||So I saw The
Last Samurai the other daythe Tom Cruise movie. Its basically
Dances with Wolves, but in Japan. And set about five or ten years
later, I guess. (As an aside, Ive read several different theories
as to why so many Hollywood movies are set in that time period, and none
seems to really adequately explain it. But thats something for another
Anyway, theres this one point in the movie where Cruises character describing the Japanese village and he says (Im paraphrasing) something like, Theres something very spiritual about this place. Now, like a lot of people, I think that comment is offensive. Westerners have a long, bad habit of ascribing spritualism to Eastern (and Native American, for that matter) cultures and people. And its not harmlessthese depictions inform the way that we in the West view the lives and actions of non-EuroAmericans. And whether youre talking about relations at the interpersonal level or at the international level, interpretation plays a larger role than we generally like to admit.
We are often trying to decipher the statements and actions of people we dont know well, and sometimes a great deal hangs in the balance. Given our recent penchant to invade other countries militarily, one might even say that its a matter of life and death. And on what basis do we interpret those statements and actions?
So theres that. But heres the thing: I am not at all surprised by those kinds of comments. I think Cruises character likely would have had that reaction to a Japanese village. In fact, Id go so far as to say that Westernersand Americans in particularare very likely to see spiritualism in most foreign cultures. Why? Because there is so little of it in our own.
Two of Americas overarching concepts are the supremacy of logic and the purity of individual self-determination. We are a nation where Aristotle meets Horatio Alger, and we dont leave much room in our philosophy for any supreme beingnor even for any real sense of transcendency. This is lacking in our culture, and it is only natural that we would be acutely aware of it when we encounter even the slightest bit of spirituality in other cultures.
Im not excusing, or even apologizing for, The Last Samurai. There is harm in that kind of orientalism, and I am bothered by it. But I can see where it comes from, I guess.
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