangalore), Indonesia, and Malaysia, there are not much cultural differences to be celebrated in the first place. By presuming that there are betrays the fact that one is not yet any where near to engage and do business with 'culture'.

Are not such presumption-laden cultural event play out the analysis of Jean Baudrillard, "We need a visible past, a visible continuum, a visible myth of origin to reassure us as to our ends, since ultimately we have never believed in them... the order which our culture dreams of... could have had nothing to do with [the past], and it dreams thus because it has exterminated this order by exhuming it as if it were our own past." (Simulations, p.19-20. Bold added, italics original).

Check out these videos of cultural performance during last year's CN:

Seriously, which Singaporeans nowadays sing 'Rasa Sayang' and perform 'Dikir' dance in everyday living? Which China's Chinese dress in Hanfu and use writing brush in everyday living?

Singaporeans are listening to Jason Marz, Jay Chou, Black Eye Peas, perform 'shuffle', salsa, and ballroom dances. China's Chinese dress in t-shirt and jeans, and use pen to write. Even current China's leaders do not wear cheongsam to formal events!

I am not against CN, but very much against the distortion over the understanding of culture within the general TTC community. (Though we learn a bit about 'cultural anthropology' and spurred to be 'culturally sensitive' in our Mission & Evangelism classes, the community still having difficulty to put that to practice). Something that I have noticed even during the Orientation Day.

Instead of wanting to celebrate cultural differences which really is a fake celebration, why can't we just celebrate the given uniqueness and differences among individuals?

(A recent BBQ party at an Indonesian Chinese friend's place. Many people from different countries with different ethnic groups were there. In the picture alone, there are Americans Caucasians, American Indian, German Caucasian, Australian Croatian, Singaporean Malay, and me, a Malaysian Chinese. We have more cultural similarities than differences. What we celebrated during the party was not the different cultures of ethnic or national groups, but primarily the uniqueness of different individuals.)


歪歪 said...

huh what do the 'shared understandings made manifest in act and artifact' ... means??
hmmm... do you want to improve my englsh..? lol

Sze Zeng said...

Culture is "shared understandings made manifest in act and artifact" means that culture is a common perspective that a community share. And that perspective can be seen through the action and artifacts of the people in the community.


M SIBAT said...

You're right man. People still think we live on trees and use sampan to commute cos the Ibans especially would generally wear loin cloth and furry attire plus a blowpipe ... bummer. No thanks to the Cuti-Cuti Malaysia advertisements. People nowadays wear jeans and t-shirt ... silly West Malaysians (sorry, but it is true that we get such comments from them).