Gordon Ramsay is just like Donald Trump. Maybe even worse, because many liberals regard his old fashioned capitalist authoritarianism as some kind of “realness.” The boss talks down the workers, who must simply obey and listen to their boss who “knows better.” The managerial class of capitalism knows better than the “uneducated” working class. Listen to the economists who gave us the 2008 recession. They still know better than the “unruly” mass.
But, Gordon Ramsay is a Michelin star chef! Yes, a star chef who mostly runs shit chain restaurants, with a few fancy ones for rich people. In fact, he’s no longer a chef. He’s a businessman. A celebrity CEO like Donald Trump. He isn’t really a working chef anymore; moreover, prestige and mastery do not warrant sexism and body shaming. Some might respond: “well, that’s just how it is in the cooking industry.” But, this is not really a response, because bullying workers was just how it worked in the factory too. It doesn’t mean we should keep allowing it to happen,
I understand the appeal of Trump and Ramsay. They’re a departure from the faux respect of 21st century capitalism. Workers are still subordinate to their boss, yet they cannot regard that relationship as exploitation anymore. The boss is a “relatable” person who cares about their workers. We all know, deep down, that the corporate structure cannot produce a genuine relationship between a worker and their boss without power dynamics. Yet, we have to pretend that capitalism now has a human face. Trump and Ramsay break apart that illusion. They give us the “real” face of capitalism.
However, it is dangerous to conflate their “realness” with reality. The reality is that a Trumpian CEO exploits us just as much as, or perhaps even more than, the CEO with a human face. Trump and Ramsay reap most of the profits of their businesses, while their workers — who produce most of the profit— make, more or less, minimum wage. Exploitation is still exploitation. The hyperreality of Ramsay is surely intoxicating. I am often entertained by Ramsay yelling at his contestants too. Our dull lives are shocked by the old face of capitalism. We escape into reality TV, because its hyperreality feels more “real” than the monotous lives of late capitalism. We live in the age of Francis Fukuyama, who proclaimed that welfare capitalism is the end of history. There is no system beyond capitalism; effectively, it means we have no future.
A society without a future is dull, because it has no vision. Our attempts to “fix” our problems always invoke the “good old past:” MAGA or New Deal Capitalism. Accordingly, the workplace has no future. It’s an everlasting present, in which we work from 9 to 5. Like a clock, it ticks the same way over and over again. You cannot care about a life that escapes the flow of time. Death and the uncertainty of the future make us care. This is why we need to be shocked into a semblance of caring through reality TV. Nonetheless, it is important to note that caring about hyperrality is distinct from caring about our actual lives. Trump or Ramsay as your real boss might not be so exciting. Furthermore, hyperrality does not have a future. It is a recording of staged events. Perhaps, it is time for us to reckon with our atemporal lives. To bestow upon it a future. The best things in life require uncertainty. Love is the act of falling for the other. To succumb to uncertainty. Similarly, caring requires us to head towards the future. Perhaps, it is time to be shocked by uncertainty rather than hyperreality.
Cohen simultaneously criticizes and entrenches racial stereotypes. Unlike the overt racism of Donald Trump, such liquid racism is more difficult to analyze. It must be discerned whether the act seriously challenges the racial hierarchy of contemporary society. Without a doubt, Cohen does not challenge anything. Borat, perhaps his most challenging film, is only challenging on the surface level. He does a brilliant job at pointing out the post-911 hysteria and islamophobia of the US. Yet, he does not question the fundamental structures that enable such racism, which is evident in his choice to satirize Kazakhstan as a nation. Cohen is only concerned with his white audience. He wants to offend and educate them. Yet, the plight of Kazahks in the west doesn’t even enter his mind. In other words, Cohen is trapped by the white gaze. His ultimate project is a liberal utopia, in which there aren’t any Trumpers. In his utopia, Latin American immigrants’ labor will still be exploited. Black people will still be policed and jailed disproportionately. Such problems will persist, because he won’t question the subtleties of white supremacy and capitalism. Instead, he wantst to remedy such issues by white people satirizing racial stereotypes! At least we don’t have any taboo! It’s a sign that we’ve progressed!
Another important element of Cohen’s liquid racism is his racial status. White people are comfortable with Cohen taking up his role, because he’s ethnic enough. There is enough non-whiteness in his make up to “justify” minstrelsy. Sacha Baron Cohen’s mother is an Israeli of German origin. His father is a Jewish person of European origin. In other words, he’s white but not quite white enough. This is why he shares the white person’s desire to move on from race; at the same time, he can act as their dancing, post-racial clown. Sadly, Cohen appears to be a victim of the very system he enables.
“Ali G expresses three strands of liquid racism. These are ‘postmodern minstrelsy’ — Ali G as a black man, ‘ethnocultural hybrid racism’ — Ali G as a white man pretending to be black, and ‘anti-Asian racism’ — Ali G as an Asian man pretending to be black. It is the combination of the three and the erasure they inflict on one another that creates liquidity. Finally, some non-racist themes in Baron Cohen’s comedy are outlined that encourage analytic confusion.”
“Howells ultimately extracted a sense of utopianism from Cohen’s work. His message was that if we as a society can laugh about ‘race’, like we do sex, then that will be beneficial to wider social relations. The extent to which ‘race’ can be a laughing matter to those whose everyday lives are shaped by the forces of racism across Britain and the world is, however, another matter.”
Liberals love Sacha Baron Cohen, because he exposed the absurdity of Republicans. Yet, they say nothing about his racism and their complicity in it. Satire doesn’t excuse routinely portraying negative stereotypes. It actually affects people. For example, Kazakh students in the US and UK were mocked because of Borat. Kazakhs have no representation at all in the west. Frankly, Cohen’s intentions do not matter. The consequences are indubitable: Borat made life worse for many Kazakhs in the west.
Satire loses its edge when the target is powerless. Libyans and Kazahks have no social capital in the west. James Franco’s film, The Interview, is horrible for similar reasons. North Koreans are only presented as fat, ugly maniacs or brain-washed goons. Unsurprisingly, Cohen mocked Kim Jong Il’s death at an awards ceremony, dressed as Gaddafi. Unlike Republicans, none of these people have a standing to be ridiculed. Cohen, for the sake of pointing out his country’s racism, will drip himself in racist portrayals that negatively affect these people. Shock value is his game, and it’s more important than Kazahks and Libyans.
Some might claim that it’s just “benign ignorance.” If so, why is this “benign ignorance” allowed and sustained by those who know better? Leon Panetta, former secretary of defense under Barack Obama, has openly talked about many of the things I mentinoed above: North Korea is not irrational, there is a complicated history between US and NK, and etc. William Perry, former secretary of defense under Bill Clinton, is even more sympathetic to North Korea — and he’s talked about this openly too. The US military is clearly aware of the things I have pointed out above. Yet, why aren’t these voices as emphasized as the negative steretypes? Why was Hussein suddenly demonized, despite US presidents like Reagan praising him as “great leader” in the past? Why is Gaddafi now a joke? All in all, one should be wary of ridiculing dictators who have no social capital in their country. We should be learning more about the other. Without prior knowledge, satire becomes a blank canvas for racism and xenophobia.
It’s great if you can be totally vegan. But, these are the facts: 84% of vegans and vegetarians return to meat. We live in a society that is built on cheap meat, factory farming, labor exploitation, etc. An individual can only do so much to alter such structural issues. This is why I actually think a utilitarian model of veganism is more effective than “animal rights.” Rights are derived from Enlightenment thinkers like Kant and Locke, who echo their Christian upbringing. Christianity, by this point, was shaped and molded by capitalism. They already had a conception of being “on time,” of the bureaucracy, and of the factory. There were “rules” that needed to be enforced, and they were “absolutely inviolable.” A recipe for disaster. Hannah Arendt rightfully pointed out the critical flaws of “rights” with regards to the Holocaust.
Nevertheless, I don’t think utilitarianism is the answer. There is no clear answer. This is a political and ethical issue. We require a radical departure from ordinary diet, which cannot be fully mapped out and imagined in the present. We are not going back to hunter-gatherer societies — or a vegan utopia that strangely resembles the present with capitalism and all that (I mean, they’re asking us to fight capitalism with capitalist consumption!) Just like our need to radically depart from capitalism, the patriarchy, and white supremacy, the future is uncertain and beyond our myopic imagination. It is not our fault that we have a stunted imagination. Neoliberalism did this to us. We were conditioned to be nostalgic over the future that never happened. We were conditioned to find the present fatalistic. It robbed of us our ability to imagine the future. Yet, it is up to us to dream and imagine. To live and eat differently. So different that it is unrecognizable, unintuitive. To this aim, we should merely use relics of the past like rights or utilitarianism as mere tools, rather than as ends in and of themselves.
- Revolutionary Girl Utena
- Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Gurren Lagann
- Space Dandy
- Hunter X Hunter
My preferences changed over the years. I think I like shows that are lighter nowadays. K-On! was probably my turning point. Loving that show made me realize how much I have prevented myself from just enjoying happiness.
K-Pop vs. J-Pop. This whole debate has a much more sinister backdrop than many assume.
Japan was destroyed by WWII. During its recovery, Japan copied and adapted the West. Like contemporary China, Japan developed its economy through developing infant industries. These infant industries shamelessly took ideas from the West. Frequently, the West criticized Japan for “stealing their patents and technology.” They were derided as “copy cats.” J-Pop is the product of this general trajectory. Neither rock nor funk originated from Japan.
Does this mean J-Pop is worse? Hell no. J-Pop is amazing. So is J-Rock or their Jazz. Japanese culture is fascinating. Often, J-Pop is more interesting than K-Pop — and vice versa. My point is that the reasons why we enjoy J-Pop or K-Pop might not be so historically innocent.
For example, South Korea’s pop industry gained popularity through westernization. Early K-Pop groups were shamelessly designed after western acts. K-Pop also shamelessly borrowed from J-Pop’s adaptation of western influences. This is why early K-Pop groups look like Japanese visual kei.
Many cite J-Pop or K-Pop’s musical attributes as their reasons for success. But, those musical attributes cannot exist without their economic conditions. Both genres gained popularity as their countries became extremely wealthy. Their industry was built from the bottom through severe exploitation: boy bands and girl groups signed “slave contracts.” Many were, and are, forced to undergo plastic surgery. They are worked to death; regularly, artists collapse from fatigue, sleep deprivation, and malnutrition. Their bodies are closely monitored for the “ideal weight.” Cheap, exploited labor, coupled with large ambitions, yielded huge profit. Modern production, especially in the 20th century, could not be accomplished without modern equipments. Modern genres cannot be copied without exposure to such influences, which requires a modern economy.
Furthermore, the musical attribute argument assumes that Nepalese or Thai music is not good enough. Do you really think Asia does not have creative talent outside Japan or Korea? Frankly, we’re just looking for different takes on western genres, rather than searching for genuine beauty and creativity. To prove my point: why is traditional Korean music not popular? Is it less beautiful or creative than K-Pop? No, it’s because westerners do not understand traditional Korean beauty.
So what do we really mean by the success of J-Pop or K-Pop? Mostly, we’re talking about economic success. K-Pop, for example, became a hot topic after its widespread success in Asia and later in the West. But, it’s not any kind of economic success. Indian music is loved by many, but it’s not mentioned alongside K-Pop or J-Pop. What kind of economic success are we talking about then? Well, we are referring to the perception of “successful westernization.” Many Asian fans praised K-Pop for its successful take on western culture. For instance, China regularly talks about trying to “replicate Korea’s successful westernization.” If you’re successful with music that is not western enough, then you’re not praised alongside K-Pop.
In other words, we have internalized the white gaze. What is beautiful is what we perceive to be favored by the White Race. This is why it’s so important for K-Pop to be “recognized by the West.” Great success in Asia was not good enough. K-Pop leaders like YG and JYP have always wanted to be “recognized by the West.” K-Pop fans are always trying to spread K-Pop to westerners. J-Pop fans claim to be less concerned with the white gaze, but if your entire economy is a copy of western capitalism, musical genres, etc…. You just think you are less attached to your chains. Any fan of Japanese anime or music know, first hand, the vast influence of the west. This is the truth behind K-Pop vs. J-Pop: we are hostages to white money and the white gaze. J-Pop is the relic of such power dynamics, and K-Pop is its grotesque chimera.
P.S. I am not claiming that we should not copy the west. That the west are entitled to their “patents.” Fuck that. Germany, Britain, France, and the US all developed their economies the same way. They stole from each other, built up their infant industries, until they were large enough to participate in “freer trade.” European music is just a copy of American music — and vice versa. The problem is that we are practicing this uncritically, without even considering its racial and power dynamics. How must we go beyond such cycles, if we do not even understand why K-Pop or American Pop is the way it is? For example, the history of American Pop includes the exploitation of Africans and African Americans. This makes the whole picture even more complex. Reducing such complex issues to “cool music” is not acceptable.
The aesthetician Susan Sontag claims that Cage’s attempt to erase authorial intent, in one sense, allowed him to erase meaning altogether. This is also reflected in Cage’s writings:
“New music: new listening. Not an attemp to understand something that is being said, for if something were being said, the sounds would be given the shapes of words. ust attention to the activity of sounds.”
— Cage, Experimental Music: Doctrine, p. 10
But, I don’t believe this to be case. The cultural and historical context of Cage’s works show that they are trying to dissolve the distinction between art and sound. Such contexts allow sounds to refer to themselves, thereby giving them meaning and intentionality.
Plus, one could consider Heidegger’s argument that we do not hear pure sounds:
“What we first hear is never noises or complexes of sounds, but the creaking wagon, the motor-cycle. We hear the column on the march, the north wind, the woodpecker tapping, the fire crackling. It requires a very artificial and complicated frame of mind to hear a pure noise…Likewise, when we are explicitly hearing the discourse of another, we proximally understand what is said, or — to put it more exactly — we’re already with him, in advance alongside the entity which the discourse is about… Even in cases where the speech is indistinct or in a foreign language, what we proximally hear is unintelligible words, and not a multiplicity of tone-date.”
— Being and Time, 163
This means that even the sounds we encounter in ordinary life are never meaningless, pure sounds.
All in all, I admire Cage’s attempt to bring ordinary sounds to the forefront of Western music. I think he exemplifies Heidegger’s claim that art makes the conflict between World and Earth conspicuous. For Heidegger, World is the human environment in which we lead our lives. It includes our tools, houses, values, and so on; in other words, it is the habitat of Dasein. On the other hand, Earth is the natural setting of World; the ground on which it stands and the sources of raw materials for our artefacts. Through his illustration of ordinary sounds, Cage makes apparent the rift between World and Earth: musical sounds vs. pure noise. Interestingly, Cage’s take on this conflict uncovers a naked truth, i.e., the attempt to erase intentionality paves the way for a deeper unconcealment of intentionality and Dasein.
Being and Time, Martin Heidegger
The Origin of the Work of Art, Martin Heidegger
Cage and Philosophy, Noël Carroll
In a recent article from the New Republic, Ryu Spaeth makes the case that it is fine to cast Scarlett Johansson, a white female, as Motoko Kusanagi, a robot detective in future Tokyo.
Cultural appropriation, as described by the cultural and racial theorist George Lipsitz, can exist for both the majority and the minority. It does not necessarily yield negative results as we often assume. Rather, it is a concept that reminds us to be cautious when the majority appropriates the minority’s culture, because it can often happen in a way that enforces negative stereotypes against minorities — e.g., that they are violent or servile or that they do not have a voice to represent their own culture — and entrenches existing power relations.
However, I think our usage of the term has evolved to mean only such negative instances — partly, because theorists have primarily focused on such usages. If you talk to someone about cultural appropriation, they are not going to mention Japanese animation, which often appropriates American culture; they will most likely mention black face or casting a white actor to play Mulan. So this is why I define cultural appropriation as an instance in which a dominant culture appropriates a minority culture; and this is why I use cultural cross-pollination to describe instances in which a culture benefits from using elements from another culture. In other words, cultural appropriation describes power relations; cultural cross-pollination describes fruitful interactions between cultures. I think such a demarcation will clear up our conceptual space and prevent unnecessary confusions.
Donald Trump will be our president. Despite the looming dangers of a Trump presidency, I think we have learned a valuable lesson: Identity is central to politics. Trump garnered support by appealing to the sentiment that our country is being taken over by them. Sanders rallied his supporters by pointing out the fact that they —Wall Street, moneyed interests, etc. — have been taking over our country. Like I said, identity is central to politics.
On both sides, we wanted someone who did not compromise and fought for the values we actually believe in. Why? Because politics as usual has never delivered to us the policies that affirm our identity and values. Identity is not a good that we can compromise. For example, I can share a loaf of bread with others, but I cannot as easily compromise my religion or feminism. So what would be the solution to bridging such irreconcilable differences?
The philosopher Michael Sandel identified this same problem decades ago. He criticized liberalism for its pretension of neutrality by privileging the right over the good, because, he believed, it caused a dissonance with our actual moral temperament. In other words, we do not, as politicians often say, “disagree but respect the right to have a different opinion.” We want to change the other person or destroy them. His solution was communitarianism — the idea that politics needs to be organized based on small, self-governing communities. Such communities will share the same space, community, and, ultimately, values.
I find this idea appealing but ultimately insufficient. First, it is unlikely to see large behemoths like the US or China dissolving into tiny self-governing communities. Second, we are pluralistic. This might sound confusing, since Sandel is suggesting communitarianism as a remedy to the conflicts of plural values in a given society. Sandel is right. Our society is pluralistic. My point is that so are we. We are not simply tribal creatures who conform only to what is preached to us by our communities. We are also cosmopolitan. We recognize universal duties and values. Furthermore, we operate under multiple modes of ethics. We are sometimes utilitarian, sometimes Kantian, and sometimes virtue ethicists. The conflicts between such modes and, manifestly, between the cosmopolitan and the communitarian are often irreconcilable. This means that even small, self-governing communities need to deal with irreconcilable differences.
Sandel was aware of the first criticism that transitioning to small, self-governing communities is not happening anytime soon. So he proposed a temporary solution: we should recognize the art of a democratic debate as a good. A democratic debate, conducted in a virtuous manner, bids one to attentively listen and respond to the other person. This is different from respecting rights, since respecting rights often entails disengagement. One does not need to engage another person’s belief in a virtuous manner if all one is concerned with is respecting that person’s right to have such beliefs. On the contrary, engaging in a democratic debate entails engagement. The benefits of engagement would not only mean a healthier dialogue but also a development of camaraderie. There is a Korean television show called 썰전, where pundits discuss politics. There are two pundits from opposite sides of the political spectrum who discuss various topics. This sounds like an awful time, but the reality is quite the opposite. Despite irreconcilable differences, they have come to respect each other’s company. Through their debates, they have come to respect each other’s values, candor, and honesty.
However, I think there is a problem even with this approach. It takes a person of a particular disposition to engage in such a manner. There are multiple modes of ethics under which we operate and the preference of one over the other is determined by our personal dispositions. If someone is an absolutist Kantian about religious doctrines, then it is more difficult for that person to fruitfully engage another person who believes in everything they see as vile and sinister. The same is true of someone who absolutely hates everything about Trump because of his misogyny, racism, and xenophobia. Furthermore, people tend to favor debates with flowery rhetoric rather than the one espoused by Sandel. Encouraging people to favor one type of debate over the other might spell trouble, since it is obvious that not everyone has the appropriate personal disposition to engage in a democratic debate. I don’t subscribe to the optimistic view that humans are capable of being rational if they had a good education and so on. Take a look at debates between the most educated persons and there is always more rhetoric and spite than curiosity and temperance.
There seems to be no way out of this conflict. A few days ago, the philosopher Slavoj Zizek endorsed Donald Trump, arguing that his presidency will cause instability in the political establishment —which would carve up space for leftist reforms. I think it will be the exact opposite. Trump’s supporters are currently the most enthusiastic and angry group in American politics. The Supreme Court, the House, the Senate, and the White House are all Republican. They will use this instability to push their agenda forward. Progressives like Jill Stein won just 1% of the vote; however, Gary Johnson won 3%. This country, despite its politics having shifted more and more to the right throughout the 20th century, wants to go further to the right. This might have something to do with the fact that the average American feels like the country is liberal. Take a look at the sheer number of celebrities who endorsed Hillary Clinton. Mainstream media outlets like the New York Times endorsed Hillary Clinton. College professors are predominantly in the left. For many, entertainment, the news, and universities impact how they see their identity more than policies. They feel isolated. Their leaders tell them that minorities are taking away their jobs, and that Muslims are trying to install Sharia Law. They feel like the country is being taken over by others. Right-wing politics took away their savings and gave them to the wealthy. One can only imagine their anger.
Nonetheless, I cannot bring myself to compromise on immigration, abortion, wealth inequality, or healthcare. Such a move would be equivalent to supporting racism, misogyny, classism, neoliberalism, and bigotry. This, I believe, is how many liberals feel; this is also, I suspect, how many conservatives feel. Our differences are irreconcilable. We are angrier than ever. I can only envision a bloody clash between those with irreconcilable differences. There is no better figure to incite a civil war of culture than Donald Trump. If such a war is inevitable, then we must be prepared to fight and organize; to protect and safeguard immigrants and refugees; and, hopefully, discover a peaceful alternative.