Monday, November 3, 2014

A Wee Post-Colonial Rant

One of the most popular sitcoms during the 1970s was All In The Family, with its iconic lead character, Archie Bunker. Archie was an over-the-top, nasty piece of misogynist, racist, pro-Viet Nam, kill-the-commies, my-way-or-the-highway loudmouth. 

His character was deliberately offensive in order to point out how offensive some of his bigoted ideas were. He was satirical with a capital "S".

Satire has a long history of being an effective tool in pointing out -- in a humorous way -- some of the blind spots, inconsistencies, and outright hypocrisies that any and all of us are capable of. Take, for example, this old satirical cartoon lambasting cultural colonialism. It's offensive in so many ways, but that's the point. It's satire, using humour to make a devastating social commentary:

"School Begins" (Photo source: Wikipedia)

Part of the text on the blackboard makes mention of how the British Empire forcibly 'civilized' their colonies, and that America had the moral obligation to provide the same involuntary, unsought eduction for (in the front row): the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Cuba. It's offensive, and it was meant to be. That's how satire works.

Equally offensive: check out the unhappy black child washing the window, the Native American student seated away from the other children by the door (reading his book upside down), and the little Asian child standing alone and neglected outside. Yeah, the satirical intent of this cartoon is pretty blatant, and most of us would agree: rightly so.

So, what's the relevance to 2014? After all, we are living in the "post-colonial" age, aren't we?

Well, aren't we?

After all, we are long past the arrogant elitism that set about t0 "educate the savages", right? We have learned from the mistakes of the past, and no longer try to import/force our culture and morals on other people groups or nations.

Unless, of course, we in the Enlightened West decide that other cultures are too backwards. Or too archaic. Or in some manner mired in old traditional ways of thinking that We The West have decided are out-dated and therefore must be eradicated.

In many news outlets, you hear terms like "it's the 21st century, and they need to get with the times". References are made to being "backwards", or "barbaric", or "out-dated". We label things "human rights issues" -- and they may justifiably qualify as such -- but the kind of language that we use reveals that We The West think we're smarter, more enlightened, more humane, and therefore we have the moral obligation and responsibility of getting the rest of the world to think just like us (politically correct).

Let's just ask it out loud, ugly as it is:
Are we in the West still trying to civilize the savages?
I'm not convinced we're "post-colonial" just yet.

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