Thursday, September 22, 2005

Cultural Tourism

The Reuters story yesterday about an Israeli couple fined for kissing during their wedding ceremony in India amused me in a mean-spirited way. The couple, who as far as I can tell are not Hindu, decided they wanted a traditional Hindu wedding in Pushkar. They proceeded to embrace and kiss while the priest was chanting vedic hymns, which outraged the presiding priest and other priests as well--one called their public kissing "cultural pollution". I have no problem with PDAs, but good for him.

I don't usually go in for the lefty cries of "cultural theft" or "cultural appropriation". Healthy cultures adopt things that are useful or even just likeable from other cultures, they always have done, and no one called it theft until recently. But when Westerners decide to pick up spiritual things from other cultures because they're oh so quaint and picturesque and closer to nature than us, etc. and then do it in a shallow way that mocks the tradition, I cringe and start considering using the t word myself. The most notorious example of what I'm talking about are the people who go to a weekend workshop, come home with a certificate, and proclaim themselves "genuine Native American shamans." But I think wanting a picturesque Hindu wedding when you're not Hindu or even willing to respect the mores of the local people who are comes pretty close to the attitude.


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bearing said...

When we were in Hawaii for my brother-in-law's wedding, we were amazed at the number of Japanese wedding couples who stopped in the lobby of the upscale Waikiki hotel we stayed in (thanks MIL and FIL!) to have pictures taken. If you sat in the lobby for an hour, you would have seen five or six, almost any hour of the day: lovely young Japanese bride in the traditional white wedding gown, her beaming tuxedo-clad groom (more often than not, it was a pastel yellow or blue tux, but still.)

Turns out there's a booming trade in "American Christian-Style Weddings" for the discriminating Japanese engaged couple! (Only about 1 percent of people in Japan are Christians.)

Suzanne said...

I'd heard "Western-style" weddings were popular in Japan, but "Christian-style" is new to me. For some reason it tickles me, even though I just criticized the same sort of thing done by other people.

My husband and I watch a lot of Japanese animation, and it's fun to see American, Western, or Christian references--especially when they're not quite right. For example, in Child's Toy (or Kodocha) there's an episode in which the main character wants to do something special for a classmate, so she has the members of her live TV show sing him "Happy Birthday" in English, only for some reason they do it dressed up in choir robes and standing in front of stained glass church windows. It makes me wonder how often our interpretations of other cultures are off-base in ways that would be glaringly obvious to someone from that culture.