IAFOR Journal of Cultural Studies: Volume 8 – Issue 2
Editor-in-Chief: Holger Briel, Beijing Normal University-Hong Kong Baptist University United International College (UIC), China
Published: December 30, 2023
If a few issues ago I had expressed the hope that there might be a let-up of crises for humanity in the cards, the last few months have taught us otherwise. If anything, existing crises have intensified or stretched to incorporate even more inhabitants of this planet. Besides the immeasurable pain and suffering visited upon humans by other humans, it would seem that we as a global entity are losing other important ideological liberties in the process. Prominent among them is the freedom of expression, oft-cited to allow inclusion of any and all discursive participants. This topic has indeed been discussed to death (quite literally), as the recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict has amply demonstrated. I think though, that this notion of freedom goes beyond “mere” free speech, and also includes a deeper level of freedom, a freedom that philosopher Holm Tetes in one of his lectures defined the following way: “Freedom as a practice is the interruption of (self-)forgotten routines in favour of an astonishment regarding one’s own behaviour and a questioning of its reasons.” Arguably, it is this is the kind of freedom that has been greatly reduced, to the detriment of all concerned. Mostly, people clamour about their rights to do something or other, entitlements, or hard-fought rights, without pausing for thought, interrupting themselves in these self-forgotten routines and questioning themselves first rather than others. Being astounded by one’s own forgotten routines (for better or for worse) strikes me as a good first step towards possible change.
In the light of the aforesaid, let’s begin the overview of the articles in this issue with a refreshing thought – absolute annihilation. Mario Rodriguez’ “‘Blame it on the Black Star’: Black Holes in Culture” takes its readers on a delightful tour of the rise and success of Black stars in culture. Einstein, Oppenheimer, Hawking, and a slew of other scientists appear, but he also makes clear the cultural differences existing already in nomenclature, putting paid to the notion of a neutral science. Thus, before the term “black star” became a household vocabulary word, differing terms were used for the phenomenon – “a collapsed star in American circles and a frozen star in the Russian sphere.” But this would not stop in scientists’ circles, the collective imagination would be fed by these physical phenomena and engrain themselves in pop culture, ranging from films (Interstellar) to TV series (Dark, Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Simpsons, including a cameo by Stephen Hawking); and from music lyrics (from The Pixies, Soundgarden, Radiohead or David Bowie). Philosophy would also chime in, with Baudrillard using the black hole as a metaphor for what the mediascape was doing to society – “A black hole which engulfs the social”. Lastly, black hole research would also highlight misogyny and gender disparity in science with the case of Katie Bowman, whose rise to fame and fall due to misogynist practices in science underlined gender fault lines very slow to recede.
Second in line is Xinyi Wang’s “Blindness Challenging Melodrama” in Your Eyes Tell (2020) and Blind Massage (2014), which investigates the (re-)presentation of blindness in two recent East-Asian films. Wang’s article demonstrates the breath of presentations of blindness in East Asian films and also delineates reasons of why these films through their different plot outlines question western notions of the filmic genre of melodrama. It therefore posits a prominent answer to attempts of setting up a trans-cultural, global film theory, an attempt revealed to be fallacious and simply inacceptable today.
“Folklore Goes to War: Folksongs, Yangge and Storytelling in Communist Bases during the Second Sino-Japanese War” by Selina Gao stays in China and investigates the uses of folklore studies in creating an ideologically-tinted version of such studies. In a similar vein to how other countries tie their national identity to narratives, Gao shows how this was done in China as well. In particular, she examines the rise of folklore studies in the 1930s and ‘40s in China and shows how the Chinese Folklore Movement fragmented into three distinct camps for the duration of the war, once again underlining the far from neutral quiddity of literary and ethnographic studies. Along the way, Gao provides her readers with very interesting historic details about how folklore studies were conducted in the 1930s.
‘“Bacha Posh”: Gender Construct in Afghan Culture Examined through the Lens of Children in Literature’ by Ritika Banerjee and Sharon J remains in Asia, but shifts its focus to Afghanistan. Banerjee and Sharon J. discuss the cultural practice of Bacha Posh, the dressing up of girls as boys until they reach (late) puberty. This is done for various reasons; because parents wanted a boy rather than a girl; to allow girls more freedom of movement; or to perform tasks nobody else in the family can take care of. Not much has been written about this custom in general, but the authors in particular discuss children’s literature in order to assess the fall-out from this practice, which is manifold. For one, many girls resist becoming boys for all practical purposes; conversely, many also resist the change back, often forced upon them in order to marry them off, because of a loss freedom associated with it. The authors show how this practice takes its toll on these children and is often associated with the phenomenon of gender dysphoria, the unease associated with the feeling of being in the wrong body (even if only as a disguise). While this might be an opportunity to investigate such an unease in terms of Butler’s gender theory, due to the social constrictions under which it is performed, it falls short of being a liberating practice and rather increases dysfunctional gender signalling.
Finally, there is “‘Otherized’ Migrants in Contemporary Australia: Reflections from Michael Ahmad’s The Tribe (2014)” by Ait Idir Lahcen. Lahcen invites us to travel further south-east, to Australia, and presents his study of the novels of Michael Ahmad, who writes about the Arabic diaspora in Australia and its experiences with racism. Contrary to popular self-description, Ahmad charts the ordinary and extraordinary racism raging under the surface of Australian society and exemplifies this with the coming-of-age story of one such immigrant, Bani. Throughout the pages of the novel, Bani advances to an understanding how rigid this racism actually is, disadvantaging him at every corner. Lahcen reads the story as an accusation of white privilege in Australia and sets out to chart at least some ways of resistance open to the thus marginalised.
Please enjoy reading the issue!