Today in class we had a very interesting discussion about identity and how it is affecting the way we view other races and cultures. In the book, Cybertypes, by Lisa Nakamura, she discusses various advertisements and how these ads reduce other cultures to tourist attractions or take away a very important part of the essence of a particular culture. By taking away diversity, Nakamura argues that we are left with only one thing–Western culture. This idea was also brought up in Bolter’s text when he discusses Derrida’s idea of “logocentrism.” Logocentrism can be decoded to mean Western culture because it revolves around the words that have been looked to throughout the centuries as good literature. This is such an important part of understanding the internet because it makes the world even more centralized around ideas and various trends. If we want to maintain a sense of diversity, it is important that the internet not only present trends that are mainly from the Western culture. However, this is difficult because often people who are not as privileged as the Western culture do not have access to the internet. This would make including that diversity on the internet more difficult since it is not even being represented by a particular culture.
Nakamura makes some interesting points about how we need to make sure that diversity is not boiled down on the internet–that instead, it recognizes some of the absolute necessities of keeping the differences between cultures. Her point about the ads is interesting because she presents a series of them and shows how these companies have bought into the idea that technology reduces other (meaning non-Western) cultures to something that is exotic and intriguing, thereby associating it with Western culture because the ad relates the two together.
One ad that was particularly interesting to me, as well as to my class, is an IBM ad that presents an Arab man on a camel (Note: the picture that is next to this text is NOT the ad–I was not able to find the actual ad itself). Nakamura notes that: “the idyllic image of an Arab on his camel, with the pyramids picturesquely squatting in the background, belongs in a coffee table book. The timeless quality of this image of an exotic other untouched by modernity is disrupted by the cartoon dialogue text, which reads, ‘What do you say we head back and download the results of the equestrian finals?’ This dissonant use of contemporary, vernacular, American technoslang is supposed to be read comically; the man is meant to look unlike anyone who would speak these words” (p. 93). Nakamura brings up some valuable points that are worth noting. For one, she states that the background that is actually quite haunting and beautiful in its simplicity, is undermined by the American slang that discusses the internet. Rather than appreciating the Arab culture, the ad subverts that and instead reduces it to include the Western culture. Another point that she discusses is that this ad “makes the planet smaller by causing everyone to speak the same language–computerspeak” (p. 93). This is interesting because it correlates the cultures purely through the Arab’s ability to discuss computers in the same way that an American would.
I agree with Nakamura that this push towards the sameness of cultures is dangerous and something that we should really try to prevent. However, I differ from her opinion of the above ad in one minor way: The Arab and the camel would look out of place if they were placed in the middle of New York City. By keeping the background (which definitely is in the background) of the pyramids, the Arab keeps a part of his culture that the Western culture cannot share. We visit those areas as tourists but do not know how to navigate the deserts, survive in the deserts, or even how to ride a camel (most of us). Therefore, this minor part of the ad helps to keep some of the validity of the Arab and his surroundings. In this one instance, the ad does not denote “one world” but in fact, two–that of the Arab and that of the more universal computer.
Our class discussion and the essay were both interesting commentaries on identity in a virtual world. It is getting trickier to keep diversity on the internet (at least as it is traditionally thought of) but it is worth the effort to keep diversity alive. Without that, we lose so much from our world and that would be such a loss.
Book: Nakamura, Lisa. Cybertypes. New York: Routledge, 2002. Print.