Criticisms of the ‘Asia fanboy’

If somebody asked you about Americans, what could you say?

Could you say violent, friendly, patriotic or overweight? What about gun-toting, tree-hugging or punk-rocking? What kind of overarching assertions could you make, and what would you use for evidence that would hold up to the light of criticism?

The complexity of individuals in society makes it difficult, if not impossible, to pigeonhole – while this realization seems obvious in the context of analyzing ourselves, this universal truth often gets lost in translation in our perceptions of others.

I want to pick on an subculture that I see as particularly problematic in this light, what I would call “fanboy” or “Asiaphile” culture. Before I get skewered or otherwise called a hypocrite – as anyone who’s read this blog for a while has gleaned I’m pretty interested in Korea – allow me to make an important distinction:

There are those who take a sincere interest in a place, culture, or people and pursue that interest critically, passionately and academically – and those who simply latch on to a romanticized notion of a place, culture, or people and filter out the whole of the picture.

For the sake of this post, let’s call the former “scholars” and the latter “(country)-ophiles.”

I’ve met the acquaintance of a few Japanophiles (that is, non-Japanese who meet my above definition), and so my assertions are based on anecdotal evidence. From my observations, these people’s admiration for Japan is based on overly idealistic and simplified views of people and culture. I’ve heard Japanophiles frequently employ stereotypes about the way Japanese people are “efficient,” “neat” or “respectful” in their interpersonal relationships.

They glorify and talk about Japan as superior because of its “order” or economic success – but here’s the rub: if we cannot make sweeping generalizations about ourselves, then how can we justify doing it to others, even in a “positive” light?

This semester, I’m taking a class that breaks down the historical image of Samurai. The professor stresses the importance of being critical of everything, and demands out of our analyses that we ask, “How do we know what we know? Where is the evidence? Is it good evidence?”

By viewing media with a critical eye, we come to understand how political affiliations, religious views or even pop culture can seek to pervert and romaniticize our understanding. This becomes really problematic when perversion is accepted as truth and painted over the whole of our ideas about a subject.

In focusing on Japan, I don’t mean to let the rest of (country)-ophiles off the hook or to demean Japan in any way. This practice of fawning over nations is foolish whether it manifests in idealizations of French life or foam-at-the-mouth Korean nationalism. If we are complex people with individual identities, hopes and aspirations, then who are we to color others in monochrome? Even “positive” stereotypes are detrimental because they deny individuals their full person.

When we educate ourselves and view things critically and pursue our passions as “scholars,” the world is much more vivid – we cut through the simple sketches of what we think we know, and see people for who they are.

(Updated 03.02.2007)

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