Section One Essay: Cultural Difference
People of one culture who find themselves living among another seem to approach the situation with some trepidation. This was the case in all three movies I viewed. Curiosity and excitement also played a big role in the initial transition of all those involved. After the initial shock wore off, all of these people found that they had to adapt to their surroundings. This paper discusses their experiences. God Grew Tired of Us covered many of the discussions that were held in class. The Lost Boys of Sudan were both excited and nervous about coming to America. They found themselves in a landscape that was drastically different than the arid land from which they had come. Paved roads, an abundance of motor cars, huge buildings, etc. These were all marvels to the travelers. The Lost Boys made many observations about their surroundings. Some of these observations revealed how they obviously see the world differently than we, the average American citizen, do. While watching one of their group struggle in an attempt to ice skate, someone made the comment that he looked like a wounded soldier. Most Americans do not have that point of reference and therefore do not come to that conclusion while watching people participating in simple, fun activities. While watching them observe the Fourth of July firework display, I could not help but wonder whether or not they made the same kind of connection. Did they look at the fireworks and think of war torn times? Cultural behaviors were apparent as well. The Lost Boys were nervous about approaching strangers in a strange land but felt it rude not to. In Sudan, one would not simply ignore a passerby without so much as a greeting. They also felt as though they had an obligation to help anyone in need that they came across. They come from a culture that feels that man must help one another in order to survive peacefully. They expressed this further when they inquired about why the United States had not intervened in their war in Sudan. Their cultural belief in the importance of family was displayed by the selfless acts of sending money home, bringing family members here to America, and even one man returning to Sudan to be with the ones he loved. The Lost Boys came to America recognizing the practice of cultural relativism. They understand that they are in a foreign land and respect our practices and customs. They, understandably, have some reserves and questions about these things. This is only natural. Some of the Lost Boys, the older and more traditional men, practiced pluralism. That is the holding on to some or most of their own culture while adopting the necessary aspects of American life. They seemed almost disgusted to see that some of the younger men were assimilating themselves into American culture as much as possible. They feel a sense of identity by holding on to the traditions of their home land. All of the men picked up some of the American slang, instantly showing that they were becoming part of our culture, no matter the degree of which they held on to their own.
Going Tribal is a very insightful series about how a Westerner, Bruce Perry, immerses himself in very different cultures and lives among them, trying to become accepted while participating in their day to day lives. I watched SE1 EP1: Adi and SE1 EP3: Kombai. Both of these tribes are very secluded and have their own cultural identities. The Adis, having been defeated by the British in 1911, expressed their nervousness upon seeing a white man walk into their village. This shows how past their past experiences with Westerners has implanted a sense of foreboding when it comes to outsiders, especially whites. Bruce soon became not only accepted, but also respected in the tribe after showing that he could be a hard worker and earn his keep. Everyone in the tribe has a role to play, and by Bruce showed that he could meet the standards of a man of Adi. These standards help define the tribe as a unit. The men are to hunt and gather, build and protect. The women are to cook, clean, and see to different types of preparations. There is a chief but he does not rule. He too has to help with daily tasks. The traditions and beliefs are a mixture of old and new. The female shaman expresses that she is an important part of the culture but she is slowly becoming almost an outcast as the tribe discovers more modern ways of medicine, celebration and technology. While the people wear modern clothes and have requested a road be built near the village and electricity be installed for their use, their wealth is measured by their cattle. Mithun are a crossbreed of water buffalo and cow and represent a living currency among the tribe. The people of the tribe attend Christian church and believe in the power of prayer, but they also ritually sacrifice Mithun for blessing new homes and annual ceremonies. The young men and women who leave the tribe to pursue education return expressing that they do not expect to live their lives herding cattle and thatching roofs from palm fronds. Even the elders are transitioning into the modern world. They are beginning to build their homes from modern materials and everyone eagerly anticipates the arrival of electricity. These observations by Bruce and his crew speak volumes of the inevitability for Western civilization to be adopted by cultures who have until now lived in what we would consider to be a distant past. The Adi are able to make this transition at their own pace because of their seclusion from the rest of the world. The other tribe Bruce visited in these episodes is the Kombai tribe. These were, until quite recently, a cannibalistic people. The first area Bruce encounters voices some distaste for his presence. This is placated rather easily with some tobacco and a handshake. These people seemed to be more modern. This was because they were in the area in which a Christian mission had settled and influenced the people. As Bruce continued on he was met by more and more hostility. The lack of influence by the missionaries became more apparent the farther he got into the jungle. This lack of influence harbored older beliefs and distrust for unknown people. This reflects a lack of cultural relativism. The Kombai tribesmen do not even care about other cultures. They have their own lives to worry about. Their own traditions and practices. Bruce was amazed by the stories he was told about first hand encounters of cannibalism. He spoke to men who talked about eating other men as though it was just a normal thing they had done. While we may think that it is disgusting and barbaric for this to happen, the Kombai find it necessary to rid the world of evil men (those are the ones who are eaten). Neither side is necessarily right. They are just different.
Borat….. Borat takes all of the things I have discussed and blows them out of proportion. Where the Lost Boys were nervous about greeting Americans in public, Borat just walks right up to people and offers his hand and a kiss. The reactions vary from amusement, to anger, to fear. Americans are not used to being touched by strangers. Borat’s curiosity brings him into situations that even us as Americans would not try and experience. This film shows both sides of cultural differences. It shows the point of view of a very curious traveler who seems to have no social filter. This allows us as a viewer to experience the many possible responses that our people may express. Some of the Americans become very angry. This reflects a big portion of our civilization. These people are intolerant to others. Some of the Americans are very helpful and seem empathetic to Borat’s apparent ignorance. This reflects another more compassionate portion of American citizens. Borat also addresses assimilation. This is especially shown after he approaches and talks to the “gangsters” on the street then tries to get a hotel room. He talks with heavy slang and changes his appearance to model the “gangsters.” This, as funny as it seemed, is very common for foreigners to do to try and assimilate into our culture. Borat’s blatant use of racism is meant to show us that while we may be looking at a foreigner through a haze of racism, he may be looking at some of us the same way, causing a breakdown in communication and otherwise civil interactions. Lack of clear communication is a main theme of this movie. The way he communicates compared to the way we communicate causes a lot of conflict. Sasha Cohen Baron (Borat) brilliantly (over)uses many aspects of interaction between foreigners and Americans to show a very serious message through comedy. He uses racism, reverse racism, miscommunication, profiling, shocking cultural differences, and over the top performances to help the viewer realize how difficult it may be for all parties involved to successfully interact before getting to know one another.