Bland is Beautiful
For centuries, it was been the privilege of Westerners to define the Other - essentially anyone whose skin colour wasn’t white. The privilege rested on a technological and material dominance that allowed European and post-European societies to impose their cultures, laws and institutions on others. Now, that dominance is increasingly contested, and the rise of Asia promises a future where the Western gaze won’t be as privileged as it has previously been - begging the question, how does the Asian gaze look upon Western culture?
In his recent Wheeler Centre appearance, Tanveer Ahmed - psychiatrist, columnist and author of the memoir, The Exotic Rissole - traced a history of the Asian critique of the West that stretches from the agrarian fascism of WWII-era Japan to current-day jihadism. It has four themes: the city (urban civilisation, commerce, sexual license, leisure and wealth); the bourgeois (an anti-hero who priorities personal gain and safety, who lacks conviction and is essentially mediocre); a soulless and mediocre emphasis on reason; and feminism (the lure of feminine sexuality as a threat to discipline, self sacrifice, austerity and worship of the leader).
But it’s not all negative. Ahmed quoted a 2010 Forbes magazine survey that found modern-day Indians hold the US in higher esteem than any other country in the world for its consumerist middle-class lifestyle, while in China a new field in education is emerging called ‘success studies’.