Posts Tagged 'Opinion'

Culture for Sale

REAL ESTATE BILLIONAIRE SAM Zell’s reiteration of his willingness to sell the naming rights to Wrigley Field along with the Chicago Cubs baseball team is just another reminder that our culture is up for grabs to the highest bidder. While the field might already bear the name of a corporation, a quote in a Tribune article today hits on why that’s missing the point:

Fans argue the Wrigley gum company could solve the problem and generate goodwill by ponying up to preserve tradition. The company — which has had its name on the stadium since 1927 when it was named for team owner and gummaker William Wrigley Jr. — has no comment, a spokesman said.

Brad Sarna, a sports valuation analyst at Absolute Brand LLC in Milwaukee, thinks the Wrigley company wouldn’t get enough out of a deal.

“I don’t even think of Wrigley gum when I think of Wrigley Field,” he said. And calling it Orbit Stadium, after a Wrigley brand, would defeat the purpose.

What this is really about is tradition, about the memories that we have tied to names, words and places. Yet across our society these ties are shamelessly being severed and rearranged to serve consumerism. Seattle’s old football stadium was simply called the Kingdome; now it’s Qwest Field. I can’t hear the Beatles’ “Hello, Goodbye” without thinking “Hello, Goodbuy.” And as these companies gain by hijacking our culture, we can only stand to lose.

Photo: wrigley field north, by nytejade. chicago.

Double Standard

ROUGHLY HALF OF SOUTH Korean undergraduates lack English speaking proficiency, according to a recent survey conducted at a Korean university. While the extrapolations made from the survey data are questionable (the results of one university are not necessarily representative of the whole), the normative conclusion drawn from the outcome – that Koreans must study even harder – is indicative of a huge international double standard, and of a global societal ill.

English has become the “international language” – there’s no way around this. But too often have native English speakers taken this as their ticket out of learning a foreign tongue, while millions of students the world over are left to struggle with a daunting and seemingly lawless mess of English grammar and idioms. Though recent surveys show that enrollment in foreign language classes is up at American universities, I would bet a hefty sum that American proficiency in a foreign language is dismally lower than 50 percent (recent immigrants excluded). Even outside the U.S. there are problems; a recent Guardian article reports that British schools are ignoring language learning targets.

The other problem is that as university students in other parts of the world focus on their English-language education, they often lose sight of the importance of using their native tongue effectively; a Korean friend of mine said to me in a recent conversation that he’s noticed many of his friends pepper their speech with Internet slang and Konglish (Koreanized English), and give him blank stares when he uses more high-level vocabulary.

The drive to learn English has also likely limited Koreans’ options in taking up other languages – such as French, Chinese or Arabic – that English-speakers freely pursue. Americans, after their mandatory year of a foreign language at university, either opt out or continue if they have a passion for it; the rest of the world chokes down English because not doing so would threaten their chance at a successful life.

To call this an inevitable reality of globalization is a cop-out; this is a glaring disparity that must be addressed by making responsible changes to the educational systems on both sides.

(Updated 12.13.2007)

NG Adventure & Travel in Burma

THE IDEA OF ROAMING throughout Burma is alluring – especially after having recently read Emma Larkin’s gorgeous and haunting investigation of what life is really like within the borders of the reclusive state. Yet the current political situation is such that traveling and spending money in Myanmar – with a tourism industry controlled by the government, and movement restricted and surveiled by a web of military bureaucracy – would likely give the traveler a skin-deep impression of life in the nation while pouring dollars into the coffers of a brutal regime.

It is for this reason that I was disappointed to stumble upon National Geographic Adventure’s blip about a near $4,000 vacation package to Myanmar – a nation copywriters euphemistically described as being “Preserved in Amber.”

The package, offered by Country Walkers, is a 10-day trek through the country and costs $3,898 (not including airfare to Yangon). According to the NG article, guide Rachel Baker tries to ensure that dollars go towards local people and not the regime. Yet the company Web site describes the accomodations as ranging from “lakeside chalets to deluxe hotels designed to evoke an exotic charm,” venues that likely demand relatively high rates, from which the generals are sure to scrape off the top.

I admittedly feel mixed about the idea of travelers foregoing Burma for political reasons – there is, after all, the possibility that some of the money spent might trickle into the hands of locals. I guess that this is less likely in the case of vacation packages such as Country Walkers’. But at the end of the day such little compensation will not pull the Burmese out of their suffering. We might do better to show solidarity with the people by not allowing the junta to have at our dollars and not indulging in the fantasy of an exotic Burma preserved in time, when the reality is much more grim.


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